Copland Summer: Simplicity and Objectivity

So many things running around my head this afternoon, and I’m not sure how to organize them all. Maybe a list? 

First – Comments!

 “It’s about beef, right?” (via my Facebook page)

Roland and Carol both commented about Copland's distinctly American sound, including optimism, use of folk music, and certain harmonies.

Their comments reminded me of something from "Copland and the American Sound," one of PBS's Keeping Score programs:

“Copland was able to write an archetypal music. Underneath the surface were all kinds of things—folk music, hymns, dance forms—but somehow it all had been synthesized into a language which seemed completely consistent….Copland’s great insight was that he could rouse and unite people not by scaring them or making them angry, but by helping them confirm a sense of ownership and pride that they all shared as Americans. For more than a decade in the middle of his life, he generously devoted himself to creating a musical language that all Americans could recognize as their own." (Copland and the American Sound)

I should have remembered that show sooner! It's worth taking an hour to watch the program. In fact, it might be the best answer to the initial question.  But let's not stop there; I still think there's more things to learn.

Second – Simplicity and Objectivity

Here’s where I am in my reading: Copland is back from Paris. He’s been absorbing influences from all sorts of places, sorting things out and finding a “useable past.” He’s about to head West. 

Howard Pollack, Aaron Copland: The Life and Work of an Uncommon Man

Things are starting to come together! We’re not yet to that "American sound," but as I read about Copland's search for simplicity and his interest in "New Objectivity" and listen to some early works, I think we're holding some pieces to the puzzle: 

Here's Music for Theatre from 1925:

Two Pieces for String Quartet (1923/1928):

And the Piano Variations (1930): 

Appalachian Spring that one ain't, but I've been hearing connections. Even when he's modern and edgy, Copland is writing with clarity and angularity that are echoed in his later, popular works. 

So no answers yet, just these few observations. If you want to keep the chronology straight, here's a useful timeline via the Copland House website.

Third --  The bigger questions

When I first embarked on this mad little quest, another person very dear to me challenged me with this thought:

The question isn’t why some people like Copland…it’s why any of us like the things we like.”

That direction is exciting, but also a bit terrifying. My response at the time: “That’s too big. I’d never write anything.”

I was worried that my semi-simple question, which has led me back to reading and writing about music, could expand to something so broad and confusing that I would give up.

And now, NPR, The Guardian, and musicologist Eric Clarke conspire to confuse me all over again.

Check out the “Six Songs of Me” project.  They're working on figuring out why we like the music we like. 
You can also help them out with their research by answering their questions about what music matters to you.

(The RPO is also getting in on that game.) 


Fourth -- Resolve

I’m sticking with Copland. I’ve got a lot more reading to do, and the bigger questions can wait until later.

Other developments: Someone who visited the station to speak with Julia has just agreed to put me in touch with one of their friends who is a Copland scholar. Plus, Bill Frisell has wandered into the mix.

Hope this continues to be fun for you too!