Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Appalachian Spring, composed in 1945, is in an uncomplicated idiom, rather like that of much music being written in Iron Curtain countries today (this review is from 1978) : bright simple tunes, diatonic harmonies, clean orchestration. It proved a winner from the start, and skill and inspiration combine to make it one of the most attractive of "nationalist" pieces, and—like, say, the Overture to The Bartered Bride—it should keep its place in the orchestral repertory.

The Tender Land, first given at the New York City Center, in 1954, was Copland's first opera (apart from The Second Hurricane mentioned above). The orchestral suite appeared three years later (a miniature score is obtainable from Boosey and Hawkes). The plot is a Middle-West pastorale. The suite consists of three numbers: the Introduction and Love Duet from Act 3; the Party Music from the second act, leading into the Quintet (Thanksgiving Song: "The Promise of Living") which closes the first act. In orchestral form I find the music very pleasant, but somewhat dull and repetitive —sort of vaguely "atmospheric" in a familiar way. Probably with the story and the singers it makes a more positive impression. A.P.

Ormandy secures wonderful playing from the Philadelphia Orchestra, highlighting the subtleties of tonal contrast. The delicacy of the string pianissimos has one catching the breath, and those hushed passages are sharply set against the brilliant, brittle passages based on jazz rhythms. Characteristically Ormandy is more literal in his reading of jazz rhythms than the composer or Bernstein. Instead of nudging the rhythms he sharpens their edge, and I could not illustrate the difference more clearly than with the cakewalk of triumph which follows the shooting scene in Billy the Kid. With the composer's version I drew a parallel with the Façade parodies or even with Satie. With Ormandy a far closer parallel is with the spiky music of Kurt Weill at his darkest and most bitter. It is apt that with Ormandy the brutality of the shooting sequence is conveyed at the fullest possible force. One really does experience it as a shooting. E.G.

1. Appalachian Spring (1944) 25:20

The Tender Land (orchestral suite from the opera) (1956) 20:40
2. Introduction and Love Music 10:15
3. Party Scene 4:53
4. Finale: The Promise of Living 5:28

Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Aaron Copland
Recorded April 23, 1959

5. Billy The Kid (ballet suite) (1939) 19:50

The Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy
Recorded May 28, 1969

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


Here is another contribution by Miguel. Thanks!

I bought the original Vanguard MONO LP of these concertos in my teens, mainly for the Menotti. I had seen a local production of The Medium which spurred me to the Cleveland Public Library, where I checked out the score and the recording with Marie Powers. At that point, I really had little idea of Menotti's place in the musical world, or even that he was thought of as an opera specialist. After all, hadn't he written this concerto? I quickly found out that people who knew something about music looked down on him, but that didn't stop me from liking – a lot – what I heard.

It turns out that for most of his life, Menotti longed for a critical success like those enjoyed by his friend Samuel Barber, while Barber yearned for a popular success like Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors. Menotti probably came closest to what he wanted with his violin concerto (1952). Still, I've always liked the 1945 piano concerto even more. Formally, it's a bit of a mess, like a rumpled but favorite uncle, but it doesn't seem to matter – at least not to me. In its spirit and its contrasts, as well as in the general shape of some of its themes, it recalls very strongly Ravel's G-major concerto. It's just not as elegant or as brilliant a composition. Few other pieces (by anybody) are. What it does have are tunes, tunes, tunes – memorable tunes, tunes that ravish the ear, tunes that make you feel great, tunes that you find yourself humming for days, months, and years afterwards. The concerto proceeds in a straightforward way, with quick sections framing and balancing lyrical ones. The first movement explodes into a fugato with exuberant Scarlatti-like runs in the piano. A song-like section follows, and we end up with a recap. The slow movement is nine minutes of gorgeous, melancholy song. The finale – which I would call a rondo in a more solidly-constructed work than this – builds up to a bring-'em-to-their-feet ending. Menotti may not be Brahms, but he might very well be Grieg, and that's not nothing.

