Aaron Copland was a revolutionary American composer who was known for crafting the now popular American style of orchestral music composition, thus he was known as the ‘Dean of American Composers’. Having composed more than a hundred and fifty pieces, he was also a famous teacher and conductor.
Aaron Copland was born in Brooklyn, New York on November 14th 1900. His parents were immigrants from Russia. Copland’s mother was an esteemed vocalist and pianist, who arranged for music lessons for all of her children. Copland, being the youngest of his siblings, also received guidance from his sister, who taught him how to play the piano. She also brought home opera music writings (libretti) for him. The result of this was that at age eleven, Copland wrote his own musical piece of seven bars. He then took piano lessons with his neighborhood piano teacher Leopold Wolfsohn. Copland then took courses in music theory from Rubin Goldmark. By this time, Copland had decided that he wanted to be a composer. He was then admitted to the famous Fountainebleau School of Music in Paris, where he further studied the highly coveted Germanic-European style of music. Copland was twenty one at the time.
Having completed his education, Copland returned to the United States in 1925. Upon his return, he was involved in writing, teaching, and lecture recitals. Copland also formed the Young Composer’s Group in hopes to repel the idea that music was only accessible to the elites of their time. Soon, Copland met with Modern Art Promoter Alfred Stieglitz, who influenced Copland along with many other artists of his time to try and demonstrate the idea of American Democracy in their art. An inspired Copland then went on to form the famous ‘Commando Unit’ with Roger Sessions, Roy Harris, Virgil Thomson and Walter Piston, with whom he composed various pieces during the Great Depression, of these, the Young Pioneers, the Second Hurricane and the Short Symphony were most notable. The commando unit’s music was later on based on the German Idea of ‘music for use’, which was exemplified by theatre music which sought to describe the American way of life. He then went on to compose scores for several radio broadcasts and theatre performances. He caught a big financial break when he wrote scores for two Hollywood movies, ‘Of Mice and Men’ and ‘Our Town’. He also wrote thematic pieces based on World War II. Arguably, his greatest success came in 1942 when he wrote the highly famous ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’ and ‘Lincoln Portrait’, the latter of which was a patriotic wartime effort. During his career, Copland also travelled extensively; thanks to which he collaborated with various foreign artists. A decade long collaboration with the Japanese Tōru Takemitsu and a close friendship with the Mexican Carlos Chávez were instrumental in his education of the twelve-tone method of composition. Having earned great success with film scores for ‘The Heiress’ and ‘The Red Pony’ as well as ballet scores such as ‘Rodeo’ and ‘Appalachian Spring’, Copland took to conducting towards the end of his career.
Aaron Copland died of Alzheimer’s disease in 1990. In his name, there exists the Aaron Copland Fund for Music, and the Aaron Copland School of Music at CUNY. He won an Academy Award for ‘The Heiress’ in 1950, whilst his other film scores were all nominated for such. He also won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1945 for his ballet compositions. In 1964, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon Johnson for his extraordinary patriotic works.