Aaron Copland

by Naomi Liao from SAN DIEGO, California in United States


136554Aaron CoplandCBS Television [Public domain]     Hero. When most people hear this word they think of superheroes with their superhuman powers, risking their lives to save the day.  But does a hero really have to be able to stop supervillains without breaking a sweat? Do they have to be geniuses that craft suits that withstand bullets? Do they have to sacrifice their lives to save millions of civilians? As James R. Fleming quotes in his article, “Review of Superman on the Couch: What Superheroes Really Tell Us about Ourselves and Our Society”, “Whether they're super-powered aliens, lone vigilantes, or teenage sidekicks, all superheroes share certain characteristics in common, ‘some sort of strength of character (though it may be buried), some system of positive values, and a determination to, no matter what, protect those values ... the superhero-more than even the ordinary fictional hero-has to represent the values of the society that produces him’”. The reality is, heroism does not have to be on such a big scale. One does not have to have superpowers to be a hero. Heroes make what seems impossible possible.  By that logic, a hero could be a girl who stands up against a bully no one else wants to confront. A hero could be someone who ignores criticism and works tirelessly to achieve a goal. A hero could be someone who uses intelligence to create breakthroughs in technology, despite criticism. A true hero is someone who has the ability to use innovative strategies to overcome obstacles and help others, be willing to disregard one’s own wishes to help others, and never give up, no matter what obstacles one might face.

     Aaron Copland, an influential twentieth century composer, is a hero due to his unrelenting efforts to unite Americans with his music instead of using his talents to benefit himself. Aaron Copland was born on November 14th, 1900 to Harris Morris Copland and Sarah Mittenthal Copland. The youngest of five, Copland’s parents discouraged him at a young age from studying music after his four older siblings showed no extraordinary talent. After showing immense interest in counterpoint and composition, Copland started training with Rubin Goldmark. However, he felt Goldmark’s teachings to be too conservative compared to his own preferred music style and began to explore the musical styles of more modern composers. Copland studied with Goldmark for four years, but decided to head to Europe to further his studies. After returning from Europe he states,  

     "I was very conscious of how French the French composers sounded in comparison with the Germans, and who Russian Stravinsky was. I became very preoccupied with writing serious concert music that would have a specifically American flavor. People all over the world recognized American popular music, so it seemed to me odd that we couldn't do something in the serious field that would suggest America so the whole world would           recognize it as American." (qtd by Rothstein).

     Copland became determined to find a style of music that sounded distinctly American and found much success in the next few years. He composed some of his most well-known pieces such as  his ballets: Billy the Kid (1939), Rodeo (1942), Appalachian Spring (1944). Additionally, during this time, Copland composed “A Lincoln Portrait” (1942), for orchestra and narrator, and “Fanfare for the Common Man” (1942). Copland composed both pieces for the purpose of boosting the morale of Americans and still these pieces remain synonymous with American patriotism. Copland also wrote film scores such as Of Mice and Men (1939), The North Star (1943) and The Heiress (1949). However, in the late 1940s to early 1950s Copland was denounced by the American Legion and many people thought that Copland was secretly a communist. Despite these criticisms, Copland never gave up, and became one of the most well-known composers of all time. When he started losing inspiration for compositions, Copland dedicated his time to improving his old compositions and improving his conducting. Copland died later on December 2nd 1990 due to Alzheimer's disease and respiratory failure. Copland uses his own intelligence to write music and convey messages to Americans through them, used his talent for the greater good instead of benefiting himself, and never gave up even when criticized and told to stop. With his intelligence, Aaron Copland selflessly wrote music in order to unite Americans with a musical vernacular and boost American morale and even when people criticized him, he never gave up and worked tirelessly towards his goal.

     Instead of using his musical talent for fame and fortune, he selflessly used his talent and ambition for the benefit of others. Copland shows heroism when he states that he understands if people don’t like his music: “He says today, "If you're wide awake to what you're doing, you can tell in advance the extent of your audience's interest. I'm not blind to what I'm writing. I don't expect a difficult piece to be loved by everybody.’”(qtd by Rothstein). Copland is not writing music to gain fame and fortune. He writes his music to convey messages for people who want to listen. He does not care whether or not people will like his music, showing that he is only writing for people who want to hear and interpret his messages in his music, not to gain popularity or profit. Like a true hero, Copland does not think about his own gain, caring for the benefit of others instead. To add to that, Copland accepts that not everyone will enjoy his music, but he still writes music to boost American morale during times of adversity: “As America entered the Great Depression, Copland sought to produce works that appealed to mass audiences, works that spoke to wide varieties of individuals during the difficult economic times… Copland also generated music of a patriotic nature during this time with works such as A Lincoln Portrait (1942), for orchestra and narrator, and Fanfare for the Common Man (1942), for brass and percussion, both of which were intended to boost American morale; to this day these works remain synonymous with American patriotism.” (Library of Congress). Copland used his music to boost the morale of Americans, especially during times were spirits were low such as World War II and the Great Depression. His music left a huge impact on America, and even today, his works are “synonymous with American patriotism.” As a true hero should, Copland used his talents for the benefit of others instead of using them for his own personal gain. Copland’s selflessness and disregard for personal benefit truly shows how he is a hero.