Of course, the Copland takes a much thornier approach, although it's not without considerable humor. However, where Menotti gives you the impression of just singing the song that lives within him, Copland consciously tries to carve out his own niche in Modernism. An early work (1926) written under the influence of both Stravinsky and Gershwin (the Concerto in F appeared in 1925), it shows a young man's desire to be taken seriously. I don't know how the first audiences took it, but it thrilled me from its opening bars. Like the Gershwin concerto, it shouts "New York!" from its first measures, with thrusting upward leaps followed by soaring cantabile. This is not the folky Copland of the "American" ballets, but you recognize the composer nevertheless. Jazz was still in the air, and Copland at this stage explored it as a way of writing characteristically American music. He gave it up shortly thereafter. Copland divides the concerto into two related parts, played without break, and writes extremely tersely. Each note says a lot. There's also a funny, jazz-vamp section, initiated by solo piano, with a melody that foreshadows the 1944 Jule Styne song, "Poor Little Rhode Island." It stands out so that you wonder whether Styne had ever heard the Copland. The soloist often gets to lurch into his part, as if drunk, dull-witted, or simply not very good, but it's all written in and indeed constitutes part of the rhythmic challenge of the concerto.

One associates Earl Wild with Liszt and Rachmaninoff, rather than with modern music (other than Gershwin), but he turns in a marvelous performance of both concerti. The Menotti fizzes and sings with a light touch, and Jorge Mester matches Wild with an accompaniment that sparkles. My only reservation is Copland and the Symphony of the Air. Copland can't keep the cross-rhythms in his own concerto quite together, and the orchestra sounds in spots like they're holding on. I did prefer Bernstein's recording with Copland as soloist (Sony 60177 or 2-CD set Sony 47232; the latter has a bunch of early Copland, 1923-1935) – broader, fuller-sounding, and rhythmically more compelling.

The Vanguard sound as presented on the CD improves on my LP enormously. In fact, the tinny, puny scratch from my record player led me to seek out the Copland/Bernstein in the first place. The CD incarnation is both rich and clear as a bell. Steve Schwartz.

Of special interest is the participation of Aaron Copland as conductor of his own concerto. Together with Earl Wild and the fine Symphony of the Air (formerly Toscanini's NBC Symphony), the composer has left us with a definitive recording of the work. A disc no collector will pass up, the disc-mate is the otherwise unavailable piano concerto of Gian Carlo Menotti, one of the composer's most beautiful and haunting works. Menotti: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in F (Mester conducting). Earl Wild, piano; The Symphony Of The Air.. Menotti's concerto received a brilliant recording in 1961 on the Vanguard label... It has just been reissued and remastered with startling sound quality. "Copland has recorded his Piano Concerto at least twice, once for CBS as soloist (with Leonard Bernstein conducting), and here for Vanguard in the role of conductor. In the absence from the catalogue of the CBS version - in which the composer is freer and more persuasive in the passages influenced by jazz -- this one with Earl Wild, a powerful soloist is very recommendable, and the recording is first-rate, hardly showing its age." Penguin Record Guide

Copland: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1926)
1. Part One 6:20
2. Part Two 9:20
Earl Wild, piano
Symphony of the Air conducted by Aaron Copland

Menotti: Concerto in F for Piano and Orchestra (1945)
3. Allegro 13:44
4. Lento 9:17
5. Allegro 10:20
Earl Wild, piano
Symphony of the Air conducted by Jorge Mester

Recorded in 1961

Saturday, April 4, 2009


I have been trying to resolve the issue of how to present recordings of Copland's work on discs in which his music is combined with that of other composers. Till now, I have avoided this by not posting such CD's.

Contemplated was ripping/posting only those selections composed by Copland: in the interest of completeness and to preserve the integrity of these discs, I have opted against this. Instead, I have decided to proceed and disregard the percieved problem, ignoring the fact that this "Copland" blog will sometimes present music that is "related" to Copland's, but not actually his.

