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Copland, Aaron free

  • Howard Pollack

(b Brooklyn, NY, Nov 14, 1900; d North Tarrytown, NY, Dec 2, 1990). American composer, writer on music, pianist, and conductor.

1. Life.

One of his country’s most enduringly successful composers, Copland created a distinctively American style in works of varying difficulty for a diversity of genres and mediums, including ballet, opera and film. Also active as a critic, mentor, advocate, and concert organizer, he played a decisive role in the growth of serious music in the Americas in the 20th century.

Copland’s parents were Jewish immigrants from small towns in Lithuanian Russia. His father, Harris, reached New York via Glasgow and Manchester while still in his teens, adopting an Anglicized version of the family surname, Kaplan, along the way; his mother, Sarah Mittenthal, arrived in the United States as a young girl and grew up in the American Midwest and Texas before settling in New York in 1881. After their marriage, the Coplands lived above their successful Brooklyn department store; Aaron later credited his business savvy to his experience helping to run the store. The youngest of five children, he was especially close to his sister Laurine, who introduced him to ragtime and opera, and taught him to play the piano. At about the age of seven, he began to make up tunes at the piano, and by about the age of 12 was notating short pieces. He received his first formal piano lessons (1913–17) from Leopold Wolfsohn, who assigned him pieces by Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin.

In 1917 Copland began theory and composition lessons with Rubin Goldmark. Rather than pursuing a university degree after his graduation from Boys’ High School in 1918, he continued private studies with Goldmark (until 1921), also studying the piano with Victor Wittgenstein (1917–19) and Clarence Adler (1919–21). To supplement his musical education, he regularly attended concerts, operas, and dance recitals, including performances by Isadora Duncan and the Ballets Russes, and scoured New York’s public libraries for the latest American and European scores. The Piano Sonata (1921) was completed for Goldmark as a “graduation” piece. More adventurous efforts, however, such as Three Moods for piano (1920–21), the last movement of which features his first explicit use of jazz, and The Cat and the Mouse for piano (1920), his first published composition, were not shown to his teacher. However, for these more daring endeavors, he enjoyed the support of such friends as Aaron Schaffer, who expertly guided his knowledge of French literature, and Arne Vainio, who introduced him to the ideals behind American socialism.

Copland spent the summer of 1921 at the American Conservatory, Fontainebleau, where his teachers included Paul Antonin Vidal (composition) and Albert Wolff (conducting). He pursued further study in Paris (1921–4) with Ricardo Viñes (piano) and Nadia Boulanger (composition), by far his most important teacher. Among her many attributes, Copland especially valued her thorough knowledge of music literature, her sensitivity to clarity, elegance, and formal continuity (“la grande ligne”), and her confidence in her young American students. He also appreciated the opportunity to meet the distinguished artists who came to her Wednesday teas, events he described as “a continuing link in that long tradition of the French intellectual woman in whose salon philosophy was expounded and political history made.” The writings of her friend André Gide made a particularly strong impression on the young composer.

During his years in Paris, Copland also frequented Sylvia Beach’s legendary bookstore, and attended classes, museums, plays, ballets, and concerts, often in the company of his friend, cousin, and roommate, Harold Clurman, who later became an esteemed director and drama critic. In addition, he traveled to England, Belgium, Italy, Austria, and Germany, all the while meeting composers, examining scores, and hearing new music. He responded especially strongly to the music of Stravinsky, the “hero” of his student days, and Milhaud, whose assimilation of French, Jewish, and American traits he particularly esteemed. He also developed an admiration for the music of Fauré and Mahler, considering the contrapuntal textures of both composers progressive.

Under Boulanger’s tutelage, Copland produced his first orchestral score, the ballet Grohg, which he completed upon his return to the United States. Even before he returned home, Boulanger arranged a major American premiere for another Copland work: an organ concerto to be performed by both the New York SO under Walter Damrosch and the Boston SO under Sergey Koussevitzky, with herself as soloist. The resultant Organ Symphony (1924) initiated an important collaboration between Copland and Koussevitzky, who was to perform 12 Copland works, including several that he personally commissioned and introduced. In 1940 Koussevitzky also appointed Copland assistant director of the Berkshire Music Center, where the latter taught most summers until 1965. Koussevitzky became for Copland a standard of “courage” and “vitality” in an often conventional and dull musical world.

Despite the support of Koussevitzky, the pianist John Kirkpatrick, critics Paul Rosenfeld, Lawrence Gilman, and Edmund Wilson, patrons Claire Reis and Alma Wertheim, choreographer Martha Graham, and others, Copland’s “strident” and “nervous” music met initially with a largely skeptical audience and press. The jazzy Piano Concerto (1926), written for the composer to play with the Boston SO, received a particularly hostile reception. Only paltry commissions and part-time teaching appointments at the New School for Social Research, the Henry Street Settlement, and Harvard University, along with grants from individuals and foundations, kept him from destitution.

Regardless of these difficulties, Copland eschewed a full-time teaching position, hoping that he and his American colleagues might earn decent livings from composition. Towards this end, he was active in New York’s League of Composers, often writing for its journal, Modern Music, as well as for other magazines and newspapers. He organized the Copland-Sessions Concerts (1928–31) and Yaddo Festivals (1932–3), helped to supervise the Cos Cob Press, founded in 1929 for the publication of recent American music, assumed leadership of the ACA (1939–45), and co-founded the AMC (1939). These activities not only helped to foster his own career, but also those of such older composers as Carl Ruggles and Charles Ives, such contemporaries as Roger Sessions, Roy Harris, Walter Piston, Virgil Thomson, and Carlos Chávez, and such younger figures as Israel Citkowitz, Paul Bowles, Vivian Fine, Marc Blitzstein, and Henry Brant. Over the following decades he also became an important mentor to David Diamond, William Schuman, Elliott Carter, Leonard Bernstein, Irving Fine, Lukas Foss, Jacob Druckman, David del Tredici, Barbara Kolb, and many others.

