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