Tuesday, December 4, 2007


Copland did not compose an extensive repertory of choral music but this is a pleasant sampling which includes the then-premier recordings of Four Motets and Canticle of Freedom composed in 1921 and 1955 respectively.

The more widely-known Old American Songs was originally assembled by Copland for voice and piano and later set for voice and orchestra by the composer. The choral version of Old American Songs was arranged by Irving Fine, Raymond Wilding-White, and Glenn Koponen.

Michael Tilson Thomas has long been an able interpreter of Aaron Copland's works and, in fact, was hand-selected by the composer himself to conduct the chorus for these recordings. Copland had originally planned to handle the conducting chores himself but was too ill to participate.

Background information on this recording can be found in the scanned liner notes contained in the download. For a history and analysis of these compositions, see the comments.

Old American Songs, Set I (1950)
1. The Boatmen's Dance 3:03
2. The Dodger 2:05
3. Long Time Ago 3:10
4. Simple Gifts 1:21
5. I Bought Me A Cat 2:12

Old American Songs, Set II (1952)
6. The Little Horses 3:11
7. Zion's Walls 1:44
8. The Golden Willow Tree 3:20
9. At The River 2:43
10. Ching-A-Ring Chaw 1:33

11. Canticle Of Freedom (1955) 13:46

Four Motets (1921)
12. Help Us, O Lord 2:50
13. Thou, O Jehovah, Abideth Forever 2:29
14. Have Mercy On Us, O My Lord 4:11
15. Sing Ye Praises To Our King 1:41

Recorded in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, Salt Lake City, Utah in 1986.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


The Boston Symphony's Serge Koussevitzky hurried offstage, excitedly kissed several dowagers who had come up to congratulate him. He had just conducted the world premiere of Aaron Copland's Third Symphony. Said he: "There is no doubt about it—this is the greatest American symphony. It goes from the heart to the heart. He is the greatest American composer. Of course."

In the same auditorium 19 years ago Dr. Koussevitzky had led the first performance of Brooklyn-born Aaron Copland's raucous Jazz Concerto. On that evening Bostonians had hissed; some had laughed out loud; some had accused Dr. Koussevitzky of insulting them.* In those days, Aaron Copland was the kind of cacophonous enfant terrible in the U.S. that Igor Stravinsky had once been in Paris. If audiences were no longer disturbed by these terrible children, it was for different reasons. Igor Stravinsky had waited for the public ear to become attuned to his jazzy dissonances. Aaron Copland had modified his harmonies to please the public.

If 45-year-old Copland could be considered the top U.S. composer, the small stature of his colleagues had something to do with it. His technical competence far outshone his inventiveness. His first popular success, El Salon Mexico (1936), was full of Mexican folk tunes. He borrowed folk and hymn themes for his ballet scores (Billy the Kid, Appalachian Spring) and his movie music (Our Town). The Third Symphony, which Boston heard last week, varied from tenderness to brassy choirs which led a Boston Post critic to call it "Shostakovich in the Appalachians."

More often than he borrowed from others, Aaron Copland has borrowed from himself. The Third's opening movement uses a tonal device from Appalachian Spring (1944); the fourth movement intricately develops the theme of Fanfare for the Common Man (1942). Yet there was enough original music in the Third's 40 minutes, and so skilled a reworking of the old, that it would undoubtedly add to Aaron Copland's popularity—a kind of popularity that seemed to keep him too busy to be a great composer.
From TIME Magazine, Monday, Oct. 28, 1946

This most popular of Copland's symphonies---from whose final movement Fanfare for the Common Man was later excerpted---is represented by only four recordings, of which Yoel Levi's is by far the best: meditative, earnest, sumptuous, and overwhelming by turns, this is a definitive performance. As is Telarc's recording, not nearly as too-much-of-a-good-thing as usual: the bass drum in the Fanfare section is accurately stupendous. Squarely in the "stellar" category. Igor Kipnis

The companion piece on this disc is another recording of Music For The Theater, a more complete background of which is forthcoming.

