The Composer: Aaron Copland

Copland was born to Russian-Jewish parents in Brooklyn, New York, in the year 1900.  His compositions typify what has come to be known as ‘American 20th century music’, many of them having a wide and popular appeal.

At the age of 20, Copland moved to Paris and studied composition under Nadia Boulanger, as well as conducting.  The musical trend in these circles in the 1920s was a reaction against Romanticism and a return to simpler, more Classical forms.

Copland’s personal life was controversial for the time, being gay and having politically leftist views (at one time supporting the Communist Party USA).  His music influences were broad; in Paris he was exposed to the post impressionist music of Ravel, Satie and ‘Les Six’, and he took much inspiration from jazz, Latin and folk.  The American jazz style of the era can be heard very clearly in his piano concerto written in 1926, and the folk influences are apparent in Appalachian Spring, written for a ballet.  Copland won the Pulitzer prize for this last work which is still very frequently performed in orchestral concerts.  I have written notes on these pieces as well as the Mexican folk inspired El Salon Mexico in my listening log.  Copland also explored twelve-tone methods, but remained largely tonal in his own compositions.

Later on Copland was a successful composer for film, receiving several Academy Award nominations, and also conducted performances of his own music.

I think Copland’s main legacy was in creating a very recognisable style.  He blended elements of jazz and folk into a new, distinctly American kind of music which has remained popular to this day.


Mason, C. (1960) 'Reluctant isolation' In: The Guardian [online] At: (Accessed on 28.02.17)

Ross, A. (2012) The Rest is Noise. London: Fourth Estate. pp. 290-293

Schiff, D. (2000) 'Who Was That Masked Composer?' In The Atlantic January 2000 [online] At: (Accessed on 28.02.17)

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