COPLAND: Appalachian Spring / Rodeo / Billy the Kid (Gunter Appenheimer/ Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/ Stephen Gunzenhauser) (Naxos: 8.550282)
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Aaron Copland (1900 -)
Fanfare for the Common Man
Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes
Billy The Kid
Aaron Copland occupies an unassailable position in the music of theUnited States of America. The son of Jewish emigrants from Poland and Lithuania,he was born in Brooklyn in 1900, into circumstances comfortable enough to allowhim the study of music. He took lessons from Goldmark, a distinguished emigrantfrom Vienna, and in 1920 went to Paris, where he studied with Nadia Boulanger,the first of her American pupils. In Europe he was able to meet a number of theleading young composers of the day and to see performances by Dyagilev's Ballets russes. At the same time he wasfeeling his way towards a characteristically American style of composition,that should be as clearly recognisable as the national style of the late 19thcentury Russian composers.
In 1924 Copland returned to America, where his compositions began toattract interest. At the same time he continued to maintain contact with musicaltrends in Europe and with expatriate American composers. He organised importantseries of concerts of contemporary American music, which he did his utmost topublicise through his writing and lecturing, the second activity intermittentlyat Harvard. During the course of an exceptionally active career, he exercised astrong influence over a younger generation of composers, without in any wayfostering an exclusive nationalism. His achievements won him awards of allkinds, at home and abroad, from the Pulitzer Prize in 1945 to the Order ofMerit of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1970.
Fanfare for the Common Man,scored for brass and percussion, was written in 1942 and first performed inCincinnati in the following year under the direction of Eugene Goossens. Billy the Kid, Rodeo and Appalachian Spring, although well enoughknown in the concert hall, are ballet scores, their subjects as thoroughlyAmerican as their musical idiom.
Rodeo was completed in 1942 and first staged in the same year by the Ballet russe de Monte Carlo, withchoreography by Agnes de Mille, niece of the Hollywood film-producer and one ofthe most distinguished American ballerinas of the day. The sub-title of theballet, The Courting at Burnt Ranch, describes accurately enough its slenderplot. The cowboys chase every woman they see, but pay little attention to thegirl working with them on the ranch. The situation changes, however, when sheappears at a Saturday night ball dressed for the occasion, when the famousHoe-down is danced, the first time a square-dance had intruded into the worldof ballet. The four dance episodes that form the orchestral suite open withBuckaroo Holiday, followed by the tranquillity of Corral Nocturne. The moodchanges with Saturday Night Waltz and the final Hoe-down.
The earlier ballet Billy the Kid
was written in 1938, commissioned by Lincoln Kirstein for the dancer EugeneLoring, who devised the choreography. Kirstein based the story on the life ofthe outlaw Billy the Kid, who hadkilled a man for every year of his life, and was shot at the age of twenty,ambushed by his one-time friend, the sheriff. The Open Prairie sets the scene,an evocation of the Wild West countryside, in all its beauty. There followsStreet in a Frontier Town and the Card Game at Night, the occasion for Billy toshoot a man who cheats. Gun Battle follows, succeeded by Celebration Dance, andBilly's Death, shot after he has already escaped from jail by killing hisjailer. The Open Prairie, the music of the opening, returns in conclusion.
The third of the series of popular American ballets is Appalachian Spring, commissioned by theCoolidge Foundation for Martha Graham and first staged at the Library ofCongress, Washington, in 1944. Copland explains that the ballet depicts a pioneercelebration in spring around a newly built farm-house in the Pennsylvania hillsin the early part of the 19th century. The future bride and the young farmerwho is to be her husband go through the emotions, joyful and apprehensive,aroused by their new domestic partnership. Mature experience is represented byolder neighbours, while a revivalist preacher and his followers remind thecouple of the vagaries of human fate, before leaving them to enjoy in peacetheir new house. If the first ballet, Billy the Kid, had stressed theopposition between the outsider and society, AppalachianSpring breathes reconciliation, its conclusion based on the Shakersong "'Tis the gift to be simple".
Czechoslovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava)
The Czechoslovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava), the oldestsymphonic ensemble in Slovakia, was founded in 1929 at the instance of MilosRuppeldt and Oskar Nedbal, prominent personalities in the sphere of music. Theorchestra was first conducted by the Prague conductor Frantisek Dyk and in thecourse of the past fifty years of its existence has worked under the batons ofseveral prominent Czech and Slovak conductors. Ondrej lenard was appointed itsconductor in 1970 and in 1977 its conductor-in-chief.
The American conductor Stephen Gunzenhauser was educated in New York,continuing his studies at Oberlin, at the Salzburg Mozarteum, at the NewEngland Conservatory and at Cologne State Conservatory. His period at the lastof these was the result of a Fulbright Scholarship, followed by an award fromthe West German Government and a first prize in the conducting competition heldin the Spanish town of Santiago.
For NAXOS Gunzenhauser recorded Tchaikovsky's Symphony No.5, Beethoven's Overtures, the Saint-Sa?½ns Organ Symphony, Orff's Carmina Buranaand the symphonies ofBorodin. He is currently engaged in recording all the symphonies and symphonicpoems of Dvořak, also for NAXOS.