You know all those things you like about America? The huge tracts of untamed land, the cities bustling as one of the mothers of western industry, the pioneer culture that eventually tamed The Wild West? Well, the music of Aaron Copland (November 14, 1900 December 2, 1990) is basically all of that distilled into the purest musical form you could imagine. Go listen to "Fanfare for the Common Man". Now.
Aside from that well-known piece, Copland is most famous for his ballet music for Billy the Kid, Appalachian Spring, and Rodeo (especially the "Hoedown" movement from the latter, which you've almost certainly heard, either in a Western or in the background while someone told you what beef is for).
Copland actually began making music that attempted to emulate the foremost German composers of his time, until his teacher told him he was trying too hard and that he should simply be himself (i.e. an American). And it worked.
Because of Copland's Americana styles, right-wing politicians frequently use his music or a Suspiciously Similar Song version of his music in their campaign ads. Ironically, Copland was quite openly gay and left-wing, and for a time sympathetic to socialism.note Needless to say, Joseph McCarthy didn't like him very much and Copland was put on the Hollywood blacklist at the time.
Hugely influenced by early modernist musicians, like Igor Stravinsky and Claude Debussy, Copland in turn influenced such Hollywood composers as Elmer Bernstein (whose theme for The Magnificent Seven in particular is sometimes mistakenly credited to Copland).
Aaron Copland film scores:
- Of Mice and Men (1939)
- Our Town (1940)
- The North Star (1943)
- The Red Pony (1949)
- The Heiress (1949; Academy Award winner for Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture).
Tropes associated with Copland's music:
- Dramatic Timpani:
- "Symphony for Organ and Orchestra"note , the timpani pounding out the work's motto theme in the final movement would be more impressive were they not overshadowed by the organ playing at full power.
- In his ballet Billy the Kid, the timpani are used to depict the sounds of a gun battle.
- "Fanfare for the Common Man" begins with thunderous beats on the timpani and gong. As does his Third Symphony, which quotes the piece in the fourth movement.
- Eagleland: Copland was fascinated with American folk music, and many of his most popular pieces reflect themes from American history. "Billy the Kid" ,"Appalachian Spring", "Rodeo", "Lincoln Portrait"....
- The Everyman: Got his own fanfare.
- He Also Did: Copland's best known music comes from the middle period of his career when he composed Americana, but in the early and late periods of his career he wrote many other significant pieces in a more Avant Garde Music modernist style.
- Fanfare: Notably, written not for royals but for the Common Man.
- Instrumentals: "Fanfare for the Common Man" is an instrumental piece, as are most of Copland's compositions.
- Letting the Air Out of the Band: At the climax of the ballet Rodeo, the dancing grinds to a halt and the music loses pitch like a record winding down, as the tomboy reappears in a nice dress.
- Literary Allusion Title: "Appalachian Spring" is named after the poem "The Dance" by Hart Crane.
- Mood Motif: "El Salón México" uses a small clarinet in E-flat or D.
- Named After Somebody Famous: His ballet Billy the Kid is named after the notorious outlaw of the same name.
- Orchestral Version: "Appalachian Spring" was originally composed for a small theater orchestra of just 12 instruments. Copland later arranged a suite for full symphony orchestra that became the best-known version.
- Refrain from Assuming: "Appalachian Spring" was not given its title by choreographer Martha Graham until after Copland had finished composing the music. Consequently, he was amused when many listeners told him "You really captured the beauty of the Appalachians!" or "I can hear Spring in your music!"
- Rock Me, Amadeus!: Inverted; Copland wrote pieces for classical orchestra that quoted American folk tunes.
- Standard Snippet: The "Hoedown" from Rodeo is used a lot in westerns. His "Fanfare for the Common Man" is very popular for scenes of North America, particular panoramas, grand cityscapes, stadia and stadium events...and of course, is the go-to piece for heroes doing a slow-motion Power Walk.
- Uncommon Time: The "Mexican Dance" in the Billy the Kid music is in 5/8, alternating with an occasional bar of 4/8.
- What Could Have Been: Before settling on "Fanfare for the Common Man," Copland considered several alternate titles including "Fanfare for Soldiers," "Fanfare for Four Freedoms," and "Fanfare for a Solemn Ceremony."
- The Wild West: Billy the Kid and Rodeo fit this trope perfectly, evoking the atmosphere of the cowboy era.
Aaron Copland in popular culture:
- Emerson, Lake & Palmer recorded Progressive Rock versions of "Fanfare of the Common Man" and "Hoedown" from Rodeo.
- The classic Shaker hymn Simple Gifts has been appropriated twice: Once for another hymn (Lord of the Dance), but most people would recognize it as the climax of Copland's ballet/suite Appalachian Spring. The tune is attributed: that section is titled Variations on a Shaker Melody.
- Superman: The Animated Series - its theme bears a striking resemblance to a sped-up version of Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" melded with bits the John Williams theme from Superman: The Movie. Given that the series was heavily influenced by the John Byrne era Superman (Clark is the real person, Superman is his disguise, and Clark sees himself as a perfectly normal person who happens to have extraordinary powers), this probably wasn't unintentional.
- Popular in American sports arenas.
- Terry Funk: He used "Fanfare for the Common Man" as his introduction song.
- An advertisement for beef used "Hoedown" as its theme song. And let's be honest: How many people can hear the Hoedown from his "Rodeo" (itself based on an older folk tune), and not immediately think "Beef, it's what's for dinner"?