Aaron Copland: Rodeo.

Earlier I wrote about Copland’s Appalachian Spring. After that piece and Fanfare for the common man, one of his most performed works is probably Rodeo, specifically 4 dances that come from it: “Buckaroo Holiday,” “Corral Nocturne”, “Saturday Night Waltz”, and “Hoe-Down”.

Listen to these four dances today, especially “Hoe-Down,” and you’ll be reminded of any western movie that had a dance in it. This music just sounds so American and is linked so strongly to the 20th century popular consciousness of the old West that one would scarcely imagine that Copland was the son of a Lithuanian immigrant and actually grew up in Brooklyn. More surprising still is that after studying music, composition and counter point in New York, he scraped up enough money to move to Paris and actually studied for four years with Nadia Boulanger from 1921-1925.

Now everyone knows that Paris dominated the art world for most of the 20th century. And it also gave birth to as many literary movements as painting styles. As the century drew to a close however its influence seemed to wane in those areas, being eclipse starting in the 1960s by New York City.

But in the musical arena, Paris never lost its superiority. Indeed, it leads the world today in the area of so-called “World Music,” which has absorbed the indigenous music from its former colonies–Algeria, Cote d’Ivoire, The Congo, Benin, Senegal–and married it with the classical, jazz, pop, and other musical styles that have flourished there for the past 500 years.” The jazz musician, Ornette Coleman” said back in 1999 that in Paris, there is now only one type of music that everyone is making; something new and distinct had emerged from this melting pot.

In Paris the period from the turn of the century until the second world war was similar, and in the area of classical music, the city served as a similar kind of incubator. Imagine all the composers there at that time: Stravinsky, Cocteau, Ravel, Milhaud, Albeniz, Faure, and “Les Six.” This was the amalgam into which Copland jumped.

Composers like Bartok and Kodaly were discovering, like now, that the folk and indigenous rhythms were even more complex than the ones that they’d learned to copy an imitate in the academies. Milhaud and Stravinsky experimented with jazz; Albeniz took Spanish folk melodies and turned them into wonderful evocative soundscapes. All were inspired by the great innovator, Debussy who had been bowled over by the strange music from the Orient, especially the five-tone and cyclical music of the Gamelan.

When Copland returned to the States after his time in Paris, he, too, sought out the unique music that had been growing, absorbing and morphing with each new wave of immigrants that showed up on America’s shores. These he wove with his own visionary music to create what is considered the first really American serious music. Though he continued to experiment and write in the constantly changing 20th century styles until his death in 1990.

And his influence is great. Countless are the times I’ve heard something that I could have sworn was by Copland, only to find out it was Bernstein.

What makes great music differ from merely good, is how, even when it has been played so much, it still resists becoming a cliché. And to me, Copland’s work, especially pieces like Rodeo, never lose their uniqueness, which is both timeless and timely.

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About kurtnemes
Writer and Education Professional. Specialties include Ethics, Personal Memoir, Classical music, Tai Chi, Stress Reduction, Meditation, Coping, Classical Music, Aging, Love, Joy, Compassion and Equanimity (& what interests me.)

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