During the 1930s Copland often lived and traveled with photographer Victor Kraft, his companion from 1932 until the mid-1940s. Although discreet about his private life, he was one of the first prominent homosexual composers to co-habit with a romantic partner. Politically, the Great Depression brought about an intensification in his socialist sympathies. In 1932, at Chávez’s urging, he visited Mexico for the first time, finding the country’s people, as well as its revolutionary government, an inspiration; he returned to Mexico for extended working vacations and hoped to travel to the Soviet Union. In 1934 he gave political speeches on behalf of farmers in rural Minnesota, composed the worker’s chorus Into the Streets May First, and wrote an article about proletarian music for The New Masses.

In the late 1930s and early 1940s Copland’s ballets, patriotic works, and lighter efforts, such as El Salón México (1932–6), achieved popular and critical acclaim, in particular Appalachian Spring (1943–4), which won the Pulitzer Prize and the New York Music Critics’ Circle Award. A good relationship with Boosey & Hawkes advanced his career, as did the rising prominence of Bernstein, his most important champion after Koussevitzky. A successful score for the documentary The City (commissioned for the 1939 New York World’s Fair), led to a handful of feature Hollywood film scores, of which four earned nominations for an Academy Award, won finally by The Heiress (1949). During this period he traveled extensively in South America on behalf of both the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs (1941) and the State Department (1947). As well as reporting on musical conditions, he developed friendships with many Latin American composers, including Alberto Ginastera, who, like Benjamin Britten, Tōru Takemitsu, and others from around the world, took inspiration from Copland’s national ideals.

By the late 1940s Copland was widely regarded as the foremost American composer of his time. Though for many years a Manhattan resident, he felt compelled to leave the city in 1947. After an unsettled period, he purchased a converted barn, Shady Land Farm, in Ossining, New York, where he lived from 1952 to 1961.

As early as his participation in the 1949 World Peace Conference, he became the target of anti-communist smear campaigns. These attacks culminated in the cancellation in 1953 of Lincoln Portrait from a presidential inaugural concert, and a subpoena to appear before a closed hearing of a Congressional subcommittee. Throughout these trials he denied being a communist and successfully avoided implicating any friends or associates.

Such unpleasantness hardly affected his growing reputation, however. He became the first American composer to serve as Harvard’s Norton Professor of Poetics (1951–2) and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1954), receiving the Academy’s Gold Medal in 1956 and serving as its president in 1971. Other awards included a MacDowell Medal (1961), a Presidential Medal of Freedom (1964), a Kennedy Center Honor (1979), a Medal of the Arts (1986), a Congressional Gold Medal (1986), and numerous honorary doctorates. Moreover, he became a highly decorated figure internationally, receiving memberships or fellowships in academies in England, Italy, Argentina and Chile, along with the Federal German Republic’s Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit (1970). In 1981 the music school at Queens College, CUNY, was named the Aaron Copland School of Music.

Throughout the 1950s and beyond, Copland continued to lecture, teach, and write as vigorously as ever. Although he had occasionally conducted his own works, after his debut with the New York PO in 1958 he embarked on a full-fledged conducting career, leading numerous symphony orchestras at home and abroad for more than 20 years. While his concerts always featured his own music, he also programmed the work of over 80 other composers. He recorded many of his orchestral works and some of his piano and chamber music as well. Rejecting the notion of a “definitive” performance, he still liked to demonstrate “how my music should go.”

Aaron Copland with Lukas Foss and Elliott Carter.

Lebrecht Music and Arts

In 1961 Copland moved to a larger home, Rock Hill, near Peekskill, New York, where he lived until his death. He composed very little after 1972. “It was exactly as if someone had simply turned off a faucet,” he said. He felt “lucky to have been given so long to be creative. And resigned to the fact that it appears to be over.” In the mid-1970s he began to experience short-term memory lapses, later diagnosed as Alzheimer’s or a similar condition. By the mid-1980s he was under regular medical supervision. A few weeks after his 90th birthday he died of respiratory failure brought on by pneumonia. The bulk of his large estate was bequeathed to the establishment of the Aaron Copland Fund for Music, a non-profit organization for the support of contemporary music and young composers. In 1995 the Library of Congress opened its vast Copland Collection to the public.

2. Works.

Copland favored the large public venues of stage, screen, radio, television, and concert hall on the one hand, and the extreme intimacy of the solo piano on the other. His two operas, The Second Hurricane (1936) and The Tender Land (1952–4), both deal with young people coming of age: the first, a “play opera” for high school students, celebrates the joys and virtues of social harmony; the latter, a small-scale work for television and university performances, concerns a young woman’s discovery of self. He also began work on a musical based on Erskine Caldwell’s darkly humorous novel, Tragic Ground, and considered operatic adaptations of Theodore Dreiser and Frank Norris, as well as collaborations with Thornton Wilder, Arthur Miller, William Inge, and Edward Albee. His “one regret” was not having written a “grand opera.”

Copland’s eight film scores (1939–61), composed for two documentaries and six feature films, set new standards for American cinema in their subtle underscoring and refined dramatic sensibility. In addition, he successfully helped to introduce Hollywood to a Modernist idiom, epitomized by the dissonant harmonies accompanying the fight between Lennie and Curley in Of Mice and Men (1939). He also demonstrated the efficacy of particularizing musical sonority and style to every film’s individual needs.

