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The Aaron Copland (1900 - 1990) appreciation thread


Jurassic Shark
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3 hours ago, Jurassic Shark said:

What do you think of Paul Barnes' take on the sonata?

 

That's the Barber sonata?

 

My personal favorite recording of the Copland sonata is by this composer-pianist named Easley Blackwood.

 

track 5 - 7 on this album

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  • 6 months later...

Doesn’t Copland only have one “later” film score? Something Wild was done a long time after his first five Hollywood scores, anyway. Were there other later film scores for short films outside Hollywood or something?

 

Yavar

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31 minutes ago, Yavar Moradi said:

Doesn’t Copland only have one “later” film score? Something Wild was done a long time after his first five Hollywood scores, anyway. Were there other later film scores for short films outside Hollywood or something?

 

Yavar

 

No I meant later as in "composed after the piece I'm talking about."  Like from the perspective of this piece, which is from Statements, a suite written around 1934/35, his film music started 4-5 years later.  Actually the scores that movement reminds me of most are his first scores, Of Mice and Men and Our Town.  Sorry for the confusion!

 

Here's a good example at 49:08, one of the finest scored scenes of this era of Hollywood in my opinion.  Copland's choices were pitch perfect for the emotions.  Not coincidentally, this cue also reminds me of parts of To Kill a Mockingbird as well.

 

 

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  • 3 months later...

This coming Friday, PBS' Great Performances series is airing a special on Aaron Copland.  That's right, a program that starts with a John Williams theme centered on the life and music of Copland. :wub:

 

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  • 1 month later...

Wilson's?  Oh it's a very nice performance. I'm pleased he recorded the updated version with the restored finale and I've listened to it several times, but it does lack the emotional power of Slatkin's with Detroit.  The percussion in particular sounds a bit strange to me on the BBC recording for some reason.  The low brass and percussion are the secret sauce of that symphony.  I of course bought that whole series Wilson recorded with the BBC Phil. 

 

I have a "default" recording for every Copland piece that has ever been recorded and I have three pieces that I use Wilson as my default for:

 

Connotations (far superior to the overbearing Bernstein recording)

Symphony No. 1 (I believe only the second recording of this orchestra-only arrangement of the Organ Symphony, superior to Alsop's recording for Naxos)

Letter From Home (a short piece commissioned by Paul Whiteman, I find Wilson takes sections at a good tempo compared to Copland's own recording that was too slow)

 

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11 minutes ago, Stu said:

Symphony No. 1 (I believe only the second recording of this orchestra-only arrangement of the Organ Symphony, superior to Alsop's recording for Naxos)

 

How's Alsop's?

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  • 3 weeks later...

Copland FACT CHECK

 

https://www.classical-music.com/features/recordings/a-guide-to-coplands-appalachian-spring-and-its-best-recordings/

 

The above BBC Classical article on Appalachian Spring says the following:

Quote

No one has yet given us the complete original ballet from the Martha Graham company’s band parts

 

This is FALSE

 

There have in fact been TWO recordings of the actual complete original ballet for 13 instruments from the Graham company's parts:

 

First, in 1990 is one conducted by Andrew Schenck for the Koch record label:

https://www.discogs.com/release/8938627-Copland-Barber-Andrew-SchenckAtlantic-Sinfonietta-Music-For-Martha-Graham-The-Original-Versions

 

Second, in 1991, conducted by Hugh Wolff for the Teldec label:

https://www.discogs.com/release/6585156-Copland-The-Saint-Paul-Chamber-Orchestra-Hugh-Wolff-Appalachian-Spring-Original-Chamber-Version-Musi

 

Of these two, I vastly prefer the 1990 album by Schenck.

 

What we do not yet have is an official commercial recording of the complete ballet for full orchestra that was prepared by David Newman and the Copland Fund back in 2016.  There have been various versions for orchestra over the years that have claimed the "complete" label, but this 2016 edition is the first that can pass the best definition for complete: it is the first orchestral version for which the original Martha Graham choreography can be performed with no changes or abridgments.

