Also on this day
On this day in 1851, Moby-DickMoby-Dick is now considered a great classic of American literature and contains one of the most famous opening lines in fiction: “Call me Ishmael.” Initially, though, the book about Captain Ahab and his quest for a giant white whale was a flop. Herman Melville was born...
Benjamin Franklin takes sides
On this day in 1776, the St. James Chronicle of London carries an item announcing “The very identical Dr. Franklyn [Benjamin Franklin], whom Lord Chatham [former leading parliamentarian and colonial supporter William Pitt] so much caressed, and used to say he was proud in calling his friend, is now at...
Last day for Texas’ celebrated drive-in Pig Stands
On November 14, 2006, state officials close the last two of Texas’ famed Pig Stand restaurants, the only remaining pieces of the nation’s first drive-in restaurant empire. The restaurants’ owners were bankrupt, and they owed the Texas comptroller more than $200,000 in unpaid sales taxes. A Dallas entrepreneur named Jessie G....
Lincoln approves Burnside’s plan
On this day in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln approves of General Ambrose Burnside’s plan to capture the Confederate capital at Richmond, Virginia. This was an ill-fated move, as it led to the disastrous Battle of Fredericksburg in Virginiain December 1862, in which the Army of the Potomac was dealt one...
United States gives military and economic aid to communist Yugoslavia
In a surprising turn of events, President Harry Truman asks Congress for U.S. military and economic aid for the communist nation of Yugoslavia. The action was part of the U.S. policy to drive a deeper wedge between Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union.Yugoslavia ended World War II with the communist...
Ivan Boesky confesses to illegal stock trading activity
Wall Street arbitrageur Ivan Boesky pleads guilty to insider trading and agrees to pay a $100 million fine and cooperate with the Securities and Exchange Commission’s investigation. “Boesky Day,” as the SEC would later call it, was crucial in exposing a nationwide scandal at the heart of the ’80s Wall...
Volcano erupts in Colombia and buries nearby towns
On this day in 1985, a volcano erupts in Colombia, killing well over 20,000 people as nearby towns are buried in mud, ice and lava. The Nevado del Ruiz volcano is situated in the north-central part of Colombia. Over the centuries, various eruptions caused the formation of large mudflows in the...
Apollo 12 lifts off
Apollo 12, the second manned mission to the surface of the moon, is launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, with astronauts Charles Conrad, Jr.; Richard F. Gordon, Jr.; and Alan L. Bean aboard. President Richard Nixon viewed the liftoff from Pad A at Cape Canaveral. He was the first president to...
Walesa released from jail
Lech Walesa, leader of communist Poland’s outlawed Solidarity movement, returns to his apartment in Gdansk after 11 months of internment in a remote hunting lodge near the Soviet border. Two days before, hundreds of supporters had begun a vigil outside his home upon learning that the founder of Poland’s trade...
Cary Grant stars in Hitchcock’s Suspicion
On this day in 1941, Suspicion, a romantic thriller starring Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine and directed by Alfred Hitchcock, makes its debut. The film, which earned a Best Picture Academy Award nomination and a Best Actress Oscar for Fontaine, marked the first time that Grant, one of Hollywood’s quintessential...
Moby-Dick is published
Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville. The book flopped, and it was many years before the book was recognized as an American classic. Melville was born in New York City in 1819. A childhood bout of scarlet fever left him with weakened eyes. At age 19, he became a cabin boy on a...
Franklin Leslie kills Billy “The Kid” Claiborne
On this day, the gunslinger Franklin “Buckskin” Leslie shoots the Billy “The Kid” Claiborne dead in the streets of Tombstone, Arizona. The town of Tombstone is best known today as the site of the infamous shootout at the O.K. Corral. In the 1880s, however, Tombstone was home to many gunmen who...
Kennedy publishes article on television and American politics
On this day in 1959, an article written by Massachusetts senator and presidential hopeful John F. Kennedy appears in an issue of TV Guide. In it, Kennedy examined the influence of television, still a relatively new technology, on American political campaigns. In the article, Kennedy mused that television had the power...