Parts of Copland’s first ballet score, Grohg (1922–5), a macabre fantasy inspired by F.W. Murnau’s film Nosferatu, were refashioned by the composer into a number of other works, including a second ballet, Hear Ye! Hear Ye! (1934), a satire on the American judicial system. Withdrawn during his lifetime, both of these works resurfaced only after his death. In contrast, his next three ballets, Billy the Kid (1938, for Lincoln Kirstein’s Ballet Caravan), Rodeo (1942, for Agnes de Mille and the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo), and Appalachian Spring (1943–4, for Martha Graham) rated among his best-known works. Notwithstanding their similarities, each ballet has its own profile: Billy is a sober parable set in the American West; Rodeo is a charming romantic comedy; and Appalachian Spring is a poignant love story set against a frontier background. Copland’s last ballet, Dance Panels (1959, rev. 1962), a homage to the waltz, was written for Jerome Robbins, although Robbins never choreographed it. Among other dramatic works, Quiet City (1940), a short, introspective piece based on music written for Irwin Shaw’s play about a businessman’s midlife crisis, has had particular success.

Of his orchestral works, Copland composed three in what he called “the grand manner”: the Symphonic Ode (1927–9); the Third Symphony (1944–6); and Connotations (1962). Some friends preferred less grandiose efforts like the Short Symphony (1932–3), Statements (1935) and Inscape (1967). General audiences, meanwhile, gravitated towards the lighter works, including Music for the Theatre (1925), El Salón México (1932–6), An Outdoor Overture (1938), Lincoln Portrait (1942), the Clarinet Concerto (1947–8), and Three Latin American Sketches (1971).

Most of the chamber works are written for combinations of strings, often with piano; among these are the piano trio Vitebsk (1928), inspired by S. Ansky’s play The Dybbuk, the Violin Sonata (1942–3), the Piano Quartet (1950) and the Nonet (1960). One of his last substantial pieces was a Duo for flute and piano (1971). The most imposing of the solo piano works, the Variations (1930), the Sonata (1939–41) and the Fantasy (1952–7), are important personal statements as well as major contributions to the repertory. Other works for keyboard include the sprightly Danzón cubano for two pianos and various pieces for children. In the Beginning (1947) for mezzo-soprano and a cappella chorus stands out among his choral works; Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson (1950) among his output for voice and piano.

Copland’s numerous articles and books include two successful music appreciation texts, What to Listen for in Music (New York, 1939, 3/1988) and Our New Music (New York, 1941, rev. and enlarged 2/1968 as The New Music 1900–1960) derived from his classes at the New School for Social Research. His Norton lectures, published as Music and Imagination (Cambridge, MA, 1952/R) were, in the words of William Austin, “worthy successors to Stravinsky’s Poetics and Hindemith’s Composer’s World, without the dogmatism of the former and the bitterness of the latter.” A selection of essays was published as Copland on Music (New York, 1960/R). He also co-authored a two-volume autobiography with Vivian Perlis (Boston, 1984; New York, 1989). Like his more popular scores, these publications were at once accessible and probing, appealing to layman and connoisseur alike.

3. Style.

Copland composed primarily at the piano, working sometimes with a single idea, sometimes with many. He often recycled materials from works or sketches composed years earlier; a particularly striking example of this is his use of a discarded variation from the Piano Variations at a climactic moment in the film score for The Heiress. He orchestrated his works only after the creation of a piano score, arguing that “any decision as to timbre, too quickly arrived at, is itself a limitation, since it prevents freedom of action on other pages.” Although he could write quickly when necessary, his typical pace was deliberate. When looking over his scores, he would sometimes point to a spot with undisguised pleasure and say, “That was the note that cost.” He rarely revised a work after its initial publication. As a teacher, he emphasized the importance of critical self-awareness during the creative process.

Copland’s earliest juvenilia reflect the styles of Italian opera, the piano works of Chopin and Liszt, and eastern European Jewish music. At the same time, they reveal distinctive elements such as tonal stasis, modal ambiguity and idiosyncratic formal structures. During his years as a student of Goldmark his music assimilated features of contemporary European composers, including Debussy and Skryabin, as well as American popular song. In Paris he learned from a wide range of sources, among them the quarter-tone writing of Alois Hába, which he appropriated in Vitebsk and other scores from the 1920s. Despite these many influences, he forged a strong individual voice that crystallized in Music for the Theatre (1925).

Copland’s style is now recognized as distinctly American (although early in his career some regarded its jazzy urbanity as relatively exotic). It is derived less directly from such American predecessors as John Alden Carpenter and Henry Gilbert than from the popular music with which he grew up, the jazz he sought out in Paris and New York, examples set by Walt Whitman and others, and his keen observations of everyday life. His interest in developing a distinctively American style originated in part from an inclination towards national styles in general. He admitted a “deep psychological need” for listeners to find “the note” that makes music “characteristically itself,” especially among composers from “nations whose music is still unformed.” He aspired to “affirm” a relation between his music and the world around him, even if this constituted only a means of “revolt.” Such thinking found encouragement from his personal contact with writers and photographers associated with Alfred Stieglitz, such as Waldo Frank and Paul Strand.

In the mid-1920s Copland used what he considered to be the two characteristic expressions of jazz, the “snappy” number and the blues, to evoke, respectively, the excitement and loneliness of modern urban life. By 1927 he had by and large moved beyond these overt references, but jazz remained an important underpinning of his musical style. Indeed, over the years he became increasingly aware and respectful of “real” jazz, including the work of Duke Ellington, Albert Ammons, and later Lennie Tristano, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, and many others. His later music continued to reflect developments in the jazz idiom; the Clarinet Concerto (1947–8) makes reference to the swing style, for example, and Something Wild (1961) reveals the impact of cool jazz.

During the course of the 1930s, thanks in part to the emergence of a “popular front” in American politics, Copland became appreciative of the distinctive qualities of Anglo-American folk music as well. Whereas he had parodied “The Star-Spangled Banner” in Hear Ye! Hear Ye! (1934), he used a tune from the American Revolution, “The Capture of Burgoyne, for the rousing climax of The Second Hurricane (1936). He made intermittent use of such material as late as Emblems for band (1964), which quotes “Amazing Grace.” Even compositions that made only sparing use of folk melody revealed the influence of this repertory, especially dramatic works set in rural America, such as Our Town (1940), Appalachian Spring (1943–4) and The Tender Land (1952–4). At the same time, beginning with the finale of the Short Symphony (1932–3) and later in El Salón México (1932–6), Copland’s music absorbed Mexican folk styles. With his travels to South America in the 1940s, he also began to adapt aspects of Brazilian and Cuban folk music. His mature style can be seen as incorporating elements derived from Jewish, African American, Anglo-American and Latin American sources.

