The National Endowment for the Arts’ American Masterpieces: Choral Music initiative is designed to celebrate our national musical heritage by highlighting significant American choral composers and their works of the past 250 years. Stanton’s Sheet Music is proud to present this series highlighting the composers and their works featured in this groundbreaking project.
Aaron Copland (1900-1990) was not the only great American classical composer in the 20th century. There were dozens of others, as Copland himself emphatically proclaimed. But quite early in his career Copland became known as “the dean of American composers,” and there was no one who subsequently fit the description more neatly.
Born in the first year of the century, his life spanned nine productive decades. He not only wrote his own music, he worked tirelessly to promote the music of his fellow composers. Copland was the first American composer to be internationally recognized as creating musical works that were both distinctively American and unquestionably of lasting merit.
Written in 1954, his opera The Tender Land stands as the culminating masterpiece of his “Americana” period of composition, ca. 1935-1955. “Stomp Your Foot,” a choral square dance from the second act, is considered one of the most rousing moments in American opera.
Originally composed for solo voice and piano, Old American Songs consists of ten settings of minstrel and religious songs from the 19th century. Copland later transcribed them for voice and orchestra. Other composers, notably Irving Fine, have arranged most of them for chorus in various voicings.
Also significant in Copland’s choral canon are his Four Motets (“Help Us, O Lord,” “Sing Ye Praises to Our King,” “Have Mercy on Us, O My Lord,” and “Thou, O Jehovah, Abideth Forever”) for mixed voices, The Lark for baritone solo and mixed chorus, and In the Beginning, a jazz-tinged work for unaccompanied chorus and mezzo-soprano “narrator” describing the seven days of creation from the Bible.