Plane crash devastates Marshall University
On November 14, 1970, a chartered jet carrying most of the Marshall University football team clips a stand of trees and crashes into a hillside just two miles from the Tri-State Airport in Kenova, West Virginia. The team was returning from that day’s game, a 17-14 loss to East Carolina...
Major battle erupts in the Ia Drang Valley
In the first major engagement of the war between regular U.S. and North Vietnamese forces, elements of the 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) fight a pitched battle with Communist main-force units in the Ia Drang Valley of the Central Highlands. On this morning, Lt. Col. Harold G. Moore’s 1st Battalion,...
Marine general killed in Vietnam
Maj. Gen. Bruno Hochmuth, commander of the 3rd Marine Division, is killed when the helicopter in which he is travelling is shot down. He was the most senior U.S. officer to be killed in action in the war to date.
Nixon promises Thieu that U.S. will continue to support South Vietnam
One week after his re-election, President Richard Nixon extends to South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu his “absolute assurance” that the United States will “take swift and severe retaliatory action” if Hanoi violates the pending cease-fire once it is in place. Thieu responded with a list of 69 amendments that he...
World War I1914
Ottoman Empire declares a holy war
On November 14, 1914, in Constantinople, capital of the Ottoman Empire, the religious leader Sheikh-ul-Islam declares an Islamic holy war on behalf of the Ottoman government, urging his Muslim followers to take up arms against Britain, France, Russia, Serbia and Montenegro in World War I. By the time the Great War...
World War II1940
Germans bomb Coventry
On this day in 1940, German bombers devastate the English city of Coventry, demolishing tens of thousands of buildings and killing hundreds of men, women, and children. The verb “Koventrieren” (to Coventrate) passed into the German language, meaning “to annihilate or reduce to rubble.” On November 8, Adolf Hitler had to...
Most people know that Aaron Copland was a composer and that his name is synonymous with works such as Appalachian Spring, Fanfare for the Common Man, and the "Hoedown" from Rodeo. What they perhaps do not realize is that Copland's influence on American music extended far beyond the compositional realm. In addition to his creative output as a composer, Copland was also a teacher, lecturer, author, editor, and conductor. Because of his involvement in these different facets of artistic expression, and because he was successful in merging a distinctly American style of composition, Copland is frequently referred to as the "Dean of American Music."
Aaron Copland was born in Brooklyn, New York, on 14 November 1900, the youngest of five children to Harris Morris Copland and Sarah Mittenthal Copland, both of whom were Jewish immigrants from Russia. Copland's parents arrived in Brooklyn in 1877, and upon reaching America, they adopted an Anglicized version of their original surname, Kaplan. Copland's earliest musical training came in the form of piano lessons which he received from his sister Laurine. Copland's formal training began in 1914 with piano lessons from Leopold Wolfsohn; at age sixteen, Copland began studying counterpoint and composition with Rubin Goldmark. Copland was discouraged, however, by Goldmark's strict adherence to the conservative masters of the 19th century, and took it upon himself to explore the music of the more innovative and modern composers of his day, including Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, and Alexander Scriabin. After four years under Goldmark's tutelage, Copland decided to follow in the footsteps of many of his contemporaries and headed to Europe to further his musical training.
In June of 1921, Copland moved to France where he attended the Summer School of Music for American Students at Fontainebleau. It was during his study at Fontainebleau that Copland became acquainted with the legendary pedagogue Nadia Boulanger. Upon completion of the summer courses in September, Copland followed Boulanger to Paris so as to begin composition lessons at her home on rue Ballu. Among the other young American composers in Boulanger's studio were Herbert Elwell, Melville Smith, and Virgil Thomson. From 1921-24, Copland studied with Boulanger, who, in turn, became one of the most important influences on his compositional career. Boulanger encouraged Copland to expand his horizons by studying all periods of Classical music. It was also through Boulanger that Copland's first composition was published: a work for piano solo, The Cat and the Mouse ("scherzo humoristique"), which Copland completed in March 1920, was published by Durand and Sons in 1921.
