Aaron Copland (1900-1990) was born in Brooklyn, New York, on November 14, 1900. He was raised in New York and studied music there too, attending as many concerts as he could and absorbing the cultural scene of the great city. In 1920 he traveled to Paris to work with Nadia Boulanger, one of the greatest music teachers of the twentieth century. Despite studying in Europe, Copland was determined to create a uniquely American style.
Copland composed many works for orchestra, chamber ensemble, and piano. The titles of his ballet pieces reveal his choice of American themes — Billy the Kid, Rodeo, and Appalachian Spring, to name a few. In his early works there was also a uniquely American influence of jazz music, especially in his Piano Concerto.
Besides being determined to write in an American style, Copland also wanted to write music that the general public could listen to and enjoy. Most of the cutting edge music of the twentieth century was very dissonant and completely foreign to the masses. Copland avoided harsh dissonances and wrote very clear melodies. A perfect example of his attempt to reach out to the public is his piece Fanfare for the Common Man. Copland also borrowed from folk tunes, and his ballet piece Appalachian Spring includes the traditional song The Gift to be Simple.
Although Copland is considered a very conservative composer by twentieth century standards, he was actually quite bold in his approach because he did not follow the trends of modern music. While it was “cool” for a composer to write atonal music (music without a tonal center), Copland only wrote tonal pieces that his audiences could understand.
Copland was an active music educator and spokesman for the arts. He wrote books on music and gave many lectures on understanding music and how it is created. Copland appeared on numerous television programs as a pianist, composer, and educator. He won many awards and honors in his lifetime, including a Pulitzer Prize in 1945.