Copland, Aaron (1900–1990)

Aaron Copland was an American composer who created a distinctive American sound in classical music, often referred to as a populist style. Copland was born in Brooklyn, New York, and trained as a composer in New York and Paris. He used folk music, jazz, and other American styles to create new compositions for symphonies, movies, and the ballet. His first major orchestral piece, commissioned for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, was entitled Symphony for Organ and Orchestra (1925). Much of his music evokes the sense of wide-open spaces and combines European classical form with a twentieth-century feeling. Considered to be too radical for American classical music, his early works were hissed at by audiences and criticized heavily by music writers.

Active in helping young composers, he was a director of the League of Composers and taught at Harvard, Tanglewood, and the New School for Social Research. He wrote many articles, essays, and books about music and his life. Copland conducted in the last few decades of his working life, making his debut at the New York Philharmonic in 1958, and acted as guest conductor with many symphonies. He left his estate to music, and his home in Cortlandt Manor, New York, is now known as Copland House and is a retreat for composers.

Lynn Elizabeth Marlowe

See also: Guthrie, Woodrow Wilson “Woody” (1912–1967) ; Highlander Folk School ; Pop Music


Perlis, Vivian, and Libby Van Cleve. Composers’ Voices from Ives to Ellington: An Oral History of American Music. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2005.

Pollack, Howard. Aaron Copland: The Life and Work of an Uncommon Man. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1999.

“Timeline: Aaron Copland,” Copland House website, accessed November 17, 2011. . Accessed December 1, 2013.