The secondary literature on Copland tends to recognize, with some justification, four style periods: an early jazz period; a more severe, abstract period; a populist or “Americana” period; and, beginning with the Piano Quartet (1950), a late 12-tone period. Writers, however, have often exaggerated differences among these phases. Considering that Copland explored the vernacular throughout his career, the designation “Americana” for a prescribed time period seems particularly misleading. Similarly, the notion of a 12-tone period does not allow for a number of important late works that make little or no use of that method, nor does it account for his early adaptation of the technique in the e.e. cummings setting, Poet’s Song (1927), and the quasi-serial techniques used in the Piano Variations (1930) and other works. Rather than separate stylistic entities, these periods are better thought of as continually building and interlocking phases. “No element ever appears abruptly in a work,” observed Blitzstein about Copland’s music, “or gets cut off in another.” A clearly defined and individual personality can be heard throughout all of his stylistic changes and developments.

Copland’s melodic writing is direct and vigorous, featuring frequent skips and leaps, even in the vocal works. At the same time, his melodies tend to avoid florid or chromatic elaborations. Even the 12-tone works are reserved in this respect, as they typically focus on sharply-defined row fragments. Melodies often feature a short, trenchant motive, developed bit by bit in a modular fashion, like separate parts of a mobile. Such an approach, which characterizes the thorny Piano Variations, the popular Fanfare for the Common Man and the 12-tone Piano Fantasy, creates a heightened impression of spontaneity. William Austin suggests it is “as if [Copland] wanted to expose the way his mind actually works with musical ideas, rather than the stylized finished product of its working.” Sometimes a motif expands with each successive repetition; this and other “additive” techniques can be found in nearly all of his compositions.

Copland’s melodies and harmonies are closely coordinated. The central four-note motive of the Piano Variations yields biting 2nds and 7ths (ex.1); the 4ths and 5ths of the Fanfare melody produce quartal and quintal sonorities (ex.2); the diatonicism of Appalachian Spring creates so-called “white-note” chords (also described as “pandiatonic”); and the row for the Piano Fantasy generates densely chromatic harmonies (ex.3). Although a few works verge on atonality, he generally maintains some audible reference to tonality, retaining to some extent a distinction between major and minor modes as well. At the same time, his music contains modal and enharmonic ambiguities of various kinds and modifies traditional dominant functions by avoiding the leading tone. Modulations tend to be brief and unpredictable, typically involving the juxtaposition of key areas; some pieces, like the Fanfare, do not conclude in the key in which they begin.

Ex.1 Piano Variations (1930), Boosey and Hawkes, London

Boosey and Hawkes

Ex.2 Fanfare for the Common Man (1942), Boosey and Hawkes, London

Boosey and Hawkes, London

Ex.3 Piano Fantasy (1957), Boosey and Hawkes, London

Boosey and Hawkes, London

Copland’s rhythms are often declamatory, suggesting the accentual patterns of prose, rather than conventional song or dance patterns (though their strong kinetic qualities consistently have attracted choreographers). In slower passages, prose-like rhythms suggest quiet hymns, shofar calls, or solemn chants. In a lighter vein, however, such rhythms can be jaggedly skittish and nervously jazzy. Even his most straightforward scores contain subtle syncopation, polyrhythmic layering, and changing meters and tempos. For the convenience of performers, however, he often barred his orchestral works more regularly than he would have liked; in such cases, he sometimes added explanatory footnotes and dotted bar-lines to help clarify his intentions.

Copland makes unusually frequent use of unison and two-voice writing (including a penchant for two-part canons) and his transparent textures are considered one of his most distinctive and influential traits. Such lean textures are often filled out by the pairing of one or more parts with a parallel voice. A few works, like the massive Third Symphony and the autumnal Nonet, include passages that are atypically rich and thick. Generally, however, textures display razor-sharp clarity and brilliance.

Copland’s instrumental writing is similarly bright and crisp, specifying many types of accent and articulation. His orchestrations, thought by Stravinsky and Piston to be particularly distinguished, avoid the “useless doublings” he criticized in Wagner in favor of the chamber-like sonorities he admired in Mahler. Unlike Mahler, however, he exploited the cantabile potential of the strings and other instruments with extreme restraint. He expected straightforward playing without excessive sentiment or vibrato. As a conductor, he often admonished the violins with the comment, “It’s too much on the Tchaikovsky side” (or “the Massenet side”). His piano writing, with its alternating passages of great delicacy and brash percussiveness, uniquely suited his own piano playing, according to Bernstein. The application of some of these features in music for voice and chorus was even more provocative, but similarly effective and memorable.

Copland worked mostly in smaller forms, the large scope of the Third Symphony and the Piano Fantasy being exceptional. He had a life-long predilection for three-movement designs (often in a slow–fast–slow format), especially in larger instrumental works. His two concertos, however, each consist of two movements with a connective cadenza that anticipates the finale. Many other works are in single-movement forms. Like Stravinsky, Copland created his forms by piecing together smaller sections. He did not compose strictly from the beginning of a piece to the end, but juggled and rearranged motives, passages, and sections. “I don’t compose; I assemble materials,” he once stated. His occasional adaptations of such traditional forms as sonata, variation, and chaconne take on highly original expressions. Large movements more typically unfold in a roughly arch-like shape.