By the way, this post was provided by my friend Miguel (thank you Miguel!), who is a visitor to this blog and has generously decided to contribute this excellent CD (and there are more to come!). You can find his original links in the comments section. Scoredaddy

RCA's welcome release of late-40's monaural recordings entitled "Leonard Bernstein: The Early Years" offers proof, if such were needed, that the great American conductor had the knack way back then. It also recalls his difficulty in deciding which of his talents to pursue.

As it happens, his performance of Copland's Piano Sonata is the most impressive of the four, masterfully embracing the craggy declamation of the outer movements and the jazz influence of the middle one.

Bernstein's New York Philharmonic stereo recordings of "Billy the Kid" and dances from "On the Town" on CBS remain preferable overall, but the conductor's admirers will want these striking efforts and the modest piano pieces "Seven Anniversaries" for their documentary value. RCA's 78-r.p.m. transfers are vivid and the surfaces quiet. SEDGWICK CLARK

These early Bernstein recordings are true treasures. In terms of time, the relatively short elapsed interval (sixty years or four generations) is nothing compared with the fruits of time. But they are essential documents that reveal an astonishing talent playing and conducting the score of one of the most heavy-weigh champions in the American musical landscape.

The figure of the internationally acclaimed director Leonard Bernstein will be inseparable of Aaron Copland. A close friend, and a successful conjunction of affinities, made possible that every time you listen Bernstein playing Copland you can identify rapidly without blinking. It is not a simple matter of orchestral technique; it goes far beyond. It' s a special taste an interwoven texture, an immediate rapport that it' s hard to visualize with a glimpse and even an intense analysis of his works.

Bernstein had that humor sense, that gentle rapture, stable smell, that melancholic vision of the Wild West, as the main inspiration source of a true American Mythology. So more than just conduct Bernstein describes us visually those far landscapes, the sordid gunfighters. Then listen carefully, his West pictures at exhibition in Billy the Kid, for instance and compare by yourself with any other performance. The RCA certainly lacked of the brightness of the New York Philharmonic, and nevertheless it's a vivifying and electrifying portrait.

Copland's Piano Sonata has always been neglected by most of pianists in the world. It' s underrated . I love this Sonata since I listened for the first time in the 70's. The unforgettable William Kapell was also an affectionate friend of Copland and played it.

Leonard Bernstein was also a promissory pianist and you may be kindly surprised with this notable and alluring performance, recorded January 22, 1947 when Bernstein was still in his late twenties (29). The second half of the album we have Bernstein playing his own music. The flame of the genius could be watched in these superb and invaluable recordings. Go and try to get as soon as possible for this album. More than a simple recording, it' s a national treasure. The transfer to tape was simply glorious. Hiram Gomez Pardo

Copland: Billy The Kid-Ballet Suite (1938)
1. Prelude: The Open Prairie
2. Street In A Frontier Town
3. Waltz
4. Card Game
5. The Fight
6. Celebration Dance
7. Epilogue
Leonard Bernstein/RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra
Recorded June 12 & 23, 1949

Copland: Piano Sonata (1939-41)
8. Molto Moderato; Piu Largamente -
9. Vivace
10. Andante Sostenuto
Leonard Bernstein, piano
Recorded January 22, 1947

Bernstein: Seven Anniversaries (1943)
11. For Aaron Copland
12. For My Sister, Shirley
13. In Memoriam: Alfred Eisner
14. For Paul Bowles
15. In Memoriam: Nathalie Koussevitzky
16. For Serge Koussevitzky
17. For Willam Schuman
Leonard Bernstein, piano
Recorded September 17, 1947

Bernstein: On The Town-Dances (1944)
18. Pas De Deux: Lonely Town
19. Act I Finale: Times Square
20. The Subway
21. Gabey, The Great Lover
22. Pas De Deux: Ivy & Gabey
Leonard Bernstein conducting the 'On The Town' Orchestra
Recorded February 3, 1945