Aaron Copland was born on November 14, 1900, in Brooklyn in New York City. He was one of the most important American composers of the Modern Period. His parents were Jewish immigrants and he was the youngest of their five kids. The family lived above a department store, which they owned. When he was growing up, Aaron would help in the family business. Aaron's sister showed him how to play piano when he was eleven years old, and soon afterward he began taking lessons from a teacher in the neighborhood. By age fifteen he decided he wanted to be a composer and by age 17 he was studying music with a well-known teacher in New York City..
After Aaron graduated from Copland from high school he continued studying music and in 1921 he went to study in France. His main teacher was a woman composer named Nadia Boulanger. The years in Paris gave Aaron a chance to hear all of the most recent trends in European music. During the time he spent in Paris he also got to meet lots of famous musicians and conductors. The conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Serge Koussevitsky. Koussevitsky asked Aaron to write a piece for the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The piece, “Symphony for Organ and Orchestra” was the first piece he sold and it was first performed in 1925.
Back to America
In 1929 a period called the Great Depression hit America. It was a time that many people didn't have jobs or enough food to eat. Aaron decided that it would be a perfect time to write music that sounded American and could give people hope. He wanted to write music that the American people could understand more easily than modern classical music and so he started using folk songs in his music. These pieces became really popular! They really give you a feeling of the place Copland is describing. El Salon Mexico was first played in 1935. The piece presented a new sound that had its roots in Mexican folk music and it was completely different from other music of the time.
Aaron Copland believed that it was really important for everyone to hear and love good music so he began composing for movies and ballet. He even won an Oscar for the music he wrote for "The Heiress" in 1949. He worked with the most popular ballet companies and wrote "Rodeo", "Appalachian Spring" and "Billy the Kid" as ballets. The music was so popular that he later took the music and turned it into suites. A suite is a collection of pieces from a play or ballet that are played together by an orchestra. One of Copland's most successful compositions from this time was his patriotic “A Lincoln Portrait” (1942). The piece for voice and orchestra presents quotes from Lincoln’s writings narrated over Copland’s musical composition.
Copland also believed that it was important to teach and to write about music. He taught at The New School in New York City and wrote five books about music. Later in life he would teach at Harvard and Tanglewood and he worked with many young composers, helping to make America an important country in terms of music. He also wrote more than sixty articles and essays on music.
During the 1950's, Copland composed less but began conducting. He loved conducting his own music and the music of other American composers. For the next 20 years he traveled around the world, conducting and teaching and trying to make American music important and respected world wide. Aaron Copland became one of the most important figures in twentieth-century American music. He died onDecember 2, 1990 in North Tarrytown, New York. Here is a short video biography of Aaron Copland.