Partner Victor Kraft, Alvin Ross, Paul Moor, Erik Johns, John Brodbin Kennedy, Prentiss Taylor
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Aaron Copland (November 14, 1900 – December 2, 1990) was an American composer, composition teacher, writer, and later a conductor of his own and other American music. Copland was referred to by his peers and critics as "the Dean of American Composers." The open, slowly changing harmonies in much of his music are typical of what many people consider to be the sound of American music, evoking the vast American landscape and pioneer spirit. He is best known for the works he wrote in the 1930s and 1940s in a deliberately accessible style often referred to as "populist" and which the composer labeled his "vernacular" style. Works in this vein include the ballets Appalachian Spring, Billy the Kid and Rodeo, his Fanfare for the Common Man and Third Symphony. In addition to his ballets and orchestral works, he produced music in many other genres including chamber music, vocal works, opera and film scores. When Leonard Bernstein urged an aging Aaron Copland to come out, Copland replied: "I think I'll leave that to you, boy."
Addressing the post-WWI period in his enormous overview of twentieth-century music, but without the ulterior agenda of the anti-gay conspiracy theorists, Alex Ross writes: Homosexual men, who make up approximately 3 to 5 percent of the general population, have played a disproportionately large role in composition of the last hundred years. Somewhere around half of the major American composers of the twentieth century seem to have been homosexual or bisexual: Aaron Copland, Virgil Thomson, Leonard Bernstein, Samuel Barber, Marc Blitzstein, John Cage, Harry Partch, Henry Cowell, Lou Harrison, Gian Carlo Menotti, David Diamond, and Ned Rorem, among many others.
A number of composers who were both Jewish and gay had something else in common. In their youth, they had been to Paris to study composition under Nadia Boulanger: Aaron Copland in the early 1920s, Virgil Thomson in the mid-1920s (while there he met his lover, the painter Maurice Grosser), Marc Blitzstein in the late 1920s (his Russian-born lover, the conductor Alexander Smallens accompanied him to Europe in 1924), David Diamond in 1936 (his Psalm, an orchestral piece of that year, was inspired by a visit to Oscar Wilde’s grave in Père Lachaise and dedicated to André Gide).
by George Platt Lynes
After some initial studies with composer Rubin Goldmark, Aaron Copland traveled to Paris, where he first studied with Isidor Philipp and Paul Vidal, then with noted pedagogue Nadia Boulanger. He studied three years with Boulanger, whose eclectic approach to music inspired his own broad taste. Determined upon his return to the U.S. to make his way as a full-time composer, Copland gave lecture-recitals, wrote works on commission and did some teaching and writing. He found composing orchestral music in the modernist style he had adapted abroad a financially contradictory approach, particularly in light of the Great Depression. He shifted in the mid-1930s to a more accessible musical style which mirrored the German idea of Gebrauchsmusik ("music for use"), music that could serve utilitarian and artistic purposes. During the Depression years, he traveled extensively to Europe, Africa, and Mexico, formed an important friendship with Mexican composer Carlos Chávez and began composing his signature works.
During the late 1940s, Copland became aware that Stravinsky and other fellow composers had begun to study Arnold Schoenberg's use of twelve-tone (serial) techniques. After he had been exposed to the works of French composer Pierre Boulez, he incorporated serial techniques into his Piano Quartet (1950), Piano Fantasy (1957), Connotations for orchestra (1961) and Inscape for orchestra (1967). Unlike Schoenberg, Copland used his tone rows in much the same fashion as his tonal material—as sources for melodies and harmonies, rather than as complete statements in their own right, except for crucial events from a structural point of view. From the 1960s onward, Copland's activities turned more from composing to conducting. He became a frequent guest conductor of orchestras in the U.S. and the UK and made a series of recordings of his music, primarily for Columbia Records.
Copland never enrolled as a member of any political party. Nevertheless, he inherited a considerable interest in civic and world events from his father. His views were generally progressive and he had strong ties with numerous colleagues and friends in the Popular Front, including Odets. Early in his life, Copland developed, in Pollack's words, "a deep admiration for the works of Frank Norris, Theodore Dreiser and Upton Sinclair, all socialists whose novels passionately excoriated capitalism's physical and emotional toll on the average man." Even after the McCarthy hearings, he remained a committed opponent of militarism and the Cold War, which he regarded as having been instigated by the United States. He condemned it as "almost worse for art than the real thing". Throw the artist "into a mood of suspicion, ill-will, and dread that typifies the cold war attitude and he'll create nothing".
While Copland had various encounters with organized religious thought, which influenced some of his early compositions, and was close with the Zionist movement during the Popular Front movement, when it was endorsed by the left, he personally remained an agnostic. Pollack writes,
Like many contemporaries, Copland regarded Judaism alternately in terms of religion, culture, and race; but he showed relatively little involvement in any aspect of his Jewish heritage.... At the same time, he had ties to Christianity, identifying with such profoundly Christian writers as Gerard Manley Hopkins and often spending Christmas Day at home with a special dinner with close friends.... In general, his music seemed to evoke Protestant hymns as often as it did Jewish chant....Copland characteristically found connections among various religious traditions.... But if Copland was discreet about his Jewish background, he never hid it, either.
Pollack states that Copland was gay and that the composer came to an early acceptance and understanding of his sexuality. Like many at that time, Copland guarded his privacy, especially in regard to his homosexuality. He provided few written details about his private life and even after the Stonewall riots of 1969, showed no inclination to "come out." However, he was one of the few composers of his stature to live openly and travel with his intimates. They tended to be talented, younger men involved in the arts, and the age-gap between them and the composer widened as he grew older. Most became enduring friends after a few years and, in Pollack's words, "remained a primary source of companionship." Among Copland's love affairs were ones with photographer Victor Kraft, artist Alvin Ross, pianist Paul Moor, dancer Erik Johns, composer John Brodbin Kennedy, and painter Prentiss Taylor.
In his private life, Copland stood at the center of a large group of gay composers and musicians who virtually defined American serious music in the twentieth century: Virgil Thomson, Henry Cowell, David Diamond, Gian Carlo Menotti, Samuel Barber, Marc Blitzstein, Leonard Bernstein, Ned Rorem, Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears.
Victor Kraft became a constant in Copland's life, though their romance might have ended by 1944. Originally a violin prodigy when the composer met him in 1932, Kraft gave up music to pursue a career in photography, in part due to Copland's urging. Kraft would leave and re-enter Copland's life, often bringing much stress with him as his behavior became increasingly erratic, sometimes confrontational. Kraft fathered a child to whom Copland later provided financial security, through a bequest from his estate.
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