Copland Summer

A few friends sat on a porch in Rochester on a recent cool summer night.  There was music, and beer, and some talk of going hiking. The music varied as different people used Spotify to play Nick Waterhouse, Leonard Cohen, Olivia Tremor Control, Wilco, and whatever else came to mind.

Late at night, late enough to be almost early, one of the denizens of this porch called up Copland’s music for The Red Pony. He then turned to me, the ostensible classical music expert, and asked:  “Why do I like this music? What makes it so good?”

A weak dodge: “If I knew that, I’d be Copland, or a respected music scholar, or maybe a world famous music critic…”

I then went for a vague attempt at explaining parallel intervals and counterpoint, with references to William Billings, shape note singing, and folk music, with a nod to the American landscape and its wide open spaces for good measure. That wasn’t quite right either.  And it’s been bothering me. 

So, I’m working on a better answer.

For this friend who loves The Red Pony, and my desk neighbor who likes Appalachian Spring and Rodeo, and all my friends who aren’t always classical music fans but are drawn to Copland and expect me to know why – I’m going to try to figure it out. I’ll have something to say to you. Give me a month.

That month will give me some time to read and listen, and perhaps find a Copland scholar or two to interview. The invented deadline, it is hoped, will keep me from continuing to hide behind the fact that other people have written all about Copland, and everything else too, as I’ve recently been letting myself believe. No more of that - FILDI.

Oh, and if you have any thoughts on Copland, know people I should be talking to, or have suggestions for reading and listening, please, PLEASE, write something in the comments. Thank you. 




When I was a child, I took a liking to Tchaikovsky, via the Nutcracker Suite, and added to my favorites other composers of the Romantic period. Copeland gave me music that had the level of organization of a Romantic peace, also the theme that I found in tone poems, as well as a respectful use of American folk music. Those are the factors that made him a favorite of mine while in college and for years after.

What has intrigued me in recent years is my ability now to hear an unidentified piece of music and identify correctly a Copeland piece. I attribute this to Copeland's preference for certain harmonies. "Those chords sound like Copeland," I say to myself. Not having had much formal musical training, I find that particularly interesting.


Personally, a lot of it has to do with it being very much American music. Beethoven sounds German. Tchaikovsky sounds very much Russian.
Copland made classical music that sounded American, and a lot of what we listen to in the soundtracks to movies nowadays can be traced back to that branch in the classical family tree. It makes his music something that is easier to identify with then any of the classical European composers.

When he wrote most of his more 'popular' pieces, America was finally shaking the last grasp of old Europe and the depression. The old composers were dead and buried and there was a new optimism. That's the environment he wrote in and that 'American Spirit' seems to reflect in his music.

Just my opinion :D
Thanks for the music,