A Symphony of the People
Absent from my consideration yesterday of the great American symphonists was the name of the composer of the last and grandest, if not necessarily greatest, in our week-long WFCR series of Great American Symphonies. The fact that he's been known for as long as any of us can remember as the Dean of American Composers makes the absence of his from the list even more conspicuous. But the work in question is really a one-of-a-kind both for its composer and for the history of the American symphony.
The broad public knows Aaron Copland best from ballets like Billy the Kid, Rodeo and Appalachian Spring, and from such populist fare as "Fanfare for the Common Man" and "Lincoln Portrait." Less-known to the public but highly-regarded on the "inside" of classical music are such brilliant abstract instrumental works as the Piano Variations, Piano Fantasy and Piano Quartet. Check them out if you've never heard them. You'll recognize Copland's familiar voice, all right. But you may be surprised by their spare, uncompromising tone, as well as by their high quotient of dissonance. I think you'll also find yourself gripped by their mastery and cogency; these are some of the finest concert works in the annals of American classical music, and no appreciation of Copland's place our musical history is complete without knowing them.