Symphony No. 3 (1944-46)
1. Molto moderato, with simple expression 10:33
2. Allegro molto 09:15
3. Andantino quasi allegretto 10:33
4. Molto deliberato, freely at first 13:30

Music for the Theatre, Suite For Small Orchestra (1925)
5. Prologue 05:59
6. Dance 03:27
7. Interlude 05:14
8. Burlesque 03:08
9. Epilogue 03:45

Recorded in Symphony Hall, Atlanta GA USA on February 18-19 & April 14-18, 1989

Friday, September 7, 2007


Aaron Copland didn't have the theatrical instinct of a George Gershwin or even a Gian Carlo Menotti, but that didn't keep him from writing one of the best operas we have in the "American" vein. The Tender Land was composed in 1953 on a commission from Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II--who since the premiere of Oklahoma! 10 years earlier could afford such largesse--and received its premiere on April 1, 1954 at the City Center in New York. Concerning a girl transformed into a young woman by her first experience of love, The Tender Land is set in the American Midwest during the 1930s. The libretto by Horace Everett (a pseudonym of Erik Johns) was inspired by photographs taken by Walker Evans of a rural, Depression-era mother and her daughter that had appeared in James Agee's book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. The music is cut from the same cloth as that of Appalachian Spring--the melodic, easygoing, folkish vein that Copland could manage about as easily as breathing. Lightly scored (calling for winds and brass in twos) and with spoken dialogue in the style of the musical stage, the score has come to be regarded as one of Copland's finest, as he himself believed it to be. You couldn't get a more authentic cast than the one heard here, consisting entirely of good American singers whose delivery is appropriately nonoperatic, and including Minnesota native Elisabeth Comeaux in the central role of Laurie. Philip Brunelle leads the forces of the Minnesota-based Plymouth Music Series in an idiomatic if slightly underpowered performance that comes from the Heartland and goes straight to the heart. Ted Libbey

Although the folk-tinged ballet scores that made Copland the quintessential American composer of the early 1940's are outside the scope of this selection, he worked along similar lines well into the 50's. ''The Tender Land,'' his 1956 opera about a girl's coming of age on a Midwest farm, is the culmination of this style, offering both the orchestral warmth and evocativeness of ''Appalachian Spring'' and the homey vocal writing of ''Old American Songs.'' Its attractions include a gorgeous quintet (''The promise of living''), an infectious barn dance (''Stomp your foot'') and a touching finale. The Brunelle recording, with Elisabeth Comeaux as Laurie and Dan Dressen as Martin, does the score full justice. Allan Kozinn

Disc: 1
1. The Tender Land: Prelude
2. The Tender Land: Act One, Scene 1: The Front Yard Of The Moss Home
3. The Tender Land: Act One, Scene 1: 'Two Little Bits Of Metal'
4. The Tender Land: Act One, Scene 1: The Arrival Of The Postman
5. The Tender Land: Act One, Scene 2: Opening The Package
6. The Tender Land: Act One, Scene 2: 'This Is Like The Dress I Never Had'
7. The Tender Land: Act One, Scene 2: Dance And Exit
8. The Tender Land: Act One, Scene 3: Laurie's Entrance: 'Once I Thought I'd Never Grow
9. The Tender Land: Act One, Scene 3: Ma's Entrance
10. The Tender Land: Act One, Scene 3: 'Remember The Boy That Used To Call'; Ma's Exit
11. The Tender Land: Act One, Scene 4: Entrance Of Martin And Top
12. The Tender Land: Act One, Scene 4: Martin And Top Enter The Farmyard
13. The Tender Land: Act One, Scene 4: Duet: 'We've Been North'
14. The Tender Land: Act One, Scene 4: Grandpa Meets The Boys
15. The Tender Land: Act One, Scene 4: Trio: 'A Stranger May Seem Strange That's True'
16. The Tender Land: Act One, Scene 4: Interlude - Martin And Top Make Horseplay
17. The Tender Land: Act One, Scene 5: The Invitation
18. The Tender Land: Act One, Scene 5: Quintet - 'The Promise Of Living'
CD1 Duration: 42:23

