Copland (1900-90) - Four Dance Episodes from "Rodeo"
of five kids born to Russian immigrants, Aaron Copland was the only one
not provided a musical education (did the money run out?), but the only
one to “make it to the top”. At 21 he became Nadia Boulanger's first American
student. His extremely astringent early works prompted Walter Damrosch's
protest, “If he can write like that at 23, in five years he'll be ready
to commit murder” (though not, I hasten to add, tonight). Jazz elements
were invoked to subdue Boulanger's European influence before, in the Thirties,
he developed a more austere style. However, unlike too many modern composers,
seeing a widening gulf between composers and their (supposed) public, he
wisely cultivated a contrasting “popular” vein - carefully rationed lest
he be branded a mere populist.
commisioned by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1942, features a honky-tonk
piano (alas, not so the suite). For local “flavor”, Copland stirred in
plenty of folk songs. If he'd be a Buckaroo by his Trade,
Paint, and Bonyparte mean little to us in Blighty [non-English
readers please substitute the appropriate pet-name for your own country!],
but don't let that worry you. The theme is simple, though nowadays hardly
“politically correct”: how a woman can capture a suitable man. The Saturday
afternoon rodeo in the American Southwest is a tradition (vaguely paralleling
the English village fete) where cowhands show off the skills of their trade,
unwittingly providing a showcase of prospective mates for unattached females.
laces his virile Buckaroo Holiday (buckaroo derives from
the Spanish vaquero, meaning “cowboy”) with lots of vicious syncopations
and whiplash percussion, reflecting a rodeo's violent thrills and spills,
though I wonder (and you might, too) what the trombone tune's comical pauses
are all about.
famed evocations of the wide-open expanses of the Great American Outdoors
surface in the wide-open chords of the delectable Corral Nocturne
which sighs nostalgically, one foot resting on the bottom bar of the corral
fence, and a girl on its arm.
tuning up prefaces a Saturday Night Waltz, a world (well, half a
world!) away from Strauss' ballrooms. A shifting off-beat persistently
negates the waltz-rhythm, dropping us plumb in the middle of “shuffle and
comes the famous, foot-stompin' Hoe-Down, fiddles scratching enthusiastically
- no room for refinement here, we're having fun. In their classic
recording, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra really get stuck into this, the
snare-drummer letting off some cracking rim-shots in the central romp.
Such touches often make all the difference, so here’s hoping . . .
© Paul Serotsky
29, Carr Street,
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