 

I do however have a radio broadcast of a wonderful performance of this version by the Philadelphia Orchestra with Cristian Măcelaru conducting 

 

 

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  • 1 month later...

This is the kind of transcendent music Copland could write that makes you feel like there's some deep secret truth being expressed that couldn't possibly be put into words and that is only just escaping your grasp.  Or something.

 

 

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  • 3 weeks later...

The music editor Philip Rothman, who has been working on preparing new corrected editions of Copland's works for more than a decade, has written a nice blog post about testing out the new edition of Rodeo in Milwaukee.  It's fascinating to get an inside look at what's involved in this kind of work!

 

https://www.scoringnotes.com/meta/road-report-coplands-rodeo-in-milwaukee/

 

It also includes a cameo by the late Christopher Rouse, who was President of the Aaron Copland Fund for Music for years.

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  • 3 months later...

Article appeared in the New York Times today about Justin Peck's new NYC Ballet show "Copland Dance Episodes", where he's put together dances to different sections Billy the Kid, Rodeo, and Appalachian Spring.  I remember Peck was also the choreographer for Spielberg's West Side Story adaptation.

 

I keep waiting for a major choreographer to unearth Copland's Dance Panels, an underknown later masterwork.

 

https://www.nytimes.com/2023/01/24/arts/dance/copland-dance-episodes-new-york-city-ballet.html

 

Quote

“Right now you’re dancing on top of or ahead of the music,” Justin Peck told members of New York City Ballet during a recent rehearsal. As the pianist Craig Baldwin played the gently accumulating “Simple Gifts” section of Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring,” Peck added: “Here, you should be riding the wave of the music. It’s like surfing on a longboard.”

 

It wasn’t the only time Peck, City Ballet’s resident choreographer, spoke in metaphors while preparing “Copland Dance Episodes,” which premieres on Thursday at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center. And it wasn’t the only time he encouraged dancers to match the plain-spoken spareness of the music. “It has to have the ease,” he said at one point, “of a tumbleweed blowing.”

 

These dancers are somewhat familiar with Copland; Peck’s exhilaratingly athletic “Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes,” from 2015, is one of his most beloved ballets. Yet the premiere on Thursday — an evening-length whirlwind that includes a version of his “Rodeo” but is also set to “Fanfare for the Common Man,” “Appalachian Spring” and “Billy the Kid” — will be a milestone on multiple fronts.

 

To start, “Copland Dance Episodes” will be the company’s first evening-length, plotless work since George Balanchine’s “Jewels,” from 1967, and the first evening-length one for Peck, period; above all, for the artists involved, it will be the first time Copland’s three ballet scores, among the finest American music written in the genre, will be under City Ballet’s roof.

 

“One of the things I noticed early on when I was making work at New York City Ballet is that there’s no Copland in the rep here,” Peck said in an interview. “That just felt like such a weird thing for this incredible American institution.”

 

For his part, Andrew Litton, City Ballet’s music director, thrilled to be taking up the Copland scores. “It’s been an omission,” he said. “The saying was that he invented the sound of American music. He certainly invented the sound of the West, which has been copied by hundreds of film composers since.”

 

Peck referred to Copland’s ballet output as “music that we all don’t realize we know, but we know”: the breakneck “Hoe-Down” from “Rodeo,” the symphonic elevation of “Simple Gifts” in “Appalachian Spring.”

 

“There’s a lot that can be culturally associated with it, especially the Western cowboy feel of it, which I’m not leaning into at all,” Peck added. “I was a little nervous about that at first, but had to sort of remind myself that this music was written by this Jewish gay guy from Brooklyn who had never been out West.”

 

Several years before creating “Rodeo,” Peck saw Agnes de Mille’s original choreography at American Ballet Theater. He sat close to the orchestra, and although he enjoyed the dance, he was more struck by the score. “I could really feel it in a physical sense, rather than just using my ears and hearing it,” he said. “I kept thinking about the music, and then eventually, I had this thought that maybe there’s room for another interpretation.”