Disc: 2

1. The Tender Land: Act 2, Scene 1: The Graduation Eve Supper
2. The Tender Land: Act 2, Scene 1: The Supper Ends
3. The Tender Land: Act 2, Scene 1: Grandpa's Toast: 'Try Makin' Peace'
4. The Tender Land: Act 2, Scene 1: Laurie's reply: 'Thank You, Thank You All'
5. The Tender Land: Act 2, Scene 1: The Invitaition To Dance
6. The Tender Land: Act 2, Scene 1: The Dance: 'Stomp Your Foot Upon The Floor'
7. The Tender Land: Act 2, Scene 2: Dance Music And Dialogue
8. The Tender Land: Act 2, Scene 3: Party Music Back In The House
9. The Tender Land: Act 2, Scene 3: Top's Song: 'Oh, I Was Goin' A-Courtin'
10. The Tender Land: Act 2, Scene 3: The Dancing Resumes
11. The Tender Land: Act 2, Scene 3: Duet: 'You Dance Real Well'
12. The Tender Land: Act 2, Scene 3: 'Laurie...You Know, Laurie'
13. The Tender Land: Act 2, Scene 3: Duet: 'In Love? In Love?'
14. The Tender Land: Act 2, Scene 3: 'The Tender Land'
15. The Tender Land: Act 2, Scene 4: Grandpa's Confrontation
16. The Tender Land: Act 2, Scene 4: Party Farewell
17. The Tender Land: Act Three: Introduction
18. The Tender Land: Act Three, Scene 1: Entr'acte
19. The Tender Land: Act Three, Scene 1: Duet: 'Laurie, Laurie...'
20. The Tender Land: Act Three, Scene 1: Martin Alone: 'Daylight Will Come In Such Short TIme'
21. The Tender Land: Act Three, Scene 1: Dialogue
22. The Tender Land: Act Three, Scene 1: Top's Aria: 'That's Crazy' And Exit Of Martin And Top'
23. The Tender Land: Act Three, Scene 2: Interlude: Daybreak
24. The Tender Land: Act Three, Scene 2: 'The Sun Is Coming Up'
25. The Tender Land: Act Three, Scene 2: Laurie's Farewell
26. The Tender Land: Act Three, Scene 2: 'All Thinking's Done'
CD2 Duration: 64:12

Recorded October, 1989 at Ordway Music Theatre, St Paul, Minnesota

Tuesday, September 4, 2007


Who would have guessed that Aaron Copland's last film score would receive its first commercial release 42 years after it was recorded?

Something Wild, a 1961 film starring Carroll Baker, was a box-office flop, so distributor United Artists nixed a proposed soundtrack album despite its composer's fame.

New York film-music buff Mark Leneker, doing research into Copland's music four years ago, discovered that Copland had assembled a 35-minute album mockup and that a handful of copies were privately pressed and given to friends.

Leneker contacted the film's director, Jack Garfein, who now lives in Paris (and who, at the time of the film, was Carroll Baker's husband). It turned out that Garfein's current wife had discovered a mint, sealed copy of the LP in the family attic.

Copland conducted a 55-piece orchestra in the music, which is stylistically different from his earlier, more familiar Americana scores like Of Mice and Men (1939) and The Red Pony (1949). Because the film's subject matter is grim and violent (Baker plays a suicidal rape victim in New York City), the composer's idiom is more contemporary, incorporating jazz influences, serialism and occasional dissonance.

Copland adapted the score into a concert work, Music for a Great City, which was premiered in 1964. For those who prefer this suite, Music for a Great City is available in two recorded versions: Copland's own, with the London Symphony Orchestra (Sony 47236), and Leonard Slatkin's, with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (RCA 60149).

Something Wild is a welcome addition to the recent resurgence of interest in Copland's film music. Jonathan Sheffer's 2000 collection (Telarc 80583) of obscure Copland includes suites from The City (a documentary presented at the 1939 World's Fair), The Cummington Story (documentary short, 1945) and The North Star (1943).

