Aaron Copland was an American composer, pianist, conductor and music pedagogue, who is regarded as the most important representative of the American modern composers, who are known for their preference for theatre music. Critics and peers referred to him as ‘the Dean of American Composers’.
During the 1920s Copland studied three years with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. Her total grasp of classical music became his most important influence, and led him to compose music in various genres and numerous settings, including opera, ballet, music for film, theatre, orchestra, piano and small ensemble. During his studies in Paris Copland encountered the music of Ravel, Satie, and the members of Les Six, which impressed him. However, his greatest hero and favorite 20th-century composer was not French: it was the Russian Igor Stravinsky. Copland admired him for his typically Russian music, and wanted to express the music of his native country in his compositions just like him. For that purpose he drew inspiration from jazz, which rhythms and harmonies can be found in his early compositions.
During the 1930s and 1940s, when Copland had returned to America, the jazz gave way to (Latin) American folk tunes, which he arranged in a number of accessible compositions , which made him well-known to a wide audience: the ballets Billy the Kid, Rodeo and Appalachian Spring, the Third Symphony, El Salón México and the Fanfare for the Common Man. These are Copland’s best known works, which are still regularly performed and recorded.
During the 1950s Copland distanced himself from the popular tendencies in his compositions, and began to use serialist and twelve-tone techniques in his music in an attempt to join the modern composers.
From the 1960s onwards Copland began to focus on conducting, since he did not have any new ideas for compositions. He became a frequent guest conductor of orchestras in the United States and made a series of recordings of his music.