 

Where de Mille’s dance is theatrical, Peck’s “Rodeo” is abstract, stripped down to a neutral scenic design and placeless costumes. In a playful turn, it’s also pronounced “ROH-dee-oh” instead of the traditional “roh-DAY-oh.” Jonathan Fahoury, a member of the corps de ballet said that Peck’s ballet is one of his favorites to perform, adding that it’s free of affect or ornament: “What you see is what you get.”

 

“Rodeo,” Fahoury also said, is like a single idea that has now been expanded for “Copland Dance Episodes.” Peck used a similar comparison: “Making it was like making a pilot episode. That was proof of concept, and now what’s the rest of the season like? How do we take these character arcs even further through this abstract space, then tie it all up?”

 

The works Peck is using, composed between 1938 and 1944, have had a standard-setting effect on American sound, with the incorporation of cowboy songs and folk music. And they exemplify what has been seen as a national style of straightforward modesty. Transparent and uncomplicated by dense counterpoint, Copland’s music from this time all but defies interpretation, and punishingly exposes players who deviate from its directions; the composer Ned Rorem once described it as having “never a note too many.”

 

Onstage, the story ballets were distinct: “Billy the Kid” was written at the urging of Lincoln Kirstein for Ballet Caravan, a precursor to City Ballet; “Rodeo,” for de Mille; and “Appalachian Spring,” for Martha Graham. Yet they are, Peck said, “cut from the same cloth.”

 

That’s an argument borne out in the juxtapositions of “Copland Dance Episodes.” The opening “Fanfare” — as simple as can be, in the key of C and in common time — leads without friction into the brassy “Buckaroo Holiday” of “Rodeo,” which is in the same key, with the same number of beats per measure. Copland’s signature expansiveness, rendered with fifth intervals, opens the “Saturday Night Waltz” and returns later in “Billy the Kid.” And “Hoe-Down” ends with three emphatic sforzando notes that flow without a pause in Peck’s dance into three soft ones, in a logical key change, at the start of “Appalachian Spring.”

 

Throughout, Litton said, the music remains at a “human” scale. That word has also often been applied to Peck’s choreography, particularly for groups. Another word that tends to come up when speaking with his City Ballet colleagues is “musical.”

 

Litton described Peck’s relationship with the scores as “emotion based,” clearly responding to the notes with choreography that “always fits.” And Ellen Warren, a former dancer with the company who is designing the costumes for “Copland Dance Episodes,” said that seeing Peck at work “almost feels like a game between the movement and the music.”

 

Peck grew up playing piano, and continued with it while at the School of American Ballet. There, he took part in a music program led by Jeffrey Middleton. Eventually, Peck, who had long believed that dancers are musicians — especially tap dancers like Savion Glover — could interpret a score with confidence, and write piano works for himself.

 

“Copland Dance Episodes” has been in development since soon after “Rodeo” premiered. After studying the scores and responding to them with movement, Peck mapped out the choreography as if it were a series. He said that the process of building it was closer to his work on Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” film than to his other ballets.

 

“What I’m aiming to do is to get the viewer to break down the idea of, this is like a trilogy of some sort,” he said. “It’s not a trilogy. It’s sort of taking liberty by colliding all this music and immersing ourselves in the spell of it, and finding these pockets of interaction or of little anecdotes or of pure dance so that they can find the world of it in a new way.”

 

Miriam Miller, a City Ballet soloist, said “Copland Dance Episodes” is “a nonnarrative ballet, but there are emotions and narrative within it.” There are couples who recur throughout, but the work, after the “Fanfare” introduction, begins with a version of Peck’s “Rodeo,” which was made for an ensemble of 15 male dancers (and one woman); and then, in “Appalachian Spring,” the casting is inverted, with a group of 15 female dancers on pointe. Near the end of that section, Peck said, the groups are combined “almost like peanut butter and jelly, then the third act, ‘Billy the Kid,’ brings these two worlds together and collides them.”

 

This work is Peck’s 30th premiere with the lighting designer Brandon Stirling Baker, who said that in creating a scheme, he began with the music. “I listen for color,” he said. “And Aaron Copland is the most colorful composer you can think of. It can be many things — rowdy, epic, sensitive, serene.”

