Until relatively recent years, most Europeans tended to look down their noses at American music in a classical sense. But the work of one man - Aaron Copland, who died this week at age 90 - helped to change that view.
Known for scores of ballets reflecting a distinctively "American" musical style that stood on its own with European music, Copland used jazz rhythms of the South, folk songs of Appalachia and cowboy tunes of the prairie to make a unique contribution. In fact, he was perhaps the most honored and best-known composer of his age.Copland was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., the youngest of five children. As a child he desired to take piano lessons but had to settle for instruction from one of his sisters.
Following his graduation from high school, he decided to make music his career. When he first tried writing music his first teacher, a traditionalist, called his modernistic chords sour notes. But in 1925, when Copland was only 25, his "First Symphony" was performed by the New York Symphony Orchestra.
For many years Copland experimented with a jazz idiom, then changed his style to folk themes, writing "Billy the Kid" in 1938, "Rodeo" in 1942, the Pulitzer-winning "Appalachian Spring" in 1944 and the score for the 1949 movie "The Heiress," for which he won an oscar for best dramatic film score.
He was mentor to the equally great Leonard Bernstein who also recently passed away.
In an amazing tribute anyone would treasure, Bernstein had praised Copland as "a pioneer, a craftsman and a lofty thinker" who was also "sweet-tempered, modest, friendly, helpful, wise, Lincolnesque and the ideal blend of simplicity and sophistication."
Of the awards Copland received, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, conferred on him by President Johnson, was the most prestigious. It is the highest civil honor a person can receive for service to the United States in peacetime.
His enormous musical legacy speaks for itself - one that remains purely American.