Aaron Copland and Vivian Perlis collaborated on two books that detailed the life of one of America's most admired and treasured composers, famous for Fanfare for the Common Man, Appalachian Spring, Billy the Kid, El Salon Mexico, Lincoln Portrait, and many more works from movie scores to orchestral pieces and chamber music. These books, Copland: 1900 Through 1942 and Copland: Since 1943 have been combined and updated and Ms Perlis has written a new Introduction for The Complete Copland. This candid, colorful memoir begins with Copland's Brooklyn childhood and takes us through his years in Paris, the creation of his early works, and his years at Tanglewood, through his death in 1990 at age 90. Rich with remembrances from Leonard Bernstein, Virgil Thomson, and Nadia Boulanger, as well as a trove of letters, photographs, and scores from Copland's collection, this is one of our most vivid musical autobiographies, and an enduring record of an American maestro's explosively creative coming of age.
After Copland completed his studies in 1924, he returned to America and composed the Symphony for Organ and Orchestra, his first major work, which Boulanger played in New York City in 1925. Music for the Theater (1925) and a Piano Concerto (1926) explored the possibilities of combining jazz and symphony music. Serge Koussevitzky (1874–1951), conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, became interested in what he heard from the young composer, and he helped gain a wider audience for Copland's—and much of America's—music.
In the late 1920s Copland turned to an increasingly experimental style, featuring irregular rhythms and often jarring sounds. His works were entirely personal; there are no outside influences that can be identified in the Piano Variations (1930), Short Symphony (1933), and Statements. The basic features of these works remained in one way or another central to his musical style in the following years.
The 1920s and 1930s were a period of deep concern about the limited audience for new (and especially American) music, and Copland was active in many organizations devoted to performance and sponsorship. These included the League of Composers, the Copland-Sessions concerts, and the American Composers' Alliance. His organizational abilities earned him the title of "American music's natural president" from his fellow composer Virgil Thomson (1896–1989).
Beginning in the mid-1930s through 1950, Copland made a serious effort to widen the audience for American music and took steps to change his style when writing pieces requested for different occasions. He composed music for theater, ballet, and films, as well as for concert situations. In his ballets— Billy the Kid(1938), Rodeo (1942), and Appalachian Spring (1944; Pulitzer Prize, 1945)—he made use of folk melodies and relaxed his previous style to arrive at a sound more broadly recognized as "American." Other well-known works of this period are El Salón México (1935) and A Lincoln Portrait (1942), while the Piano Sonata (1943) and the Third Symphony (1946) continue the development of his concert music. Among his famous film scores are those for Of Mice and Men (1939), Our Town (1940), The Red Pony (1948), and The Heiress (1949).
Copland's concern for establishing a tradition of music in American life increased when he became a teacher at The New School for Social Research at Harvard University, and as head of the composition department at the Berkshire Music Center in Tanglewood, Massachusetts, a school founded by Koussevitzky. His Norton Lectures at Harvard (1951–52) were published as Music and Imagination (1952). Earlier books are What to Listen for in Music (1939) and Our New Music (1941).
Beginning with the Quartet for Piano and Strings (1950), Copland made use of the methods developed by Austrian American composer Arnold Schoenberg, who developed a tonal system not based on any key. This confused many listeners. Copland's most important works of these years include the Piano Fantasy (1957), Nonet for Strings (1960), Connotations (1962), and Inscape (1967). The Tender Land (1954) represents an extension of the style of ballet to the opera stage.
Copland spent the final years of his life living primarily in the New York City area. He engaged in many cultural missions, especially to South America. Although he had been out of the major spotlight for almost twenty years, he remained semiactive in the music world up until his death, conducting his last symphony in 1983.
Aaron Copland died in New York City on December 2, 1990. He was remembered as a man who encouraged young composers to find their own voice, no matter the style, just as he had done for sixty years.
Historian in American music, specializing in twentieth century composers. She is widely known for her publications, lectures, and recording and film productions. On the faculty of the Yale School of Music, Perlis is founding-director of Oral History, American Music, a unique archive of oral and video-taped interviews with leading figures in the music world. This important collection of source materials is well known and widely-used by scholars, historians, broadcasters, and producers.