 

Ultimately, he and Peck decided that the color should come from the score and the dancers, not from the light. “It’s going to all be light that we see in the real world,” Baker said. “It’s very honest, and the work can speak for itself. I thought about ‘Simple Gifts’: ‘’Tis a gift to be simple.’”

 

Much tone comes as well from the set, by the artist Jeffrey Gibson, whose work Peck saw in his exhibition “Like a Hammer” at the Denver Art Museum in 2018. Gibson’s style, which incorporates craft and camp in mixed media, with inspiration from his Choctaw and Cherokee heritage, is as fervently American as Copland’s music.

 

“For me, listening to the music was a little complicated,” Gibson said. “It is Americana from a time of strife for Native American people.” But he and Peck also wanted their collaboration to put forward a vision for unity. Gibson arrived at a dizzyingly colorful curtain with text running along both sides that reads “the only way out is through” — “a set of words that expressed what a new Americana could be,” he said.

 

The curtain’s look fed that of the costumes. Warren took the more than 100 colors of Gibson’s design and assigned two to each of the 30 dancers in the cast. During “Fanfare,” they are covered in white nylon tulle that Peck described as “the cobwebs of ballet’s past.”

“He wants people to see the music in a new way,” Warren said. “They hear ‘Copland’ and they think Western. But the visuals are about dealing with the music in a way that’s truly rooted in America and our culture. All these colors are redefining what it means to be American.”

 

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So can we safely assume that Copland invented the Western (The Wild West) music? Or was he merely copying some unknown composer and who died a poor man?

 

Besides Rodeo, here are two more contemplative piano renditions from Our Town that I absolutely love.

 

Conversation At The Fountain Soda (Our Town)

 

 

Story Of Our Town (Our Town)

 

 

 

That's right, Philip Aaberg is the pianist who played with Elvin Bishop (Fooled Around And Fell In Love).

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Our Town is my personal favorite of Copland's 8 film scores, an incredible piece of work.  The complete re-recording that Naxos released 15 or so years ago is essential, now I just wish we'd get complete modern re-recordings of Red Pony and Heiress (as great as the Intrada release of the original recordings is).

 

But @AC1 you skipped my favorite of the Our Town piano pieces, "The Resting Place on the Hill," adapted from what is the greatest cue in the original score IMO.

 

 

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Listening to The City (Naxos re-recording) this morning

 

You can talk about "Coplandesque" scores all day, but nobody comes close to the beautiful complex mixture of emotions that the man himself could elicit from such simplicity.  His music is such a joy for me to listen because it's so compelling at the level of musical phrases/sentences and also I feel like I'm on a larger musical journey that feels very natural and inevitable.

 

It's interesting to compare the pared down orchestration of the original score for the documentary short to the sections that were adapted for full symphony orchestra for the "Music for Movies" suite.  I love the presence of the saxophone in the original orchestration, most prominently heard in the "New England Village" sequence.

 

See how he changed it from the saxophone heard here in the original recording at 3:08

 

 

to the bassoon in the "Music for Movies" orchestral suite heard at 2:19

 

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On 28/01/2023 at 8:19 AM, AC1 said:

So can we safely assume that Copland invented the Western (The Wild West) music? Or was he merely copying some unknown composer and who died a poor man?

 

Well, everything that we label 'wild west music', including that of Aaron Copland, is based on existing folk music from around the world, as all the immigrants to the US brought their traditions with them. So it wasn't one person, it's an amalgam.

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16 minutes ago, Thor said:

 

Well, everything that we label 'wild west music', including that of Aaron Copland, is based on existing folk music from around the world, as all the immigrants to the US brought their traditions with them. So it wasn't one person, it's an amalgam.

 

Sure, but in terms of the sound of how that folk style was adapted, voiced, and orchestrated, Copland is undoubtedly the most influential.

 

Like take even a Western score as early as Stagecoach in 1939.  I would bet real money that the opening of the main titles, especially how the brass is used, was directly influenced by Copland's music.  Louis Gruenberg who worked on that score was an old friend of Copland's.  I can't prove that of course.

 

 

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