136555Aaron CoplandCBS Television [Public domain]     Copland's intelligence allowed him to be able convey messages in his music, with these messages, he was able to create a “musical vernacular” to unite America. Copland wanted to unite Americans by capturing the beauty of America with his music:  “The "success" of these works was no accident. Mr. Copland searched for a "musical vernacular." The amateur listener, he has written, not the professional, "excites the composer in me." (Rothstein). Copland strived to find the true “American sound” to unite all, a common dialect of music spoken by the American community. With his brilliant mind, he was able to unite Americans with a “musical vernacular”, showing his intelligence. He uses his music to capture the beauty of America, the pain and struggles Americans have faced to get this far as a society. Copland uses an innovative way to reach his goal of uniting Americans, showing his heroism. Copland’s intelligence is seen when he admits himself how hard it is to listen to and interpret music sometimes:  “As a matter of fact, no one is more tiresome than the person who can understand only realism in art. It shows a rather low artistic mentality never to believe anything you see unless it appears to be real. One must be willing to allow that symbolic things also mirror realities and sometimes provide greater esthetic pleasure than the merely realistic.” (Copland). Copland states himself that it is difficult to see realism in art, meaning messages art is trying to send. Not only is he able to understand messages in music, he was able to send his own messages in his music. To be able to do something so difficult shows the heroism of Copland. He not only did had a remarkable musical talent, he used his talent for the benefit of Americans. Because of his intelligence, Copland was able to unite Americans and boost American morale using his music.

     Even when criticised and attacked for being Jewish and the obscurity of his goal Copland never gave up. Copland shows heroism when he ignored speculations about whether or not her would be able to write true American music due to many factors such as his beliefs and the fact that he was a Jew : “But Copland belonged, for all intents and purposes, to his country, his time and his goal of expressing them both. As Pollack put it, he "shunned sectarianism." He did not identify himself as a Jew, a homosexual, a nationalist, a Communist or anything else he was or was perceived as being. And he didn't care what people thought. Once, giving a lecture in Israel, he declared, "A man doesn't create art because he is a Jew, but because he is a Man."’ When people tried to perceive him as a “bad guy” he disregarded all criticism. He did not let his race, sexuality, or beliefs define him. He didn’t care what others were trying to label him as. He only cared about reaching his goal.  When people tried to knock him down, he immediately got back up and moved on, an ability true heroes must have. Copland showed heroism in his determination again when he started receiving criticism because of his beliefs: “When his “Lincoln Portrait” was scheduled to be heard in a National Symphony concert celebrating President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s inauguration, in 1953, Fred E Busbey, a Congressman from Illinois, argued… that “there are many patriotic composers available without the long record of questionable affiliations of Copland.” The piece was quickly dropped: suddenly Copland, the quintessential American composer, was being declared un-American, and one of his most overtly patriotic works was deemed unfit for a presidential occasion.” (Kozinn). Even when accused of being a communist and declared un-American even though he dedicated his life to capture the beauty, struggle, and pain of America, Copland didn’t give up and instead worked tirelessly to regain the title back. Even when hit with an obstacle Coplan gets back on track stronger than ever to face any challenges in his way, showing his determination, a trait true heroes have. Copland’s determination and unwillingness to give up showcase how he is a true hero.  

     With his intelligence and talent, Aaron Copland selflessly wrote music with the intent to  unite Americans with a musical vernacular and boost American morale and even when people criticized him, he never gave up and worked tirelessly towards his goal. Aaron Copland’s intelligence allowed him to convey meaningful messages in his music, and with that intelligence, he selflessly composed many pieces in order to unite Americans with “true American music”, and even when met with obstacles, he never gave up on the journey to his goal. As Copland states, “I don’t hurt easily and I don’t bear grudges without working at it a little bit... I’m very sensitive I think to the atmosphere in which we all live. At the time of Hitler, Hitler hurt me, if that’s what you mean. I was considerably upset. You see, I think it uses up a lot of energy to get really angry. And I save my energy [laugh] for moments, where I think it’s really worth extending all that energy.”(qtd by Pollack 4). He is able to turn all anger to energy especially reserved for happiness. This ability is what allows him to use his talent of composition for selflessly to benefit Americans and to not give up when repeatedly criticized. Aaron Copland inspires me because even when people stopped him from reaching his goal, Copland still persevered and reached success. Instead of getting angry, he turned his anger into energy, happy energy. People ridiculed him saying that there was no way that a Jew would be able to capture the beauty of America in his music. When I was younger, kids at school would often make fun of me for my race, but when I first found about Copland, I was immediately inspired by both his music and his story. His intelligence, determination, and selflessness inspired me disregard what others say and still be kind to others. Yes, superheroes with their superhuman abilities are cool, but true heroes are found in everyday life. A true hero is not one who wants to do remarkable things, but someone who inspires others to do so.

Works Cited

Aaron Copland, -1990. Online Text. Retrieved from the Library of Congress,


Copland, Aaron. What to Listen for in Music. Whittlesey House, 1939.

Fleming, James R. “Superman on the Couch: What Superheroes Really Tell Us about Ourselves

and Our Society.” English Department Website, 2005,

Kozinn, Allan. “CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK; As American As Copland, Who Forged Our New

Sound.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 29 July 2005,

Pollack, Howard. Aaron Copland: The Life and Work of an Uncommon Man. University of

Illinois Press, 2000.

Rothstein, Edward. “Fanfares for Aaron Copland at 80.” The New York Times, The New York

Times, 9 Nov. 1980,

Schwartz, David. “Aaron Copland.” Aaron Copland, Music Academy Online, 2007,


Page created on 5/29/2018 4:34:48 AM

Last edited 10/26/2020 5:40:32 PM

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