More familiar to many listeners will be the Americana classics – Of Mice and Men, Our Town (1940) and The Red Pony – which are regularly performed in concert and have been the subject of multiple recordings over the years. Slatkin's Music for Films collection (RCA 61699) is comprised of a seven-movement suite from The Red Pony, nine minutes from Our Town and the five-movement Music for Movies, which includes two pieces from The City, two from Of Mice and Men – the barley-wagon and threshing sequences – and one from Our Town.

What caps the Slatkin CD is an eight-minute suite from The Heiress, Copland's Oscar-winning 1949 score – including the composer’s Prelude that director William Wyler dropped in post-production in favor of an orchestral arrangement of the plot-specific chanson, "Plaisir d'Amour." Jon Burlingame

Track listing

1. New York Profile (02:48)
2. Park At Night (01:27)
3. Subway Jam (02:16)
4. Mary Ann Resigned (02:01)
5. Incarceration and Nightmares (07:06)
6. Escape Through The City (07:23)
7. Love Music (01:57)
8. Walk Downtown (03:11)
9. Episode On The Bridge (04:51)
10. Mother Alone (00:57)
11. Reunion (01:05)

Total Duration: 00:35:02

Friday, August 17, 2007


Here is a very well played collection of Copland pieces composed in his more tonal and consonant style. Gerard Schwarz has proven himself a very capable Copland interpreter over the years and Schifrin's clarinet is more than up to the challenging Concerto for Clarinet & String Orchestra, which was commissioned in 1947 by jazz star Benny Goodman. Copland incorporated many jazz elements into his concerto, who once told Phillip Ramey that his decision to use jazz materials was "inspired by Goodman's playing" but that, "contrary to certain commentators, the jazz elements in the Clarinet Concerto have nothing to do with the 'hot jazz' improvisation for which Benny Goodman and his sextet were noted". The piece is written in a very unusual form. The two movements are played back-to-back, linked by a clarinet cadenza. The first movement is written in A-B-A form and is slow and expressive, full of bittersweet lyricism. The cadenza not only gives the soloist an opportunity to display his virtuosity, but also introduces many of the melodic Latin American jazz themes that dominate the second movement. The overall form of the final movement is a free rondo with several developing side issues that resolve in the end with an elaborate coda in C major. Copland noted that his playful finale is born of "an unconscious fusion of elements obviously related to North and South American popular music (for example, a phrase from a currently popular Brazilian tune, heard by me in Rio, became embedded in the secondary material)." This section was written specially for Benny Goodman's jazz talents; however, many of the technical challenges were above Goodman's confidence level (but probably not his skill level), and the original score shows several alterations to bring down higher notes, making it easier to play.

Music for the Theater (1925), is a suite in five parts for small orchestra, which makes use of syncopated and polymetric rhythms, and "blue" intervals. Copland had no particular play in mind for his work; rather, his music was intended to evoke the variety of moods found in many plays of the day, the romantic or contemplative interlude, the dance-like burst of excited activity, even a parody of burlesque. Brightened with trumpets, trombone, and clarinet, the music evokes jazz and popular song while remaining distinctively Copland's: listen for the sudden changes in metre, the irregular time signatures, the way the spaces inside the music can fill up or empty out in a heartbeat. And the relaxed lyricism of the Prologue, Interlude, and Epilogue is already uniquely his own; what's more, it's uniquely American. Not bad for a 24-year-old.

