Compact Discoveries®
a series of one-hour radio programs produced, written, hosted, and edited
by Fred Flaxman
©2002 and 2007 by Fred Flaxman
Program 19
"Aaron Copland: The Brooklyn Cowboy"

MUSIC: Copland: Billy the Kid Excerpt [Everest EVC 9040, track 5] [Down and under...]

Welcome to Compact Discoveries. I'm Fred Flaxman. The next hour will be devoted to the music of Aaron Copland, whom I call "The Brooklyn Cowboy" because he talked with a Brooklyn accent and sometimes composed with a Western touch.

I was lucky enough to interview him in 1961 when I was a journalism student at the University of Michigan and he came to Ann Arbor. I asked him why concert-goers generally have little enthusiasm for contemporary music. He replied that the public simply hadn't been exposed to enough of it.

"People are used to romantic music and like what they are used to," he told me. "The younger generation seems more responsive to the new music for this reason. They have been exposed somewhat to it, and not as much to the standard works. If you took a Chinese who was used to oriental music and played for him a symphony or a concerto, chances are that he wouldn't care for what he wasn't accustomed to. It's all a matter of getting used to it."

These comments seem dated now for two reasons. First of all, the younger generations haven't taken to modern art music any more than did Copland's peers. Perhaps those born in the last half century never did get used to it. Perhaps it was never worth getting used to. Secondly, in the years since my interview with Copland, Asians have come to almost dominate the field of Western classical music.

Yet Copland was one modern composer about whom the music-loving public was - and still is - enthusiastic. In fact he was one of the few serious American composers to be able to support himself comfortably from his music. I asked him if this was because he wrote consciously for the public.

"I don't think any composer really writes entirely for himself," he answered. "Even if he just wants to hear what one or two friends have to say about his composition, he is still composing for other people. I don't consciously think about the public when I am composing, but I do want people to like my music."

Copland often succeeded in this ambition. In 1944 his ballet Appalachian Spring won a Pulitzer Prize in music as well as the New York Music Critics' Award for the outstanding theatrical composition of the season.

Copland was not a great creator of original tunes, like his contemporaries George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein. All three, incidentally, were Jewish Americans. Copland's best melodies were taken from folk songs, like the Shaker song, Simple Gifts.

MUSIC: Copland: Simple Gifts [Argo D 125294, track 4] [1:54]

The Shaker song, Simple Gifts, as arranged by Aaron Copland, from his Old American Songs, Set 1. Samuel Ramey was the singer; Warren Jones was at the piano. From an Argo compact disc recording.

Well, if Copland wasn't the greatest tunesmith who ever lived, at least he recognized a great tune when he heard one. And Simple Gifts is certainly one of the great melodies. Copland was so smitten by this tune that he used it in his famous ballet score, Appalachian Spring, which we'll hear next.

But first a word about the title of this composition. Actually several words, and they'll come not from me, but from the composer himself, on the occasion of his 81st birthday anniversary concert at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. This excerpt is from a Bridge compact disc of that concert.

AUDIO: Aaron Copland [Bridge BCD 9046, track 8] [1:15]

MUSIC: Copland: Appalachian Spring [Telarc CD-80078, track 6] [22:19]

Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring. Louis Lane led the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. This was from a Telarc compact disc which also contains two other famous pieces by the "Brooklyn Cowboy," Fanfare for the Common Man and Rodeo, both of which we'll hear on this program.

You are listening to music by "The Brooklyn Cowboy" on this hour of Compact Discoveries. I'm your guide, Fred Flaxman.

[optional one-minute break not included in 58:00 total timing]

Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man was composed on a commission from Eugene Goossens, then the conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony, as one of a series of ten fanfares written by American composers to foster patriotic spirit during World War II. Copland's fanfare is the only one that remains in the repertory. It is, perhaps, his best original tune. He was so pleased with it himself that three years later he used it to introduce the final movement of his Third Symphony.

