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Happy Birthday, Copland!

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Aaron Copland as photographed by David Diamond, Aaron Copland Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (Box 474).

Aaron Copland, eminent composer of 20th-century American music, was born 110 years ago yesterday, on November 14, 1900. Born in Brooklyn, New York, Aaron studied piano as a child and later studied with American composer and pianist Rubin Goldmark. In 1920, Copland traveled to Paris to study with renowned French composer, conductor and teacher Nadia Boulanger, with whom many American composers studied at the Consevatoire Américain at Fontainebleau. Returning to New York in 1924, Copland composed, conducted, taught, and was an indefatigable proponent of American music.

Copland is admired by scholars, performers, and composers today for his distinctively American musical output which incorporates an exploration of jazz and folk music within the context of works meant to be performed in the concert hall. Also respected for the breadth and variety of his works, Copland explored modernist trends early in his career and later created popular works that have contributed to America’s soundtrack.  Such examples include excerpts from his ballets of the 1940’s Appalachian Spring and Rodeo. Decades later Copland composed music using serial, or twelve-tone, techniques, including his orchestral work Connotations, premiered at the opening of New York’s Lincoln Center in 1962. Copland also wrote film scores starting in the 1930s – he was nominated for an Academy Award in 1943 for his score for The North Star, and eventually won the Academy Award in 1949 for his score for William Wyler’s The Heiress. Next March, Music Reference Specialist James Wintle will curate a film series called “Celebrating the Oscars at the Library of Congress”, where The Heiress will be shown, so if you haven’t seen the film or heard the score before, keep this film series in mind!

The Copland Collection is one of the most heavily consulted collections in the Music Division, ranking in high usage along with the Bernstein and Gershwin collections, reflecting a collective interest in 20th-century American composers who incorporated America’s verbal and musical language into their masterpieces, be it influences of jazz or the composer’s interest and investment in American poets and themes. Take some time to explore our Copland Online Collection, and view a selection of digitized scores, sketches, correspondence, photographs, and writings by and about Copland, all taken from the Copland Collection.


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