BARBARA KLEIN: And I’m Barbara Klein with People in America in VOA Special
English. Today we tell about Aaron Copland, one of America’s best modern music
STEVE EMBER: Aaron Copland wrote many kinds of music. He wrote music for the
orchestra, piano, and voice. He wrote music for plays, movies and dance. Copland
also was a conductor, pianist, speaker, teacher and author.
Music critics say Copland taught Americans about themselves through his music.
He used parts of many old traditional American folk songs in his work. He was
influenced to do this after studying music in France. He said that composers
there had a very French way of writing music. He said Americans had nothing like
that in this country. So he decided to compose music that was truly American.
Aaron always dreamt of becoming a composer
BARBARA KLEIN: Aaron Copland was born in nineteen hundred in Brooklyn, New
York. He was the youngest of five children. His parents had come to the United
States from eastern Europe. They owned a store in Brooklyn. Aaron began playing
the piano when he was a young child. He wrote his first song for his mother when
he was eight years old. His dreams of becoming a composer began when he was
When he was sixteen, he urged his parents to let him study composing with
Rubin Goldmark. Goldmark had taught the composer George Gershwin.
STEVE EMBER: When he was in his early twenties, Copland went to Paris where
he studied music with Nadia Boulanger. She was one of the most important music
teachers of the time. He returned to New York in nineteen twenty-four.
The famous conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Serge Koussevitzky,
learned about Copland's music. Koussevitzky led the orchestra for the first
performance of Copland's early work, "Music for the Theater," in nineteen
twenty-five. Koussevitzky also conducted Copland's "Concerto for Piano and
Orchestra" in nineteen twenty-seven. This work was unusual because Copland used
ideas from jazz music in his concerto.
BARBARA KLEIN: Copland later wrote the music for two ballets about the
American West. One was about the life of a famous gunfighter called Billy the
Kid. Copland used music from American cowboy songs in this work. This piece from
"Billy the Kid: Ballet Suite" is called "Street in a Frontier Town."
The famous composer began playing the piano as a child
STEVE EMBER: In nineteen forty-two, the conductor Andre Kostelanetz asked
Copland to write music about a great American, Abraham Lincoln. Copland wrote "Lincoln
Portrait" to honor America's sixteenth president. Copland's music included parts
of American folk songs and songs popular during the American Civil War. He added
words from President Lincoln's speeches and letters.
"A Lincoln Portrait" has been performed many times in America. Many famous
people have done the speaking part. Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of President
Franklin Roosevelt, was one of them. Here, actor James Earl Jones performs in
Copland's "A Lincoln Portrait."
BARBARA KLEIN: Also in nineteen forty-two, the music director of the
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra asked eighteen composers to write music expressing
love for America. For the competition, Copland composed "Fanfare for the Common
Man." This music is played in America during many national events, including
some presidential inaugurations.
STEVE EMBER: Experts say "Fanfare for the Common Man" was an example of
Copland's change in direction during the nineteen forties. He began writing
music that was more easily understood and more popular. Copland wrote about this
in nineteen forty-one in his book, “Our New Music.” He wrote that a whole new
public for music had developed as a result of the popularity of the radio and
record player. He said that there was no reason to continue writing music as if
these devices did not exist. So he decided to write music in a simpler way.
BARBARA KLEIN: Copland spread his ideas about music in other ways. He taught
at the New School for Social Research in New York City and at Harvard University
in Cambridge, Massachusetts. One of the many awards he received was the Pulitzer
Prize. He won it in nineteen forty-five for his famous music for a ballet called
"Appalachian Spring." It is one of his most popular works. The last part of the
ballet is based on a traditional song, "A Gift to be Simple."
Aaron Copland was one of America’s best modern music
STEVE EMBER: Copland also wrote music for several major motion pictures. He
won an Academy Award in nineteen fifty for composing the music for the film, "The
Heiress." Then, he began experimenting with what is called a twelve-tone system
of composing. His music no longer was as easy to understand, or as popular.
Copland stopped composing at the end of the nineteen sixties. Yet he
continued to be active as a conductor and speaker. In nineteen eighty-two,
Queens College of the City University of New York established the Aaron Copland
School of Music.
BARBARA KLEIN: Copland was a strong supporter of liberal ideas. In the early
nineteen- fifties, he and other famous writers, actors and intellectuals were
accused of supporting communism. Public opinion changed, though. In nineteen
sixty-four, President Lyndon Johnson presented him with the Presidential Medal
of Freedom. It is America's highest award to civilians. Aaron Copland died in
nineteen ninety at the age of ninety. But his music lives on.
STEVE EMBER: This Special English program was written by Shelley Gollust. It
was produced by Lawan Davis. I’m Steve Ember.
BARBARA KLEIN: And I'm Barbara Klein. Join us again next week for another
People in America program in VOA Special English.