During the Fourth of July I try to recount some of the things that I love about this country. One of the things that I love about this country is the music of Aaron Copland.
I learned about the music of Aaron Copland from my friends Jan and Don Lieberman. During the 1920s and 1930s, American artists and writers like Thomas Hart Benton, Zora Neal Hurston, Carl Sandburg, Langston Hughes, Woody Guthrie and others were looking to the folk tales, common songs, and the lived experiences of common people to forge a unique American art form. Copland was influenced by this artistic environment and he looked to incorporate folk music and jazz influences to create a unique American symphonic music.
Copland’s politics also had a strong influence in his attempts to create a music that elevated the common people. Copland was a progressive who supported the Popular Front, a coalition of liberal and socialist groups that were united in a common fight against the rise in fascism. Copland was a member of the left wing Group Theater and briefly participated in a music contest for the Workers’ Music League. He was a strong supporter of the 1948 presidential candidacy of Henry A. Wallace on the Progressive Party ticket.
Due to his leftist politics, Copland was investigated by the FBI during the Red Scare of the 1950s and found himself blacklisted. His composition “A Lincoln Portrait” was withdrawn from the 1953 inaugural concert for President Eisenhower, and his works were banned from performance at U.S. embassies and cultural sponsorship abroad. That same year, Copland was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).
In this February 1, 1958 presentation, Leonard Bernstein, then the conductor of the NY Philharmonic, gives a small presentation on American music before introducing Aaron Copland to conduct his composition “Fanfare For The Common Man”.