Aaron Copland

In his early twenties, Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983) won the title "Argentina's Great Musical Hope" with works such as the ballet score Estancia, and popular piano pieces like Danzas argentinas, which strongly evoke the rhythm and flair of the folk music of Argentina.

Even without Appalachian Spring, Aaron Copland might still be considered the greatest American composer. WRTI’s Kile Smith thinks that the key to Aaron Copland is heard more clearly in Appalachian Spring than in any other of his works.
 


Appalachian Spring. Billy the Kid. Rodeo. Fanfare for the Common Man. “I Bought Me a Cat.” Aaron Copland’s music cries out “America.” The kid from Brooklyn learned from a teacher in Paris, and became America’s leading composer during his lifetime and more. You voted him your No. 8 Most Essential Classical Composer.

There are those who dislike speaking of greatness, either because they are uncomfortable with things that are great or with things that can be measured. But most of us acknowledge that things, people, music, and even composers can be great, and so, by just about any measure, most people would acknowledge that the great American composer is Aaron Copland. November 14, 2015, would be his 115th birthday.

Library of Congress

In the midst of World War II, a collaboration between choreographer Martha Graham and composer Aaron Copland gave birth to an enduring American classic. WRTI’s Meridee Duddleston hears Appalachian Spring in a new way.

In America, small-town New England holds our attention. Whoever we are, it’s our town. The paper’s delivered, there’s gossip at the kitchen table, children are born, children go to school, a choir sings, there’s marriage, there’s death. It’s just life—or perhaps life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is the perfect description of this American scene, for American it is, and Our Town, the Thornton Wilder play, captures it perfectly.

Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring, performed by the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, Stephen Gunzenhauser conducting, is featured on CD 3 in the WRTI 60th Anniversary Classical 3-CD set.

Aaron Copland is considered by many to be the dean of American composers. One may argue that he created a “sound” that embodies the spirit of the American dream—a vision of a vast and different country where immigrants came to settle and build a life in a new world. This work celebrates the Appalachian mountain regions—the lowlands of the Lebanon, Cumberland, East Tennessee, and Shenandoah valleys.

A single clarinet opens the work with a simple melody and is joined by flute and strings signaling the beauty and simplicity of nature and the earth’s awakening from a harsh winter to a glorious spring. A brash orchestral segment initiates the feeling of “country music” and the simplicity once again of the melodies brought by the immigrants from their native English, Scottish, and German backgrounds.

The highlight of the work is the Shaker melody “’Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free,” undoubtedly the cornerstone of the piece as it is developed and enlarged in all its glory. Written as a ballet for the great Martha Graham in 1944, it won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 1945.

This month's broadcast concert of The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia spotlights the ensemble's string section with two marvelous works: John Williams' Essay for Strings, and Ottorino Respighi's Aria for Strings.  

Music Director Dirk Brossé will also lead performance of two Aaron Copland favorites, Quiet City, and Appalachian Spring.  

Dave Conant is host.  Sunday, August 18, 5 to 6 pm on WRTI.

Aaron Copland is considered one of America's greatest composers. Among his most famous works is a tribute to an iconic figure in American history. In 1942, Copland wrote A Lincoln Portrait, which features a full orchestra playing while a narrator reads excerpts from Lincoln's speeches and other writings.