Quiet City is a well-known composition for trumpet, cor anglais, and string orchestra by Aaron Copland. In 1940, Copland knitted together the ten-minute piece from the incidental music he had written the previous year to accompany Irwin Shaw's play of the same name. The play had been commissioned for the Group Theatre by Harold Clurman and was directed by Elia Kazan. Although the play was dropped after only two Sunday performances, most likely due to internal dissension (see Richard Shickel's discussion in his 2005 biography of Elia Kazan, pp. 75-78), the music endured thanks to Copland's distilled version. Copland's decision to replace the original instrumentation, a chamber quartet of clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, and piano, with a larger ensemble of strings, trumpet, and cor anglais, has tended to deepen rather than sacrifice the intimacy and poignancy of the music. The piece was premiered on January 28, 1941, by conductor Daniel Saidenberg and his Saidenberg Little Symphony in New York City. Quiet City evokes the nocturnal introspections of the dwellers of a great city, beginning in stillness before slowly building up to a climax and then receding into silence again. The voice of the lone trumpeter, joined by that of the dark-toned cor anglais, rises and falls against the clear sound of the strings, in a cathartic release of the nostalgia, melancholy, regrets, and anxieties that distressed individuals in an urban society feel most acutely at night. According to Copland, the piece was "an attempt to mirror the troubled main character of Irwin Shaw's play," who had abandoned his Jewishness and his poetic aspirations in order to pursue material success by Anglicizing his name, marrying a rich socialite, and becoming the president of a department store. The man, however, was continually recalled to his conscience by the haunting sound of his brother's trumpet playing. Continuing the assessment in his own autobiography, Copland observed that "Quiet City seems to have become a musical entity, superseding the original reasons for its composition," owing much of its success to its escape from the details of its dramatic context.

Dance Panels (1959, revised 1962): In seven "movements". Copland at his most Copland-esque. Long pastroal melodies, bouncy tunes, a snare drum here or there. This is film music without a film, the "dawn" opening on a single pitch with offstage horns, ending with a return of the opening material after a deus ex machina trumpet solo that brings the becoming dissonant festivities to a jarring halt and the dawn rises again. Underplayed and enjoyable. The panel technique allows him to experiment with several different moods, which I'm coming more and more to realize is the essence of Copland's language. Consider even his first piece, the piano work: The Cat and the Mouse, in a way this is similar and stands rather separeate from the more "abstract" proclamatory works like the Piano/Orchestral Variations. The orchestration is consistently lovely and here is an interesting point to be aware of - in Copland's music we are hearing a sound orchestrated for the instruments, instead of the instruments playing the music - its a subtle difference. There is the blending of sounds that is so French - back to the Impressionists and forward to the Spectralists - that differs in so many ways from a contrapuntal style as in, say Carter or Ruggles.

1. Concerto for Clarinet & Orchestra (1948) 15:47
David Schifrin (clarinet)

Music For The Theater (1925)
2. Prologue 5:45
3. Dance 3:12
4. Interlude 5:07
5. Burlesque 3:07
6. Epilogue 3:43
David Schifrin (clarinet)
Mark Hill (English horn)
Neil Baum (trumpet)

7. Quiet City (1940) 8:57
Mark Hill (English horn)
Neil Baum (trumpet)

Dance Panels (1959, rev 1962)
8. Introduction: Moderato 3:35
9. Allegretto con tenerezza 4:11
10. Scherzando 4:06
11. Pas de trois: Lento 4:25
12. Con brio 3:28
13. Con moto 1:29
14. Molto ritmico 4:49

New York Chamber Symphony conducted by Gerard Schwarz

Monday, August 13, 2007


Happy is the composer who has an advocate as passionate and talented as Leonard Bernstein. These Copland performances have been the preferred versions since they were first issued--better even than the composer's own, later recordings. Originally they were spread over two discs, but thanks to the extended playing time of the compact disc, you can now get all three great Copland ballets together, along with the ever popular Fanfare for the Common Man. Bernstein brings to this music the right sharpness of rhythm but also a typically open-hearted warmth. He coaxes a virtuoso response from the New York Philharmonic, which knows this music as well (or better) than anyone. Self- recommending. David Hurwitz

These are, of course, Aaron Copland's landmark works and are the pieces he is most remembered for. As stated above, Bernstein recorded what many beleive to be the definitive renditions of these compositions, although there are many, many other fine ones out there and I will post a few of them here.

