Aaron Copeland is the best composer in the history of American music. I could leave this review at that but you know I won't shut up at a single sentence. So let's go on and on and just gush about how great Copland is because no matter how gushy or man-crushy I make it, it's still the truth and he is still the best. When I say Copland is the best American composer it's like saying, "Breathing is necessary for life." His greatness is such a foregone conclusion that it makes almost no sense for me, with what little I understand of the classics, to say anything about it. But I will. You know I will.
The first time I ever heard Copland's "Appalachian Spring suite" was on a drive to Flagstaff. In an unrelated yet somewhat interesting (to me at least) note, that trip was also the first time I heard PDQ Bach's "1712 Overture." Even at a young age I could not believe how magnificent Copland's variations on the shaker hymn "Simple Gifts" were. Up until that time Vivaldi had been my favorite composer. Copland could not have ousted Vivaldi more easily or definitively.
The recordings of Coplands work I was listening to today were conducted by the late great Leonard Bernstein. Aaron Copland notably said that Berstein could conduct his works better than he could himself. Naturally if you wish to hear Copland the way Copland himself liked to hear it, you find a Berstein recording.
My favorite selection from this particular recording (the very same on pictured at the top of this entry) is "Fanfare For the Common Man." You have no doubt heard this song many many times. It has been used in commercials, television shows, film scores, and various other mediums not worthy of its transcendent glory. "Fanfare For the Common Man" is a remarkable piece of music. In 3 short minutes it gives a much needed pat on the back to every overworked underappreciated person in America. I have never listened to this song without coming out feeling 100 times better about myself than I did going in.
Rounding out the bulk of the album are 4 dances from Copland's ballet, Rodeo, and the orchestral suites from Appalachian Spring and Billy the Kid. You have no doubt heard these slections as well be it in a beef commercial or something as odd as the soundtrack to He Got Game. Copland is known for his use of American folk themes in his orchestral arrangements. The remarkable thing about Copland's unabashed integration of Americana was that it didn't sound hokey in the slightest. Even in the "Billy the Kid Suite" when he has some percussionist hammering away on a wood block like Will Farrell in the now infamous "more cowbell" sketch it doesn't sound hokey. Copland wrote ballets where the dancers clomped around in cowboy boots and he pulled it off to rave reviews.
Listening to these selections you get the feeling that 1) nobody loves America more than Aaron Copland (this despite the fact that he once voted communist and was thereafter hounded by Senator McCarthy) and 2) there was nothing Copland couldn't do. Of course we must also doff our caps to Bernstein who was masterful in conducting these pieces. This album represents some of the best music by the greatest American composer and conducted by one of the greatest modern conductors. If you like classical music even a little bit you owe it to yourself to listen to Aaron Copland.