Aaron Copland (1900-1990) is one of the titans of American art music. A native New Yorker, he went to France at age 21 and became the first American to study with the legendary Nadia Boulanger. His Organ Symphony, written for Boulanger, provided his breakthrough into composition stardom. After experimenting with many different styles, he became best known for his idiomatic treatment of Americana, leaving behind such chestnuts as The Tender Land (1954), Billy The Kid (1938), and Appalachian Spring (1944). This last piece won Copland the Pulitzer Prize in Music in 1945. He was also an acclaimed conductor and writer.
The Promise of Living comes from The Tender Land. It was transcribed for band by Kenneth Singleton, who provides this program note in the score:
Aaron Copland’s only full-length opera (the 90-minute Second Hurricane of 1937 was written for student performance), The Tender Land was begun in 1952 and completed in 1954, with a libretto by Erik Johns (using the pen name Horace Everett). Although containing some of Copland’s most lyrical and heart-felt music, the opera took time to establish its place in the repertoire. In 1958 Copland extracted a three-movement orchestral suite, using music from the introduction to Act II and the love duet, the square dance from Act II, and the vocal quintet from the end of Act I. The composer conducted the first performance of the suite in April, 1959 with Boston Symphony Orchestra, and he later recalled: “the reviews were far better than they had been for the opera.”
The final movement of the suite, The Promise of Living, is based largely on the folk song “Zion’s Walls“ (the first full appearance is after letter G – in 9/8 time) and epitomizes Copland at his most lyrical and direct. The entire movement is cast in F major, with no chromatically altered pitches.
Mallory Thompson conducts the Northwestern University Symphonic Wind Ensemble in The Promise of Living. Alas, the video doesn’t allow embedding, so you’ll have to settle for a link. Very much worth a click!
Here is the version from the orchestral suite set to a bunch of old movies. It is, indeed, appropriate nostalgia music:
John Williams arranged The Promise of Living for chorus and orchestra:
Finally, here is a semi-staged presentation of The Promise of Living in its original operatic setting:
Bonus: a choral version of Zion’s Walls, the folk song Copland uses in The Promise of Living.
Copland has a huge presence on the internet, thus this site will feature only the main portals into his work. Please click far beyond the sites listed here for a complete idea of Copland’s footprint on the web.
Fanfare for Aaron Copland – a blog with information on the composer, extraordinarily useful links, and some downloadable versions of old LP recordings. This is the place to explore the several links beyond the main site.
New York Times archive of Copland-related material. Includes reviews of his music and books as well as several fascinating articles that he wrote.
Copland Centennial (from 2000) on NPR.