Book publications by Perlis include Charles Ives Remembered: An Oral History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974), for which she was awarded the Kinkeldey Prize of the American Musicological Society, and "An Ives Celebration" (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1976). With composer Aaron Copland, Perlis is co-author of Copland: 1900 Through 1942 (New York: St. Martin's/ Marek, 1984), which garnered a Deems Taylor/ ASCAP award, and Copland: Since 1943 (New York. St. Martin's, 1989). Her most recent book, Composers' Voices from Ives to Ellington, co-authored with Libby Van Cleve, includes two CDs and is derived from interviews in the OHAM archive. Publications by Perlis include numerous articles and reviews. Among her productions are recordings of the music of Leo Ornstein and Charles Ives, and television documentaries on Ives, Eubie Blake, Aaron Copland, and John Cage.
Among honors and awards received by Vivian Perlis are: The Charles Ives Award from the National Institute of Arts and Letters (1972); a Grammy nomination for "Charles Ives 100th Anniversary" (1974); the Harvey Kantor Award for excellence in the field of oral history (1984); a Guggenheim Fellowship (1987); and the Irving Lowens Award for distinguished scholarship in American Music from The Sonneck Society (1991).
December 10, 2013
This book is an updated edition of Copland's autobiography, originally published as Copland: 1900 through 1942 (CH, Jan'85) and Copland: Since 1943 (1989). Copland's original narrative, primarily edited from oral history interviews that he gave in 1975-76, is interspersed with “interludes” by Perlis (Yale) that set the historical context as well as extended quotations from friends and colleagues. A “prelude” by Perlis outlines Copland’s genealogy, and a brief “postlude” describes Copland’s legacy, both in the persistence of his compositions and through the activities of the Aaron Copland Fund for Music. This book is valuable not only for the light it sheds on Copland’s career but also for his personal comments on Nadia Boulanger, Serge Koussevitzky, Leonard Bernstein, and other important figures in 20th-century music with whom he came into contact. Curiously, in an apparent attempt to keep the book from being dauntingly think, the publishers chose an oblong layout with two columns per page. This makes casual reading a bit awkward and may relegate this volume to the oversize stacks in some libraries. That minor complaint aside, having this important work in an updated, single-volume format is helpful.
Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-level undergraduates and above; general readers.
M. D. Jenkins II, Wright State University
“Current Reviews for Academic Libraries” Choice
December 1, 2013
"A valuable, readable, endearing record of his achievement."
— THE NEW YORK TIMES
"Scholars and lay readers alike will find this an indispensable source of Copland lore."
"To read of Copland's life and times—in his words and in those of his colleagues— is to arrive at the very heart of American music, and one is grateful to find there a genuinely compassionate spirit as well as a supremely talented composer."
"Anyone who loves Copland and his music—and there are plenty of people who love both—will want to read this book."
—INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE
"Almost cinematic... each chapter is full of rich descriptions of Mr. Copland's travels and the musical works associated with them [including] his phenomenally popular ballet Appalachian Spring''
—THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW
August 1, 2013
Aaron Copland (November 14, 1900 - December 2, 1990) was an American composer , composition teacher , writer, and later in his career a conductor of his own and other American music. Instrumental in forging a distinctly American style of composition, in his later years he was often referred to as "the Dean of American Composers" and is best known to the public for the works he wrote in the 1930s and 1940s in a deliberately accessible style often referred to as Populist and which the composer labeled his "vernacular" style. Works in this vein include the ballets Appalachian Spring, Billy the Kid and Rodeo , his Fanfare for the Common Man and Third Symphony. The open, slowly changing harmonies of many of his works are archetypical of what many people consider to be the sound of American music, evoking the vast American landscape and pioneer spirit. In addition to his ballets and orchestral works, he produced music in many other genres including chamber music, vocal works, opera and film scores. "The Complete Copland" is a 360 page compendium enhanced with some one hundred illustrations.
Co-written by Copland and music historian Vivian Perlis, "The Complete Copland" is a comprehensive and wonderfully detailed chronological overview of Copland's life and work . A welcome -addition to academic library 20th Century Music History reference collections , "The Complete Copland" is also highly recommended for non-specialist general readers with an interest in learning about the contributions of Aaron Copland to American music.
James A. Cox: Editor-in-Chief of Midwest Book Review
“The Music Shelf” Library Bookwatch