Fanfare for the Common Man (1942)

1. Molto deliberato (2:00)

Recorded at Philharmonic Hall, New York City, NY USA on February 16, 1966

Appalachian Spring - Suite (1943-1944)
2. Very Slowly (2:43)
3. Allegro (2:42
4. Moderato (3:52)
5. Fast (3:35)
6. Subito Allegro (3:44)
7. As At First (Slowly) (1:15)
8. Doppio movimento (6:45)

Recorded at Manhattan Center, New York City, NY USA on October 9, 1961

Rodeo – Four Dance Episodes (1942)
9. Buckaroo Holiday - Allegro con spirito (7:00)
10 Corral Nocturne - Moderato (4:02)
11. Saturday Night Waltz - Introduction - Slow Waltz (4:11)
12. Hoe-Down - Allegro (3:06)

Recorded at Manhattan Center, New York City, NY USA on May 2, 1960

Billy The Kid – Suite (1938)
13. Introduction. The Open Prairie (3:15)
14. Street In A Frontier Town (3:22)
15. Mexican Dance And Finale (2:01)
16. Prairie Night (Card Game At Night) (4:22)
17. Gun Battle (1:49)
18. Celebration (After Billy's Capture) (2:22)
19. Billy's Death (1:19)
20. The Open Prairie Again (1:47)

Recorded at the St. George Hotel, Brooklyn, NY USA on October 20, 1960

On all: New York Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Leonard Bernstein

Monday, August 6, 2007


This is an excellent collection of Aaron Copland’s early orchestral works, written when the composer was in his twenties and mid-thirties. These pieces have not achieved the notoriety of Mr. Copland’s later “populist” compositions and contain more modernist devices. Some of these feature jazz elements (such as the Piano Concerto, Music for the Theater and the Dance Symphony, which was drawn from materials composed for the “Grogh” ballet). Despite the complexity of these selections, the music is both exhilarating and interesting, albeit challenging. Repeat listenings are required if one wishes to fully appreciate these compositions.

Of the eight works, three are conducted by Leonard Bernstein, who is often considered the definitive interpreter of Copland’s music. The rest are under the direction of the composer himself.

Disc: 1

Dance Symphony (1922-1925)
1. I. Introduction: Lento; Molto allegro; Adagio molto 7:02
2. II. Andante moderato 6:03
3. III. Allegro vivo 4:56

London Symphony Orchestra Conducted by Aaron Copland
Recorded at Walthamstow Town Hall, London UK on October 2&3, 1967

Two Pieces For String Orchestra (1923, 1928)
4. Lento molto 5:42
5. Rondino 4:23

London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Aaron Copland
Recorded at Walthamstow Town Hall, London UK on November 6, 1965

Symphony For Organ & Orchestra (1924)
6.: I. Prelude: Andante 6/8 5:54
7. II. Scherzo: Allegro molto 3/4; Moderato 4- 7:30
8. III. Finale: Lento; Allegro moderato 4/4 11:00

New York Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein
E. Power Biggs, organ
Recorded at Philharmonic Hall (Avery Fisher Hall), New York City, NY USA on January 3, 1967

Music For The Theatre (1925)
9.: I. Prologue 5:46
10. II. Dance 3:13
11. III. Interlude 5:19
12. IV. Burlesque 3:13
13. V. Epilogue 3:51

New York Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein
Recorded at the St. George Hotel, Brooklyn, New York USA on December 15, 1958

Disc: 2

Concerto For Piano & Orchestra (1926)
1. I. Andante sostenuto 6:50
2. II. Molto moderato (molto rubato) 9:18

New York Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein
Aaron Copland, piano
Recorded at Philharmonic Hall (Avery Fisher Hall), New York City, NY USA on January 13, 1964

Symphonic Ode (1927-1929)
3. Symphonic Ode 19:47

London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Aaron Copland
Recorded at Walthamstow Town Hall, London UK on October 2&3, 1967

Short Symphony (Symphony No. 2) (1931-1933)
4. Short Symphony (Symphony No. 2) 15:30

Statements (1934-1935)
5 I. Militant 2:44
6. II. Cryptic 3:21
7. III. Dogmatic 1:47
8. IV. Subjective 3:31
9. V. Jingo 2:33
10. VI. Prophetic 3:34

London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Aaron Copland
Recorded at Walthamstow Town Hall, London UK on November 5, 1965