The following is a piece I wrote on this broadcast of Aaron Copland’s 80th Birthday Concert: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u7riNZZY1R4.
This video is a recording of a television broadcast about Aaron Copland. There is commentary and interviews between songs. The broadcast features live music composed by Copland and performed by the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC on November 14, 1980. This concert is composed of mostly classical music with one excerpt from a jazz piano concerto. Aaron Copland conducted many pieces and narrated his Lincoln Portrait composition. Leonard Bernstein and Mstislav Rostropovich also conducted some pieces. Leo Smit played the piano. Aaron Copland (1900-1990) was an American composer who wrote classical music, film scores, and jazz music. Copland is famous for his classical Americana music such as “Fanfare for the Common Man”, “Appalachian Spring” and similar pieces. His music seems closest to the Anglo-Celtic tradition.
The video starts with the orchestra playing “Happy Birthday” and everyone singing. You hear a myriad of instruments and rich, resonant voices. The acoustics in the concert hall are amazing. After thunderous applause, the orchestra starts to play Fanfare for the Common Man. The camera pans to focus each instrument as they take a more prominent role. The song opens with loud drum beats slowly growing quieter. You then hear a dissonant sound from the horns with occasional loud drum beats. The same progression repeats.
The next piece is an excerpt from the 2nd movement of a Jazz piano concerto written by Copland in 1924. Music critics didn’t like the piece, but many common people loved it. You hear string instruments and piano at the beginning. The melody is chaotic. The horns come in with a slower, mellow melody. It becomes more chaotic again. There is a slow, gentle melody when the woodwinds come in with a solo. Then there is a more chaotic melody with piano and horns. The piano has a raucous solo. The song has a fast, raucous melody with moments of calm sprinkled in.
In 1944, Copland wrote Appalachian Spring for a ballet performed by Martha Graham. It had no specific title until Martha Graham suggested “Appalachian Spring”. We see a film of Graham dancing. The video transitions back to the concert. The piece starts with a smooth, delicate melody played on string instruments. Quiet horns join in throughout to beautiful effect. The piece has a rich, smooth sound. I love the mellow melody produced by the woodwinds. Appalachian Spring is a slow, mellow piece sprinkled with faster, louder parts.
The Lincoln Portrait was written in 1941 when World War II had just started. It was one of three portraits made to embody “courage, dignity, strength, simplicity and humor which are so characteristic of the American people.” We see them rehearsing. The video transitions to the performance. It starts with a very soft, gentle melody slowly building in volume. Aaron Copland comes in with narration. The music emphasizes his words. An occasional burst of louder music interjects into the quiet stillness of the soft music. It suddenly becomes faster and louder in parts. Near the end, his face is interposed over a quote on the Lincoln memorial as he reads it.
It was amazing to see so many highly skilled musicians performing in unison at a concert performed two decades before I was born. The classical pieces were what I would expect from a classical orchestra with soft, beautiful melodies. The Jazz piece was different from what I expected. This style of Jazz played in an orchestra sounds too chaotic to me. I think the two most beautiful pieces from the concert were “Appalachian Spring” and Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait”.