Although he thought it imperative for a good listener to apprehend, in a general way, a piece’s formal structure, Copland considered composition as fundamentally an emotional experience, an act of “self-expression” and “self-discovery.” “Music is largely the product of emotions,” he said, explaining why he worked at night, “and I can’t get emotional early in the day.” He also spoke of “musical instinct” and the “heat of inspiration.” He believed that some contemporary composers overemphasized music’s intellectual side, just as performers tended to overemphasize its purely technical aspects. At the same time, he criticized the emotional excesses of many Romantic and post-Romantic composers, identifying instead with the image of Beethoven attributed to Schubert, that is, a composer who maintained “superb coolness under the fire of creative fantasy.”

Copland’s own emotional directness was frequently made explicit by detailed and unusual verbal directives in his scores. As early as Three Moods (1920–1) he explored three expressive modes comparable to those later identified by Paul Rosenfeld as characteristic: “Embittered”; “Wistful”; and “Jazzy.” Larger works display a wider range of emotions, with middle sections often providing emotional contrast. His dialectical thinking and acceptance of contradictions revealed a remarkably open-minded and balanced personality. For Clurman, he was a composer “whose creation synthesizes the tensions between the loneliness, isolation and desire for withdrawal a sensitive person must feel in our stony and increasingly joyless society with the equally strong impulse to affirm and assert with humor and an irrepressible vivacity the age-old aspirations of humankind” (Pollack, B1999).


(published unless otherwise stated)


The Second Hurricane (school play-op, 2, E. Denby), 1936, New York, Henry Street Settlement Music School, 21 April 1937

The Tender Land (2, H. Everett [E. Johns]), 1952–4, New York, New York City Op, 1 April 1954; rev. 3 acts, 1955, Tanglewood, 2 Aug 1954, final rev. Oberlin, OH, 20 May 1955

orch suite, 1958


Grohg, 1922–5, rev. 1932, cond. O. Knussen, London, 20 June 1992

excerpt Dance of the Adolescent, arr. 2 pf, n.d.

Hear Ye! Hear Ye!, 1934, cond. R. Ganz, Chicago, 30 Nov 1934

Billy the Kid, 1938, 2 pf perf., cond. F. Kitzinger, Chicago, 6 Oct 1938, orch perf., cond. W. Steinberg, New York, 24 May 1939

orch suite, 1939, 2 pf 4-hands, 1946, excerpts arr. chbr orch, 1946, vn, pf, 1949, vc, pf, 1952

Rodeo, 1942, cond. F. Allers, New York, 16 Oct 1942

arr. as Rodeo: 4 Dance Episodes, orch, 1942, cond. A. Fiedler, Boston, 28 May 1943 [only 3 Episodes perf.], cond. A. Smallens, New York, 22 June 1943

arr. pf, 1942, Hoe-Down arr. str orch, 1945, vn, pf, 1945

Appalachian Spring, fl, cl, bn, pf, 4 vn, 2 va, 2 vc, db, 1943–4, cond. L. Horst, Washington, DC, 30 Oct 1944, orchd 1954

suite, orch, 1945, cond. A. Rodzinski, New York, 4 Oct 1945

suite, 13 instruments, n.d.

Dance Panels, 1959, rev. 1962, cond. Copland, Munich, 3 Dec 1963, pf, 1962

Other dramatic

Film scores

The City (dir. R. Steiner and W. Van Dyke), 1939, unpubd; Of Mice and Men (after J. Steinbeck, dir. L. Milestone), 1939, unpubd; Our Town (after T. Wilder, dir. S. Wood), 1940, unpubd [arr. orch suite, 1940, rev. n.d.; arr. as Story of Our Town, vn, pf, 1940, excerpts arr. pf, 1944]

The North Star (after L. Hellman, dir. Milestone), 1943

The Cummington Story, 1945, unpubd; The Heiress (after H. James: Washington Square, dir. W. Wyler), 1948, released 1949

The Red Pony (after Steinbeck, dir. Milestone), 1948 [arr. orch suite, 6 scenes, 1948, sym. band suite, 4 scenes, 1966]

Something Wild (after A. Karmel: Mary Ann, dir. J. Garfein), 1961, unpubd

Incid music

Miracle at Verdun (H. Chlumberg), chbr orch, 1931

The Five Kings (after W. Shakespeare), 1v, cl, tpt, gui, org, perc, 1939, unpubd; From Sorcery to Science (puppet-show music), orch, 1939

Quiet City (I. Shaw), cl, sax, tpt, pf, 1939, unpubd [arr. suite, tpt, eng hn, str, 1940]

The World of Nick Adams (TV play, after E. Hemingway), orch, 1957

CBS Playhouse (theme song), brass, perc, 1966, unpubd


Cortège macabre, 1923, cond. H. Hanson, Rochester, NY, 1 May 1925 [from Grohg]

Symphony, org, orch, 1924, N. Boulanger, cond. W. Damrosch, New York, 11 Jan 1925

arr. without org as Sym. no.1, 1926–8

Prelude, arr. pf trio, c. 1924, chbr orch, 1934, unpubd

Music for the Theatre, suite, chbr orch, 1925, cond. S. Koussevitzky, Boston, 20 Nov 1925

Piano Concerto, 1926, Copland, cond. Koussevitzky, Boston, 28 Jan 1927

Symphonic Ode, 1927–9, cond. Koussevitzky, Boston, 19 Feb 1932

rev. 1955, cond. C. Munch, Boston, 3 Feb 1956

Dance Symphony, 1929, cond. L. Stokowski, Philadelphia, 15 April 1931 [from Grohg]

Short Symphony (Symphony no.2), 1932–3, cond. C. Chávez, Mexico City, 23 Nov 1934


Militant, Cryptic, Dogmatic, Subjective, Jingo, Prophetic, 1935, last two movts only, cond. E. Ormandy, Minneapolis, 9 Jan 1936

cond. D. Mitropoulos, New York, 7 Jan 1942

El Salón México, 1932–6, cond. Chávez, Mexico City, 27 Aug 1937

Music for Radio: Saga of the Prairie, 1937, cond. H. Barlow, New York, 25 July 1937

retitled 1968 as Prairie Journal

An Outdoor Overture, 1938, cond. A. Richter, New York, 16 Dec 1938

arr. sym. band, 1942, cond. Copland, New York, 22 June 1942

Signature, 1938, cond. I. Karman, New York, 23 Feb 1938, unpubd

John Henry, chbr orch, 1940, cond. Barlow, New York, 5 March 1940, rev. orch, 1952

