Another historic concert this week – this time it’s The New York Philharmonic with Conductor laureate Leonard Bernstein sharing the podium with Music Director Zubin Mehta in a program devoted entirely to the work of Aaron Copland, on the occasion of his 85th birthday celebration, recorded on November 14, 1985.
On hand for the festivities was Copland himself and the program was chosen specifically by Mr. Copland for this occasion. Featured are Fanfare For The Common Man, two rarely performed works, John Henry and Letter From Home – his Concerto For Piano and Orchestra with Bennett Lerner, piano. A newly finished work, Proclamation – Prairie Journal and the revised version of his Symphony Number 1 (revised without Organ).
Aaron Copland: November 14, 1900 – December 2, 1990) was an American composer, composition teacher, writer, and later a conductor of his own and other American music. Copland was referred to by his peers and critics as “the Dean of American Composers.” The open, slowly changing harmonies in much of his music are typical of what many people consider to be the sound of American music, evoking the vast American landscape and pioneer spirit. He is best known for the works he wrote in the 1930s and 1940s in a deliberately accessible style often referred to as “populist” and which the composer labeled his “vernacular” style. Works in this vein include the ballets Appalachian Spring, Billy the Kid and Rodeo, his Fanfare for the Common Man and Third Symphony. In addition to his ballets and orchestral works, he produced music in many other genres including chamber music, vocal works, opera and film scores.
From the 1960s, Copland turned increasingly to conducting. Though not enamored with the prospect, he found himself without new ideas for composition, saying, “It was exactly as if someone had simply turned off a faucet.” He became a frequent guest conductor in the United States and the United Kingdom and made a series of recordings of his music, primarily for Columbia Records. In 1960, RCA Victor released Copland’s recordings with the Boston Symphony Orchestra of the orchestral suites from Appalachian Spring and The Tender Land; these recordings were later reissued on CD, as were most of Copland’s Columbia recordings (by Sony).
From 1960 to his death, Copland resided at Cortlandt Manor, New York. Known as Rock Hill, his home was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2003 and further designated a National Historic Landmark in 2008. Copland’s health deteriorated through the 1980s, and he died of Alzheimer’s disease and respiratory failure on December 2, 1990, in North Tarrytown, New York (now Sleepy Hollow) and his ashes were scattered over the Tanglewood Music Center near Lenox, Massachusetts. Much of his large estate was bequeathed to the creation of the Aaron Copland Fund for Composers, which bestows over $600,000 per year to performing groups.
In case you missed his 85th, here’s another chance to listen to it and to immerse yourself in one of Americas greatest composers.