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Aaron Copland and His World

Aaron Copland (1900–90) was 20th-century Americaís most prominent composer. He found a unique way to reconcile modernism with music that evoked the landscape and spirit of America. Copland staunchly advocated a distinctive American voice that could reach a wide public and promoted the careers of a broad range of North and South American composers. His music and personality cut across the traditional boundaries of the concert hall; he was influenced by jazz, worked in Hollywood, and collaborated with theater and dance. His life and career, which spanned nearly the entire 20th century, offer a fascinating mirror of American life, its politics, popular culture, and conflicting self-images—a mirror that reflects the Gershwin brothers, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Martha Graham, Clifford Odets, Thornton Wilder, Harold Clurman, Alfred Stieglitz, Walker Evans, Paul Strand, Virgil Thomson, Roy Harris, Samuel Barber, Roger Sessions, Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers, and Leonard Bernstein.

The interplay of politics and culture from the Great Depression and World War II on through the counterculture and the birth of neoconservatism in the 1960s and 1970s is a central theme of this yearís Bard Music Festival and of the 16th volume in the Princeton University Press series, Copland and His World, edited by Carol J. Oja and Judith Tick. The festivalís programs will explore the world of Coplandís childhood; the Paris of the 1920s and the influence of Nadia Boulanger, Igor Stravinsky, and trans-atlantic jazz; the populism of the 1930s; the folk music revival; and the widening gulf between radical modernism and more conservative trends during the 1950s and 1960s. Coplandís generous but ultimately elusive personality, his public persona, his radical and progressive political commitments, his relationship to his Jewish identity, and his homosexuality have all been subjects of debate and controversy.

Biography and history form a natural partnership in this yearís Bard Music Festival. At a time when the significance of modernism is being reevaluated—when, indeed, our entire conception of the 20th century is itself in the process of transformation—the achievement of Copland and his closest colleagues and protégés seems more than ever the powerful evocation of a distinctly American 20th-century voice.

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Bard College