Upon his return to the United States in 1924, Copland was preoccupied with a work he was writing on commission for the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Through her associations with Walter Damrosch, then conductor of the New York Symphony Orchestra, and Serge Koussevitzky, the recently appointed conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Boulanger secured the commission for Copland as well as two performances of the work. The result was Copland's Symphony for Organ and Orchestra, which received its debut on 11 January 1925 by the New York Symphony Orchestra under Damrosch's baton with Boulanger as soloist. The premiere was a success and essentially launched Copland's career as a promising young American composer. It was also during this time in New York that Copland became involved with the League of American composers, as well as with the organization's journal, Modern Music, which published Copland's first article in 1925. In addition, Copland, along with his colleague Roger Sessions, organized the Copland-Sessions Concerts of Contemporary Music in New York, which ran from 1928-32 with the objective of exposing audiences to many European avant-garde works that had never previously been heard in the United States.
As America entered the Great Depression, Copland sought to produce works that appealed to mass audiences, works that spoke to wide varieties of individuals during the difficult economic times. Copland's movement in this direction may have been inspired after the composition of his El Salón México (1936), a work described by the composer as a model of "imposed simplicity" and heavily influenced by his trip to Mexico City. By infusing various elements of Mexican folk music into El Salón México, Copland was able to communicate to a larger public. This conscious use of folk materials to produce music in a melodic and accessible medium foreshadowed Copland's success with ballets such as Billy the Kid (1939), Rodeo (1942), andthe Pulitzer Prize-winning Appalachian Spring (1944), with the latter known especially for its masterful set of variations on the Shaker tune "Simple Gifts." Copland also generated music of a patriotic nature during this time with works such as A Lincoln Portrait (1942), for orchestra and narrator, and Fanfare for the Common Man (1942), for brass and percussion, both of which were intended to boost American morale; to this day these works remain synonymous with American patriotism.
During the 1950s, Copland focused his attention on writing for the voice, producing the majority of his vocal works during this decade (the most notable exception is that of his children's opera, The Second Hurricane, which was written in 1936). In 1950, Copland completed his first major vocal work, the Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson, scored for soprano solo and piano, which is considered among the greatest song cycles of the twentieth century. In addition, Copland fashioned two sets of song collections based on American folk tunes, which he dubbed his Old American Songs. The first set appeared in 1950, with the second set following two years later. Copland also produced his only full-length opera during this decade; in 1954, Copland was commissioned by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein to create music for The Tender Land, an opera based on James Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Although the opera has not entered the main repertoire of the operatic stage, it has been greeted with some success, and one of the most memorable arias from the opera has found new life as "Laurie's Song," for soprano solo and piano.
Toward the end of his life, from about 1960 on, Copland found himself more involved as conductor rather than composer. Copland had great difficulty in his later years in capturing his inspiration in the form of musical composition, and in his own words, it was quite literally as if "someone had simply turned off a faucet." Instead of creating new works, he spent his time revising his earlier compositions and preserving his already extant works through a series of recordings in the 1970s for Columbia Records. Despite his energy and commitment to these projects, Copland suffered from the beginning stages of Alzheimer's disease and was frustrated by his inability to harness his memory. By the 1980s, Copland's mind had deteriorated and he succumbed to Alzheimer's disease and respiratory failure on 2 December 1990, a few days after his ninetieth birthday.
Further information, including holograph manuscripts, sketches, letters, and other primary resources are available through the Library of Congress's on-line presentation of the Aaron Copland Collection: http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/copland.
- Copland, Aaron and Vivan Perlis. Copland: 1900 Through 1942. First edition. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1984.
- Copland, Aaron and Vivan Perlis. Copland: Since 1943. First edition. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989.
- Crist, Elizabeth B. and Wayne Shirley. The Selected Correspondence of Aaron Copland. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2006.
- Pollack, Howard. The Life and Work of an Uncommon Man. New York: Henry Holt, 1999.