Aaron Copland

American Composer, Conductor, Pianist and Teacher (Brooklyn 1900 – New-York 1990)

Aaron Copland was a key figure of the American school, along with Charles Ives and Virgil Thomson, among others. They paved the way for the American composers to explore and incorporate European influences.

Aaron Copland's first encountered music through Jewish religious ceremonies and weddings: the influence of this music can be found in many of his works. It was in 1915 that Copland found his vocation as a composer when he attended a concert by pianist Ignacy Paderewski. The young Copland studied with Rubin Goldmark who taught him harmony, theory and composition. From 1921 to 1924, he lived in Paris and took classes in composition and harmony from Nadia Boulanger before moving to New York where he got involved in music as a composer, lecturer and pianist.

Aaron Copland's music was strongly influenced by American folklore. He hoped to give music a prominent place in society and therefore, in a bid to make his work more accessible, made frequent references to the American culture in his works. He began by writing musicals - songs of cowboys in "Billy the Kid" or popular ballads in "John Henry" - he then chose to evoke vast open spaces in Appalachian Spring, and the lifestyle of the American pioneers in Fanfare for the Common Man. Aaron Copland's ballets were such a success that they turned him into a multimillionaire by the time he died in 1990.

Unlike his predecessors, Aaron Copland found a way to idealize American popular tunes, rather than writing them in European forms. Copland had the ability to craft simple music without it ever becoming over simplistic, and modern without ever being inaccessible. It is easy to see why this composer has always been celebrated in the United States but also, increasingly, in Europe.

Six Landmark Dates in the Life of Aaron Copland

  • 1921 Arrived in Paris to study with Nadia Boulanger
  • 1928 Founded Roger Sessions and the Copland-Sessions Concerts to promote American music
  • 1935 Gave his first classes at Harvard University 
  • 1937 Met Leonard Bernstein and formed a close friendship 
  • 1958 Conducted the New York Philharmonic Orchestra for the first time
  • 1986 Was awarded a Gold Medal by the American Academy of Arts and Letters

Five Key Works by Aaron Copland

  • 1926 Concerto for Piano et Orchestra
  • 1936 El Salon Mexico for Orchestra 
  • 1938 Billy the Kid, ballet
  • 1942 Lincoln
  • 1943-1944 Appalachian Spring, for 13 instruments