On this day, November 14, 1900, Aaron Copland was born in Brooklyn, New York, of Lithuanian Jewish descent. He is best known for the music he wrote in the 1930s and 1940s. Copland’s work includes favorites like the music for the ballets Billy the Kid, Rodeo, and Appalachian Spring, which includes musical references to “Simple Gifts.”
“Simple Gifts“ is a Shaker song written and composed in 1848 by Elder Joseph Brackett. Because of the thematic quality of Copland’s subject matter, his music is considered appropriate to events that are trying to focus on American culture.
Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” is often heard on state occasions such as the Funeral for President Gerald R. Ford, on January 2, 2007. On August 28, 2010, it was played at the beginning of Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally, and on January 12, 2011 the piece opened “Together We Thrive: Tucson and America”, the memorial service for the victims of the 2011 Tucson shooting following the
attempted assassination of Gabrielle Giffords and the murder of six others. And on July 19, 2011, “Fanfare for the Common Man” was played as the wake-up music for the shuttle crew on the final mission for the Space Shuttle Atlantis and the final overall shuttle mission.
As I wrote last month in “Values Voters Summit: My Yom Kippur War,”
On a weekend filled with irony, much of which was apparently lost on its sponsors as well as the attendees; a weekend when vitriol was cheered and pleas for civility and respect were met with derision; the presentation of the colors was accompanied by a stirring rendition of “Fanfare for the Common Man.”
Copland was never troubled by his sexual orientation and although he never made the political statement of coming out publically, he was quite open about it – his being gay was not a secret. As part of a group of Manhattan-based gay composers, Copeland, along with Samuel Barber, Leonard Bernstein, Marc Blitzstein, Paul Bowles, David Diamond, Ned Rorem and Virgil Thomson, changed the complexion of American Music.”
Bo Young, at GayHistory.org, writes,
“Throughout his childhood Copland and his family lived above his parents’ Brooklyn shop. Although his parents never encouraged or directly exposed him to music, at the age of fifteen he had already taken an interest in the subject and aspired to be a composer. His
musical education included time with Leonard Wolfsohn, Rubin Goldmark (who also taught George Gershwin), and Nadia Boulanger at the Fontainebleau School of Music in Paris from 1921 to 1924. He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1925 and again in 1926.
Copland defended the Communist Party USA during the 1936 presidential election. As a result he was later investigated by the FBI during the Red scare of the 1950s, and found himself blacklisted. Because of the political climate of that era, “A Lincoln Portrait” was withdrawn from the 1953 inaugural concert for President Eisenhower. That same year, Copand was called before Congress where he testified that he was never a communist. Outraged by the accusations, many members of the musical community held up Copland’s music as a banner of his patriotism. The investigations ceased in 1955 and were closed in 1975. Copland was never shown to have been a member of the Communist Party. Only a decade later, in 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson awarded Copland the Medal of Freedom for his contributions to American culture.
Copland’s sexuality was documented in Howard Pollack’s biography, Aaron Copland: The Life and Work of An Uncommon Man. Unlike many gay men of his age, Copland was neither ashamed of nor tortured by his sexuality. He apparently understood and accepted it from an early age, and throughout his life was involved in relationships with other men. In later years, his affairs were mostly with younger men, usually musicians or artists, whom he mentored, including composer Leonard Bernstein, dancer and artist Erik Johns (who wrote the libretto for The Tender Land) photographer Victor Kraft, and music critic Paul Moor.
Given the social prejudices of the times in which he lived, Copland was relatively open about his sexuality, yet this seems not to have interfered with the acceptance of his music or with his status as a cultural figure. The likely explanation is that Copland conducted his personal life with the characteristic modesty, tactfulness, and serenity that marked his professional life as well.
Copland died of Alzheimer’s and respiratory failure in North Tarrytown, NY (now Sleepy Hollow), on December 2, 1990.”
Stuart Wilber believes that living life openly as a Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender or Allied person is the most powerful kind of activism. Shortly after meeting his partner in Chicago in 1977, he opened a gallery named In a Plain Brown Wrapper, where he exhibited cutting edge work by leading artists; art that dealt with sexuality and gender identification. In the late 1980′s when they moved to San Clemente, CA in Orange County, life as an openly gay couple became a political act. They moved to Seattle 16 years ago and married in Canada a few weeks after British Columbia legalized same-sex marriage. Although legally married in some countries, they are only considered domestic partners in Washington State. Equality continues to elude him.
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