Aaron Copland is one of America’s most treasured composers, and is renowned for his ability to simultaneously evoke the exciting expanses of the frontier and the industrious bustle of his native New York. His music is earthy and lyrical, with a folksy populism that came to define the sound of America.
Aaron Copland was born in Brooklyn, New York to a family of Jewish immigrants from Lithuania. His musical endeavors began at the piano early in his teenage years, with his older sister providing the initial instruction. Copland never went to college but instead took lessons with the leading classical pianists and composers he could find, and augmented these by attending as many performances by his musical contemporaries as he could. His main instructor at the time was Rubin Goldmark, who introduced him to the basics of composition.
In 1921 Copland moved to Paris to continue his musical education, studying with renowned teachers including Nadia Boulanger and Ricardo Viñes. The three years he spent in France exposed Copland to a huge variety of European music. Not only did he gain valuable insights into and appreciation for what many of his contemporaries, such as Igor Stravinsky and Darius Milhaud, were doing, he also made many connections with living legends, most notably the double bassist and composer Serge Koussevitzky.
Copland returned to the United States in 1925 with vastly heightened compositional expertise and the inspiration and perspective to forge his own path. His first major work upon returning was Symphony for Organ and Orchestra, which debuted that year and was written on Koussevitzky’s request for the Boston Symphony Orchestra. During this period Copland still showed a definite influence by his counterparts in Europe, particularly Stravinsky. However, Copland was determined to break out of this mold. He was convinced that there was a way to create classical music with a distinctly American aesthetic, wholly separate from the European tradition.