Fanfare for the Common Man, brass, perc, 1942, cond. E. Goossens, Cincinnati, 12 March 1943

Lincoln Portrait, spkr, orch, 1942, W. Adams, cond. A. Kostelanetz, Cincinnati, 14 May 1942

Music for Movies, 1942, cond. D. Saidenberg, New York, 17 Feb 1943 [incl. music from The City, Of Mice and Men, Our Town]

Letter from Home, radio orch, 1944, cond. P. Whiteman, New York, 17 Oct 1944

arr. orch, 1944

rev. chbr orch, 1962

Symphony no.3, 1944–6, cond. Koussevitzky, Boston, 18 Oct 1946

Jubilee Variation [on a Theme by Goossens], 1945, cond. Goossens, Cincinnati, 23 March 1945, [incl. in Variations on a Theme by Goossens]

Danzón cubano, 1944, cond. R. Stewart, Baltimore, 17 Feb 1946 [arr. of 2 pf piece]

Clarinet Concerto, cl, str, hp, pf, 1947–8, B. Goodman, cond. F. Reiner, New York, 6 Nov 1950

Preamble for a Solemn Occasion, spkr, orch, 1949, L. Olivier, cond. L. Bernstein, New York, 10 Dec 1949

arr. org, 1953, sym. band, 1973

Variations on a Shaker Melody, sym. band, 1956], cond. J. Paynter, Evanston, 2 March 1958 [from Appalachian Spring]

Orchestral Variations, 1957, cond. R. Whitney, Louisville, KY, 5 March 1958 [arr. of pf piece]

Connotations, 1962, cond. Bernstein, New York, 23 Sept 1962

Down a Country Lane, school orch, 1964, cond. E. Read, London, 20 Nov 1964 [arr. of pf piece]

Emblems, sym. band, 1964, cond. W. Schaefer, Tempe, AZ, 18 Dec 1964

Music for a Great City, 1964, cond. Copland, London, 26 May 1964 [from Something Wild]

Inscape, 1967, cond. Bernstein, Ann Arbor, MI, 13 Sept 1967

Variations on a Shaker Melody, 1967 [from Appalachian Spring]

Ceremonial Fanfare, brass, 1969, New York, 14 Nov 1970

Happy Anniversary, 1969, cond. Ormandy, Philadelphia, 24 Jan 1970

Inaugural Fanfare, wind, 1969, cond. G. Miller, Grand Rapids, MI, 14 June 1969, rev. 1975

Larghetto pomposo (Happy Birthday), unspecified brass, 1971

3 Latin American Sketches, 1971: Estribillo; Paisaje mexicana (1959)

Danza de Jalisco (1959, rev. 1971)

Danza only, Spoleto, July 1959

Paisaje and Danza as 2 Mexican Pieces, cond. Copland, Washington, DC, 20 April 1965

complete perf., cond. Kostelanetz, New York, 7 June 1972

Danza arr. 2 pf, 1963


4 Motets (Bible), SATB, 1921, cond. M. Smith, Fontainebleau, 1924

The House on the Hill (E.A. Robinson), SSAA, 1925, cond. G. Reynolds, New York, 24 April 1925

An Immorality (E. Pound), S, SSA, pf, 1925, cond. Reynolds, New York, 24 April 1925

Into the Streets May First (A. Hayes), unison vv, pf, 1934, New York, 29 April 1934

What do we plant? (H. Abbey), SSA, pf, 1935, New York

Lark (G. Taggard), B, SATB, 1938, cond. R. Shaw, New York, 13 April 1943

Las agachadas (The Shake-Down Song) (trad. Sp.), SSAATTBB, 1942, cond. H. Ross, New York, 25 May 1942

Song of the Guerrillas (I. Gershwin), Bar, TBB, pf/orch, 1943 [from The North Star]

Stomp Your Foot, SATB/TTBB pf 4 hands/orch, 1954 [from The Tender Land];

In the Beginning (Bible: Genesis), Mez, SATB, 1947, cond. Shaw, Cambridge, MA, 2 May 1947

The Promise of Living, SATBB/, pf 4 hands, 1954 [from The Tender Land]; arr. chorus, orch, 1954

Canticle of Freedom (J. Barbour), 1955, cond. K. Liepmann, Cambridge, MA, 8 May 1955

rev. 1965, cond. Shaw, Atlanta, 19 Oct 1967


Capriccio, vn, pf, 1916, unpubd; Poème, vc, pf, 1918, unpubd; Lament, vc, pf, 1919, unpubd [arr. pf trio, 1919, unfinished]; 2 Preludes, vn, pf, 1919–21, unpubd; Sonata Movt on a Theme by Paul Vidal, str qt, 1921, unpubd; Movt, str qt, c1923

2 Pieces, str qt, 1923–8: Rondino, Lento molto [arr. str orch, 1928]

2 Pieces, vn, pf, 1926: Nocturne [arr. cl, pf, 1976], Ukelele Serenade; Vitebsk: Study on a Jewish Theme, pf, trio, 1928

Elegies, vn, va, 1932, rev. 1933, unpubd; Sextet, cl, str qt, pf, 1937 [arr. of Short Symphony]; Sonata, vn, pf, 1942–3 [arr. cl, pf, 1983, rev. 1986]

Pf Qt, 1950

Nonet, 3 vn, 3 va, 3 vc, 1960

Duo, fl, pf, 1971 [arr. vn, pf, 1977]

