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he worked to make classical music accessible to and enjoyable for young Americans
Aaron Copland was born in Brooklyn, New York, on November 14, 1900, the son of Jewish immigrants from Lithuania. He learned to play piano from an older sister, and by the age of fifteen had decided he wanted to be a composer. To get himself started he took piano lessons from Leopold Wolfsohn, and studied harmony and counterpoint with Rubin Goldmark. He also studied with Victor Wittgenstein and Clarence Adler. After high school he spent about three years playing piano, first at the Finnish Socialist Hall and then, during the summers, in the Catskill Mountains. In 1921 he decided to continue his studies at the American Conservatory at Fontainbleau, near Paris, where he became the first American student of Nadia Boulanger. He sold his first composition, Scherzo Humoristique (The Cat and the Mouse), that same year, to Durand and Sons, the most respected publisher in France. He studied at the conservatory until 1924.
Copland returned to New York with an organ concerto written especially for the American appearances of Madame Boulanger; Symphony for Organ and Orchestra premiered at Carnegie Hall in 1925.
Throughout most of the 1920's, Copland's compositions relied heavily on the jazz idioms of the time. As the first genuinely American major musical movement, he believed it could help him create symphonic music easily distinguishable from that of Europe. In the late 1920's he turned to popular music of other countries for inspiration. By the mid-1930's he was composing for the movies and ballet. In the 1950's he slowed his work as a composer to try his hand at conducting. He stopped composing entirely in 1970, but continued to lecture and conduct through the mid-1980's.
In addition to his work as a composer and conductor, Copland also worked to make classical music accessible to and enjoyable by young Americans. With Roger Sessions, he began the Copland-Sessions concerts (1928-1932), dedicated to presenting the works of young composers In 1932 his dream of bringing classical music to a young American audience came true with the Yaddo Festival of American Music; another festival was held the following year as well. And, from 1965 to 1966, he wrote, conducted, and hosted a series of twelve television programs, Music in the 20s, for National Educational Television.
As if all of the above were not enough, Copland also taught music to young people, at the New School for Social Research (1927-?), Harvard University (1935), the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood (1940-1965), and as the Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetics at Harvard University (1951-1952).
Aaron Copland died on December 2, 1990, at Tarrytown, New York.
Scherzo Humoristique (1921)
What to Listen for in Music (1939)
he also wrote 60+ articles and essays on music
1925-1926 and 1926-1927 -- Guggenheim Memorial
American Academy of Arts and Letters
(elected member, 1954)
This page was last updated on 03/28/2017.