MUSIC: Copland: Fanfare for the Common Man [Telarc CD-80078, track 1] [3:14]

Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man as performed by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra conducted by Louis Lane.

You know, fanfares usually come at the beginning of a concert or an event or, in the case of this Telarc compact disc, at the beginning of the recording. I've chosen to place it in the middle of this Compact Discoveries hour to wake up any listener who might have dozed off during Appalachian Spring.

Now that I can be sure that everyone is awake, I'll make sure you stay that way by playing the third composition by Aaron Copland on this Telarc CD. It is called Rodéo or Rodeo. It consists of four movements: Buckaroo Holiday, Corral Nocturne, Saturday Night Waltz and Hoe-Down.

MUSIC: Copland: Rodeo [Telarc CD-80078, tracks 2, 3, 4 and 5]

Music for the ballet Rodeo by "The Brooklyn Cowboy," Aaron Copland. Louis Lane conducted the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra on a Telarc compact disc.

Copland's ballets Billy the Kid and Rodeo have become part of the standard American repertoire and his film scores did a great deal to spread his popularity during his lifetime. His music for the motion picture The Heiress won the 1949 Academy Award as the best dramatic film score of the year.

Copland was the first composer ever to receive a Guggenheim Fellowship and one of the first to make use of the jazz idiom in classical music.

"It seemed to me," he once said, "that we composers were in danger of working in a vacuum. Moreover, an entirely new public for music had grown up around the radio and phonograph. It made no sense to ignore them and to continue writing as if they did not exist."
But by 1927 Copland felt that he had done all he could using jazz. He went dissonant and esoteric for a while, but, apparently missing his audience, returned to a new uncomplicated style inspired by cowboy songs, New England hymns and Shaker melodies. He used popular Mexican tunes as the basis for what is still one of his most well-liked works, El Salon Mexico. We'll close with an excerpt from that piece now as performed by the New Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by the composer.

MUSIC: Copland: El Salon Mexico [Sony SM3K 46559, Disc 1, track 1]

[over the music] My wife and I once attended a pre-concert seminar that Aaron Copland gave at the Wolf Trap Farm Park for the Performing Arts near our home of 14 years in Reston, Va. Copland talked about the challenge of composing long pieces, noting that it was difficult to sustain and develop a musical idea.

Evidently it was difficult for him. It doesn't appear to have been a problem for Mahler, Bruckner or Wagner. But maybe it helps to be a 19th Century German with a name ending in "er." In any case, looking at my CDs of Copland's music, the only composition I can find which is as long as 40 minutes is his Symphony No. 3. And I'm afraid that work proves the point he made in that seminar. Its best passage was taken from the three-minute long Fanfare for the Common Man which he had composed three years earlier as a separate piece.

The most popular Copland pieces are all short: Appalachian Spring takes 22 minutes; Billy the Kid, 20 minutes for the suite, 32 for the complete ballet. The complete Rodeo ballet takes 23 minutes, El Salon Mexico is only 11 minutes long.

Nevertheless, at his best, Copland put together pieces which were vibrant, exciting, highly rhythmic, tuneful (even if the tunes were not always his), and, very evocative of the American spirit. That is what drew me to him when I was a college student, and that is what brings me back to him again now.

This is Fred Flaxman thanking you for joining me for Compact Discoveries. Your comments on this particular program or on the Compact Discoveries series would be greatly appreciated. You can contact me in care of this station or through my website, www.fredflaxman.com. Compact Discoveries is written, produced, recorded and edited by your guide, yours truly, and is a production of WXEL-FM, West Palm Beach, Florida.

MUSIC: [fades out at 57:45]

ANNOUNCER [Steve Jencks]: This program was made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Arts - a great nation deserves great art; and by the Public Radio Exchange Reversioning Project. The Public Radio Exchange is at prx.org.

 

 
  2009 Compact Discoveries