Threnody I (In memoriam Igor Stravinsky), fl, str trio, 1971

Vocalise, fl, pf, 1972 [arr. ob, pf, 1978; arr. of vocal work]; Threnody II (In memoriam Beatrice Cunningham), G-fl, str trio, 1973


(for solo voice and piano unless otherwise stated)

After Antwerp (E. Cammaerts), 1917, unpubd; Melancholy (J. Farnol), 1917, unpubd; Spurned Love (T.B. Aldrich), 1917, unpubd; 3 Songs (A. Schaffer), 1918: My heart is in the east, A Summer Vacation, Night; Simone (R. de Gourment), 1919

Music I heard (C. Aiken), 1920, unpubd; Old Poem (trans. A. Waley), 1920

1 chanson (V. Hugo), 1921, unpubd; Pastorale (trans. E.P. Mathers), 1921

Reconnaissance (F. Gregh, 1921, unpubd; Alone (trans. Mathers), 1922 (originally for v, va, pf, 1921; arr. for v and orch, 1923)

As it fell upon a day (R. Barnefield), S, fl, cl, 1923

Jazz Song, c1924, unpubd; Poet’s Song (E.E. Cummings), 1927

Vocalise, S/T, pf, 1928 [arr. fl, pf, ob, pf, see Chamber]; We’ve Come (Banu) (trad. Israeli), 1938

No Village Like Mine, Song of the Guerrillas, Younger Generation (I. Gershwin), 1943 [from The North Star]; Old American Songs I, arrs., 1950: The Boatmen’s Dance (D. Emmett), The Dodger (anon.), Long Time Ago (C.E. Horn, G.P. Morris), Simple Gifts (attrib. J. Brackett), I Bought Me a Cat (trad.) [arr 1v, orch, 1954]

12 Poems of Emily Dickinson, 1949–1950 [8 Poems arr. 1v, chbr orch, 1958–1970]

Old American Songs II, arrs., 1952 [arr. 1v, orch, 1955]: The Little Horses (trad.), Zion’s Wall (attrib. J.G. McCurry), The Golden Willow Tree (trad.), At the River (R. Lowry), Ching-a-Ring Chaw (trad.); Dirge in Woods (G. Meredith), 1954

Laurie’s Song, 1954 [from The Tender Land]


(for solo piano unless otherwise stated)

Moment musicale, 1917, unpubd; Waltz Caprice, unpubd; Sonnet I, 1918, unpubd; Sonnet II, 1919, unpubd; Humoristic Scherzo: The Cat and the Mouse, 1920

3 Moods, 1920–21: Embittered, Wistful, Jazzy; Sonnet III, 1920, unpubd; Passacaglia, 1921–2

Petit Portrait, 1921

Pf Sonata, 1921

Blues no.1 (Sentimental Melody: Slow Dance), 1926–7

Blues no.2 (Pf Blues no.4), 1926

Pf Blues no.2, 1926, rev. 1934 [arr. chbr orch, 1978–9]

Pf Variations, 1930, orchd 1957

Sunday Afternoon Music, 1935

The Young Pioneers, 1935

Pf Sonata, 1939–41

Episode, org, 1940

Danzón cubano, 2 pf, 1942, orchd 1944

Midday Thoughts, 1944, rev. 1982

Midsummer Nocturne, 1947, rev. 1977

Pf Blues no.1, 1947 [arr. chbr orch, 1978–9]

Pf Blues no.3, 1948

Pf Fantasy, 1952–7

Down a Country Lane, 1962

Danza de Jalisco, 2 pf, 1963 [arr. of orch work]

In Evening Air, 1966

Night Thoughts (Homage to Ives), 1972

Proclamation, 1973, rev. 1982

MSS in Wc

Principal publisher: Boosey & Hawkes


(see J.F. Smith (B1955), H. Gleason and W. Becker (A1980) J. Skowronski(A1985), and M. Robertson (A2001) for list of articles)

  • What to Listen for in Music (New York, 1939, 3/ 1988)
  • Our New Music (New York, 1941, rev. and enlarged 2/ 1968 as The New Music 1900–1960)
  • Music and Imagination (Cambridge, MA, 1952/R)
  • Copland on Music (New York, 1960/R) [selected essays]
  • with V. Perlis: Copland 1900 through 1942 (Boston, 1984) [autobiography]
  • with V. Perlis: Copland since 1943 (New York, 1989) [autobiography]
  • R. Kostelanetz: Aaron Copland: A Reader: Selected Writings, 1926–1972 (New York, 2004)
  • W. Shirley and E.B. Crist: The Selected Correspondence of Aaron Copland (New Haven, 2006)


A Bibliographies, Discographies. B Life and works. C Interviews. D General studies. E Studies of specific works. F Other literature.

