In light of recent Rick Perry advertisements featuring music from a gay Jew with communist affiliations, I think its time we celebrate the brilliant Aaron Copland.
He is one of the most important American composers, and many of his most well-known works are widely considered to be the sound of American romanticism, especially regarding the west. There’s the famous “Hoedown” from his ballet Rodeo, probably known to most of us now through ads for the Beef Association. “Fanfare for the Common Man” is a slow moving, epic brass piece written during World War II to celebrate everyday people. It is a composition that sounds like honor for the every day American. Appalachian Spring, a ballet commissioned by Martha Graham, celebrated the pioneer spirit of the 1800s.
The work Copland is most famous for is rollicking and adventurous, upbeat and bright. It conjures images of the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains. It celebrates the great American landscape and the people that live there, in what many of us on the coasts would now describe as “flyover” states. There has always been a great romantic ideal of the American West, both for how it was founded and how it is now (both of which are massively misguided or false 98% of the time), and Copland played with all of those notions. He put folk tunes into classical music (“How-Down” is built around an interpretation of “Bonaparte’s Retreat”), taking “high” art and making it of the ordinary person, from their experience and taking from the great American folk canon.
Aside from his most well-known works, his earlier compositions also built on American genres and themes, such as jazz. Pieces such as “Four Piano Blues” obviously took heavily from the distinctly American jazz and blues tradition, particularly the latter, making it a lonely and relatively sparse work.
Aaron Copland is undoubtedly an integral part of American musical identity. His compositions have, for better or worse, help set the tone for how Americans see themselves and their country by writing beautiful songs that celebrate it and its people.