Opening with a 12-page chapter that gives a sharper impression of the great American composer's personality than many full-length books, this superb biography goes from strength to strength as it elucidates Aaron Copland's background, beliefs, affiliations, and achievements. Music historian Howard Pollack depicts Copland (1900-90) as a man whose inner serenity and self-confidence enabled him to encompass "startling dichotomies" in his life and work. "A participant in the avant-garde, he wrote works of popular appeal," comments the author. "A Jewish, homosexual, liberal New Yorker, he became a national hero." Moving forward in a generally chronological manner, the narrative mixes two kinds of chapters. Some pursue themes over time: his feelings about European music (he adored Stravinsky, was ambivalent about Mozart), his political commitments (which got him into trouble during the McCarthy era), and his relationships with fellow composers and a host of nonmusical artists all equally determined to give America its own distinctive culture. Others concentrate on describing and analyzing groups of compositions: perennial favorites like Appalachian Spring
and Billy the Kid
, of course, but also the concertos and symphonies respected by his peers. In either mode, Pollack writes with a clarity and dignity eminently suitable to his subject, who seems as warmly appealing as his music. --Wendy Smith
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From Publishers Weekly
In this exhaustive study, Pollack (Walter Piston) offers a compelling look at a composer whose output included much more than the ballet scores so familiar to the general public, such as Billy the Kid, Rodeo and Appalachian Spring. Copland (1900-1990) wrote music for opera, ballet, chorus, orchestra, chamber ensemble, band, radio and film, while making important contributions as a music critic, teacher and conductor. Pollack follows Copland's development from the early pieces written when Copland was a student of Nadia Boulanger in Paris to his later 12-tone scores that alienated the public and many critics. He discusses the music that influenced Copland and examines his most important works, arguing that his compositions are distinctly American. Interspersed with analyses of Copland's music are discussions of his personality (he was typically characterized by friends and colleagues as warm and charming), his homosexual relationships and his lifelong social consciousness, which made him a tireless promoter of young composers and also led to his involvement in radical politics and hard times during the McCarthy era. Pollack captures the spirit of Copland's music in words, as when he compares the 1926 Concerto for Piano and Orchestra to a "mobile" in which "separate but related ideas appear and reappear in various combinations."
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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