A: Bibliographies, discographies
  • D.D. Hamilton: “Aaron Copland: a Discography of the Composer’s Performances,” PNM, 9/1 (1970–71), 149–54
  • H. Gleason and W. Becker: “Aaron Copland,” 20th-Century American Composers (Bloomington, IN, 2/1980), 33–57
  • C. Oja: “Aaron Copland,” American Music Recordings (New York, 1982), 62–72
  • J. Skowronski: Aaron Copland: a Bio-Bibliography (Westport, CT, 1985)
  • M. Robertson and R. Armstrong: Aaron Copland: A Guide to Research (New York, 2001)
B: Life and works
  • V. Thomson: “Aaron Copland,” MM, 9 (1932), 67–73
  • A. Berger: Aaron Copland (New York, 1953, 4/1990)
  • J.F. Smith: Aaron Copland (New York, 1955 [incl. letters and summaries of writings]
  • RH. Cole: “Aaron Copland,” Tempo, no.76 (1966), 2–6; no.77 (1966), 9–15
  • A. Dobrin: Aaron Copland (New York, 1967)
  • L. Bernstein: “Aaron Copland: an Intimate Sketch,” High Fidelity, 20/11 (1970), 53–63
  • H.W. Hitchcock: “Aaron Copland and American Music,” PNM, 19 (1980–81), 31–3 [incl. tributes by composers and colleagues]
  • N. Butterworth: The Music of Aaron Copland (London, 1985)
  • H. Pollack: Aaron Copland: the Life and Work of an Uncommon Man (New York, 1999)
  • J. Tick and G Levin: Aaron Copland’s America: a Cultural Perspective (New York, 2000)
  • P. Dickinson, ed.: Copland Connotations: Studies and Interviews (Rochester, 2004)
  • E.B. Crist: Music for the Common Man: Aaron Copland During the Depression and War (New York, 2005)
  • C. Oja and J. Tick, eds: Aaron Copland and His World (Princeton, NJ, 2005)
C: Interviews
  • E.T. Cone: “Conversations with Aaron Copland,” PNM, 6/2 (1968–9), 57–72
  • V. Havsky: What Makes It Great? A Conversation with Aaron Copland (Winthrop Laboratories, 1970)
  • P. Ramey: “Copland and the Dance,” Ballet News, 2/5 (1980), 8–12, 40 only
  • L. Smit: “A Conversation with Aaron Copland,” Keyboard, 6/11 (1980), 6–35 [incl. tributes by 12 composers]
  • V. Perlis and L. Van Cleve: Composers’ Voices from Ives to Ellington: An Oral History of American Music (New Haven, 2005), 285–329
D: General studies
  • P. Rosenfeld: “Copland without the Jazz,” By Way of Art (New York, 1928), 266–72
  • C. Chávez: “Aaron Copland,” El universal (4 Sept 1932)
  • T. Chanler: “Aaron Copland,” American Composers on American Music (Stanford, CA, 1933/R), 49–56
  • P. Rosenfeld: “Current Chronicle,” MQ, 25 (1939), 372–6
  • F. Sternfeld: “Copland as Film Composer,” MQ, 37 (1951), 161–75
  • W. Mellers: Music in a New Found Land: Themes and Developments in the History of American Music (London, 1964)
  • Tempo, no.95 (1971) [incl. articles by H. Cole, N. Kay, D. Matthews and D. Young]
  • L. Starr: “Copland’s Style,” PNM, 19 (1980–81), 68–89
  • N.M. Case: Stylistic Coherency in the Piano Works of Aaron Copland (diss., Boston U., 1984)
  • H. Pollack: “The Dean of Gay American Composers,” American Music, 18/1 (2000), 39–49
  • S.V. Kleppinger: “On the Influence of Jazz Rhythm in the Music of Aaron Copland,” American Music, 21/1 (2003): 74–111
  • A. Fauser: “Aaron Copland, Nadia Boulanger, and the Making of an ‘American’ Composer,” MQ 89 (2006), 524–54
  • B. Simms: “Serialism in the Early Music of Aaron Copland,” MQ 90 (2007), 176–96
  • J. DeLapp-Birkett: “Aaron Copland and the Politics of Twelve-Tone Composition in the Early Cold War,” JMR, 27/1 (2008), 31–62
E: Studies of specific works
  • L. Morton: “The Red Pony: a Review of Aaron Copland’s Score,” Film Music Notes (1949), Feb, pp. 2–8
  • P. Evans: “Copland on the Serial Road: an Analysis of Connotations,” PNM, 2 (1963–4), 141–9
  • D.J. Conte: A Study of Aaron Copland’s Sketches for Inscape (diss., Cornell U., 1983).
  • M.E. Robertson: “A Gift to Be Simple”: the Collaboration of Aaron Copland and Martha Graham in the Genesis of Appalachian Spring (diss., U. of Michigan, 1992)
  • E. B. Crist: “The Compositional History of Aaron Copland’s Symphonic Ode,” American Music, 18 (2000), 257–77
  • E. B. Crist: “Aaron Copland’s Third Symphony from Sketch to Score,” JM, 18 (2001), 377–405
  • H. Pollack: “Aaron Copland’s Short Symphony and the Challenge to Human Control and Supervision in Music,” Journal of New Music Research, 31/3 (2002), 201–10
  • L. Starr: The Dickinson Songs of Aaron Copland (Hillsdale, NY, 2002)
  • L. Starr: “The Voice of Solitary Contemplation: Copland’s Music for the Theatre Viewed as a Journey of Self-Discovery,” American Music, 20/3 (2002), 297–316
  • D. Von Glahn: The Sounds of Place: Music and the American Cultural Landscape (Boston, MA, 2003)
  • S. Bick: “Of Mice and Men: Copland, Hollywood, and American Musical Modernism,” American Music, 23/4 (2005), 426–72
  • R.P. Jones: “The Tender Land”: Aaron Copland’s American Narrative (diss., Brandeis U., 2005)
  • S.V. Kleppinger: “A Contextually Defined Approach to Appalachian Spring,” Indiana Theory Review, 27/1 (2009), 1–22
F: Other literature
  • C.J. Oja: “The Copland-Sessions Concerts and their Reception in the Contemporary Press,” MQ, 65 (1979), 212–29
  • R. Parker: “Copland and Chávez: Brothers-in-Arms,” American Music, 5/4 (1987), 433–44
  • A. Olmstead: “The Copland-Sessions Letters,” Tempo, no.175 (1990), 2–5
  • C. Oja: Making Music Modern (New York, 2000)
  • N. Lerner: “Copland’s Music of Wide Open Spaces: Surveying the Pastoral Trope in Hollywood,” MQ, 85 (2001), 477–515
  • A. Berger: Reflections of an American Composer (Berkeley, 2002)
  • N. Hubbs: The Queer Composition of America’s Sound: Gay Modernists, American Music, and National Identity (Berkeley, 2004)
  • B. Levy: Frontier Figures: American Music and the Mythology of the American West (Berkeley, 2012)
Journal of Musicological Research
Journal of Musicology
Perspectives of New Music
Washington, DC, Library of Congress, Music Division
Musical Quarterly
Modern Music