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.
Rodeo was originally a ballet choreographed by Agnes DeMille and scored by Copland in 1942 for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. It premiered that year at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City with DeMille in the title role to great acclaim. Copland converted the music into an orchestral suite, Four Dance Episodes from Rodeo, which was premiered by the Boston Pops in 1943. This version, whose chief difference from the ballet music was the removal of one movement and the trimming of other sections, became one of Copland’s most popular and enduring works. This is especially true of the first movement, Buckaroo Holiday, and the last, Hoedown. Both of these have been arranged for band.
First, a snippet of the original ballet as performed by the American Ballet Theatre in 1973. This clip includes an interview with Agnes DeMille and most of the opening Buckaroo Holiday scene:
Sadly, there is no good version of Buckaroo Holiday as arranged for band (very capably by Kenneth Megan) on the internet. This adds to the heap of evidence that it is actually very difficult to play any of Copland’s music, despite the ease and accessibility of his sound. I hope to be able to add a video of Columbia Summer Winds playing this movement once I conduct my two performances with them this July.
Here is Hoedown in its original version, in a zippy live performance:
Conductors, DO NOT hold your baton like that guy – his grip leaves him zero wrist flexibility!
Here is a good (if primitively recorded) rendition of Mark Rogers’s band transcription:
Of course, you can’t talk about Hoedown without mentioning the ad campaign that introduced those of us of a certain age to the piece in the early 1990s:
Finally, the completionists out there will enjoy both this full recording of the complete Four Dance Episodes:
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.