Thursday, July 24, 2014

Aaron Copland and Appalachian Spring

This week we are looking at the works of American composer Aaron Copland and examining his approach to creating an “American sound.” Today, let’s look at one of his most famous works, Appalachian Spring (1943–1944), that won him a Pulitzer Prize.

Appalachian Spring was originally written as a ballet for dancer/choreographer Martha Graham. The ensemble consisted of only thirteen musicians. It wasn’t until later on that he arranged the piece into the orchestral suite most people are familiar with today.

One famous medley in Appalachian Spring is taken from the Shaker hymn ‘Tis the Gift to Be Simple. Copland then varies this theme throughout the work. In an attempt to evoke images of rural, American life, Copland uses wide sonorities and open fifths and octaves, a trait commonly used to express American ideas in music.

Here is a performance of Copland’s Appalachian Spring by the Ulster Orchestra.

Also check out this great arrangement by John Williams that was performed at the 2008 Presidential Inauguration.

Do you think Copland was successful in creating the “American sound” in his music?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Aaron Copland and the American Sound

Continuing on with our “American music” theme this month, let’s look at Aaron Copland and how he contributed to creating this “American sound.” Though born in New York, Copland received much of his music education in Europe, studying under the infamous Nadia Boulanger.

Copland made it his goal to write in an Americanist style, hoping to peak the American public’s interest in classical music. He also worked to promote the compositions of other American composers, both those before his time and contemporaries.

Early in his career, Copland sought to use what he considered the first American musical movement in his Americanist pieces: jazz. An example of this is his Music for Theatre (1925). By using jazz elements within a symphonic style, Copland hoped to create an “American sound” apart from the European tradition.

During the 1930s, Copland began pulling from popular and folk music of other countries and using the material in his work. The use of Mexican folk elements in his El Salón México (1932–1936) and cowboy songs in Billy the Kid (1938) and Rodeo (1942) were additional attempts to expand the American audience for classical music by creating sounds that may sound comfortable or familiar. Copland also used his skill in film scores for movies such as Of Mice and Men (1939) and Our Town (1940).

On Thursday we will take a look at one of Copland’s most popular works, Appalachian Spring. What is your favorite?

El Salón México

Billy the Kid


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Transcendentalists and the Concord Sonata

One of my favorite Ives compositions is his “Concord Sonata.” In addition to the various compositional approaches mentioned earlier this week, Ives was also influenced by the Transcendentalist thinkers, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Bronson Alcott, and Henry David Thoreau. In his “Concord Sonata,” Ives names each movement after a Transcendentalist. Listen here as Jeremy Denk performs “The Alcotts” from this sonata:  

This piece was later orchestrated by Henry Brant and recorded in 2011 by Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony. You can hear “The Alcotts” performed in the orchestrated version on July 18 at 8:33am on 90.9 WGUC.

Do you hear any musical quotations from other famous works in this movement?