Friday, July 31, 2015

Aaron Copland — The Tender Land


   American classical music has a long history dating back to the hymns of First New England School, Justin Morgan and William Billings, which is considered as first original music in United States. But still in romantic era European music was dominated on New World scenes, although many composers, like famous pianist from New Orleans Louis Moreau Gottschalk, were trying to find original idiom of new society. It’s interesting some idea of musical picture of America came from Czech composer Antonin Dvořak. While in literature and fine arts Americans were already proud of internationally acclaimed artists, music was still in strong dependence of its European roots. In 20th century changing economic position of the country gave music more possibilities to develop original American music. In early 20th century creative activity of many composers let them achieve artistic independence of European trends and styles and create idiomatic American music. Most active composers of this generation were George Gershwin, Charles Ives and Aaron Copland who was called “truly American composer” and “the Dean of American music”.
   Aaron Copland was prolific author of works in various genres and utilizing different styles of modern music to create works being vehicle of his views and ideas. He was also pianist, conductor, educator and music critic. Born in Brooklyn November 14, 1900, he grew up in conservative Jewish family of Lithuanian origins. He had a lot of opportunities to deal with different musical activities, with religious, popular music and with regular music lessons since he was seven, as all of his siblings. The key role in musical education played his mother Sarah Mittenthal Copland who was herself singer and pianist. As 11 years old he wrote his first sketches of opera libretto with 7 bar theme, but to be a composer he decided four years later after concert of Ignacy Jan Paderewski, Polish composer and virtuoso. In his high school years he was learning piano with Leopold Wolfsohn, but his later and more formal education with Rubin Goldmark gave him basic knowledge in theory of music, harmony and composition and let him start his studies in Conservatoire de Paris in class of Nadia Boulanger. 

Aaron Copland — The Tender Land (1965)

   After three years in Paris, where he started to write critics (first was on music of Gabriel Fauré), Aaron Copland back to New York where he devoted himself to composing. He befriended with artists and was introduced into intellectual circles. He was under influence of esthetics of American modernists, some progressive social ideas, he was impressed by Alfred Stieglitz and photographer Walker Evans, famous for his photographic documentary on effects of Great Depression. These ideas inspired young artist who focused his full time creative activity on social issues. In 1945 Copland’s intention to write musical based on Erskine Caldwell’s Tragic Ground was officially announced. It was planned as socio-economic drama on “poor white trash” with farcical elements. Copland written some music, but finally the project has been abandoned. Nine years later when Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II commissioned composition for anniversary of the League of Composers, Copland used parts to create two-act opera on related content and title The Tender Land. This work was premiered April 1st 1954. One year later, May 20th 1955, three-act version of opera was premiered in Oberlin Conservatory of Music — this time Tragic Ground fragments were completely cast away.
   Both versions of the opera were poorly received. In 1958 Aaron Copland compiled suite for orchestra, but opera was still not accepted. First successful production took place in 1965 as a part of French-American Festival. July 28 composer conducted concert version of this opera with New York Philharmonic and singers of Metropolitan Opera: Joy Clements as Laurie, Clarmae Turner as Ma Moss, Norman Treigle as Grandpa Moss, Richard Cassilly as Martin and Richard Frederics as Top. This performance was enough successful for Columbia to arrange three days later recording session in Manhattan Center. Recorded again under Aaron Copland’s baton the abridged version of The Tender Land was published as one of significant albums in contemporary American music. After a half of the century this album sounds as clear and fresh as it was recorded in any moment between. In 2000 Sony republished this historic recording on compact disc. Four stars for artistic and historical position of this album.

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