On November 14, 1900, composer Aaron Copland is born in Brooklyn, New York.
“The sound and the spirit of this music is so familiar to us that we think it must always have been,” Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, has said of the works of Aaron Copland. “But when Aaron Copland first started writing in the 1920s, there was no music that sounded like this.” Beyond being responsible for the creation of some of the 20th century’s most beloved and enduring works of classical music, Aaron Copland was responsible for establishing a sound that was unmistakably and quintessentially American. “He reduced things to their absolute essence,” Tilson Thomas says, “and that was an important step to forming a new musical language with which we could all connect.”
Born and raised in Brooklyn, Copland began his advanced education in music in the 1920s in Paris, where he was encouraged by his composition teacher, Nadia Boulanger, to aim for a uniquely American sound combining elements of the various musical traditions he brought with him to France. With their subtle use of jazz rhythms and of elements inspired by avante-garde composers like Igor Stravinsky, Copland’s early works were decidedly modern. Indeed, at the 1925 premiere of his Organ Symphony, conductor Walter Damrosch of the New York Symphony shocked the audience in attendance by addressing them before the performance: “Ladies and gentlemen, I am sure you will agree that if a gifted young man can write a symphony like this at 23,” he said before taking a dramatic pause, “within five years he will be ready to commit murder.”
In fact, after seven more years in which each of his new works was, in the words of Tilson Thomas “more spiky, dangerous and provocative than the last,” Copland entered an entirely unexpected phase of his career. Beginning with his popular breakthrough El Salon Mexico (1935) and continuing through Billy The Kid (1938), Rodeo (1942), Fanfare For The Common Man (1942) and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Appalachian Spring (1944), Copland the confrontational modernist established himself as the ultimate American populist.
Born on this day in 1900, Aaron Copland died at the age of 90 on December 2, 1990.