About this Recording
2.110397 - COPLAND, A.: Fanfare for the Common Man / El salón México / Clarinet Concerto (Goodman, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Copland) (NTSC)

Notes on the film ‘Copland conducts Copland’


El Salón México, one of the first of Copland’s works to be immediately acclaimed by critics and public alike, takes its name from a Mexican dance hall the composer visited on his first trip to Mexico in 1932. ‘In that hot spot one felt, in a very natural and unaffected way, a close contact with the Mexican people. It wasn’t the music that I heard, but the spirit I felt there which attracted me. Something of that spirit is what I hope I have put into my music.’ The colourful orchestral fantasy contains many elements of popular Mexican songs and traditional folk melodies.

Fanfare for the Common Man is one of Copland’s most familiar pieces. It was one of 18 patriotic fanfares that Eugene Goossens commissioned from various American composers during World War II for performance with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Lasting less than three minutes, the piece is a straightforward flourish of brass and percussion.

Hoe-Down is the last of four movements which comprise the orchestral suite from the exuberant ballet Rodeo. As in another of his ballet scores, Billy the Kid, Copland included freely adapted American folk songs into the spirited work, originally created for Agnes de Mille and the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Depicting the romance between a cowgirl and a champion roper, the ballet culminates in the recreation of a rousing evening dance following the traditional western Saturday afternoon exhibition of riding, roping and wrangling. In Hoe-Down, the joyful finale, prominently featuring country ‘fiddle’ music, the composer introduces two traditional tunes, the square dance Bonaparte’s Retreat and Miss McLeod’s Reel.

Copland’s Clarinet Concerto, scored for solo clarinet, harp, piano and strings, has of late become one of the composer’s most frequently performed works. Benny Goodman, who commissioned it, proudly states that it has now become part of the standard literature, studied and played by all aspiring clarinettists. Copland began working on the concerto while in Brazil on a goodwill tour of South America, and the finished piece contains elements related to both North and South American popular music. In his book on Copland, Arthur Berger said that since the Concerto was written for Goodman, ‘it inevitably exploits the “hot” jazz improvisation for which that clarinettist is noted. But the very episodes that evoke the sharp-edged, controlled, motoric style of Goodman’s brilliant old sextet are often the ones recalling most strongly the stark, dissonant devices that gave Copland the reputation for being an esoteric in the early 1930s … The jazz elements make their entrance into the concerto in the course of an extended cadenza that connects the two movements, and they dominate the fast, second part of the work. The tender first movement is of a lyrical cast, with the grace of a ballet and the general mood of a slow dance.’

Aaron Copland’s opera The Tender Land tells a simple story of life—and love—on a farm in the American Midwest of the 1930s. The Suite is a medley of many of its most lyric and tuneful passages, reflecting the composer’s description of the opera: ‘It’s very plain,’ he said in an interview prior to the opera’s premiere, ‘stylistically plain. It has a colloquial flavour, even, and in some spots is quite folkish.’ The opera, originally in two acts and later expanded to three, was commissioned by Rodgers and Hammerstein to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the League of Composers and was premiered by the New York City Opera Company in April 1954. Its theme was suggested to Copland and librettist Horace Everett by the book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, by James Agee and the photographer Walker Evans. One portrait in this moving study of tenant farmers in the 1930s made an indelible impression on the composer: ‘There was something so full of living and understanding in the face of the older woman, and something so open and eager in the face of the younger one, that I began to think that here was the basis of an idea.’

Music in America: Copland conducts Copland
A musical description with comments by Aaron Copland

Fanfare for the Common Man

During World War II my friend Eugene Goossens thought it would be a good idea to introduce our weekly concerts with a fanfare. And because this war caused the common man, more than anyone, so much pain and trouble, I decided to dedicate my fanfare to him.

El Salón México

I wrote El Salón México in 1936. I chanced upon this theme after my first trip to Mexico, where I found a dance bar called El Salón México and where they played a great deal of Mexican tunes. When I got back home, I began to interpret these melodies in my own style and named my piece after that dance club.

Clarinet Concerto

Benny Goodman commissioned me to write the Clarinet Concerto, and of course he was the first to play it. While composing it I was able to use several jazz melodies which I had practically grown up with, and which I had used in earlier works. Of course, it was a special experience, a real inspiration, to write for Benny.

Hoe-Down from Rodeo

The idea of using a rodeo as the setting for a ballet came from my friend the American choreographer Agnes de Mille. She asked me to write the accompanying music. Hoe-Down is the title of the ballet’s concluding dance.

Suite from The Tender Land

I wrote the opera The Tender Land around 1954. It was not intended to be a grand opera for the Metropolitan Opera, but a lyrical piece with a simple storyline—an opera that could even be performed by smaller, modern opera companies. Three selected pieces from the opera are featured in this suite.

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