Composers Datebook®

Aaron Copland's 'Emblems'

Composers Datebook - December 18, 2023


In the section of his autobiography on the 1960s, Aaron Copland wrote:

“I have often called myself a ‘work-a-year’ man … and 1964 belonged to the band piece ‘Emblems.’ Among the invitations I received to compose new pieces was one from clarinetist Keith Wilson, who was president of the College Band Directors National Association, for a work to be played at the organization’s national convention.

“I hesitated for a moment,” Copland continued, “but accepted when I was told that the piece would be bought sight unseen by at least two hundred bands!”

Emblems premiered in Tempe, Arizona, on today’s date in 1964, performed by the USC Band, conducted by William Schaefer.

Here’s how Copland explained the work’s title: “An emblem stands for something. … I called this work ‘Emblems’ because it seemed to me to suggest musical states of being: noble or aspirational feelings, playful or spirited feelings.”

Close listeners might hear harmonic echoes of the spiritual “Amazing Grace” in the slow opening and close of Emblems.

Copland said, "Curiously, the harmonies had been conceived without reference to that tune. It was only by chance that I realized a connection between my harmonies and ‘Amazing Grace’!"

Music Played in Today's Program

Aaron Copland (1900-1990) Emblems; U.S. Marine Band; Lt. Col. Michael J. Colburn, cond. Naxos 8. 570243

On This Day


  • 1860 - American composer and pianist Edward MacDowell, in New York City;


  • 1869 - American composer and piano virtuoso Louis Moreau Gottschalk, age 40, in Tijuca (near Rio de Janerio);

  • 1919 - American composer and teacher, Horatio William Parker, age 56, in Cedarhurst, N.Y.; He became chairman of the Yale music department in 1894, where he taught the young Charles Ives;


  • 1795 - possible premiere of Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 1 in C, Op. 15 (or less likely, his Concerto No. 2 in Bb), in Vienna at a concert organized by Haydn to perform three of his "London" Symphonies in that city;

  • 1880 - Tchaikovsky: "Capriccio italien," in Moscow, Nikolai Rubinstein conducting (Julian date: Dec. 6);

  • 1892 - Bruckner: Symphony No. 8, with Vienna Philharmonic, Hans Richter conducting; This performance used a revised and cut version of Bruckner's original 1887 score prepared by the composer and his pupil Franz Schalk in 1889-90; The original 1887 score was first performed in 1973 by the Bournemouth Symphony for a BBC broadcast conducted by Hans-Hubert Schönzeler; The edition prepared by Robert Haas, which is based on the 1889-90 revised version but with the cuts restored, is the version most often performed today;

  • 1892 - Tchaikovsky: ballet, "The Nutcracker," and opera "Iolanta," at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg (Julian date: Dec. 6);

  • 1911 - Rachmaninoff: 13 Piano Preludes, Op. 32, in St. Petersburg, by the composer (Julian date: Dec. 5);

  • 1924 - Bliss: Concerto for Two Pianos, by the Boston Symphony, Serge Koussevitzsky conducting;

  • 1926 - Janácek: opera "The Makropoulos Case," in Brno at the National Theater;

  • 1929 - Webern: Symphony for Chamber Orchestra, in New York City;

  • 1941 - Milhaud: Piano Concero No. 2, in Chicago, with the composer as soloist;

  • 1962 - Shostakovich: Symphony No. 13 ("Babi Yar"), by the Moscow Philharmonic, with basso Vitaliy Gromadsky, and the bass voices of the Republican State and Gnesin Institute Choirs, Kirill Kondrashin conducting;

  • 1964 - Creston: Concerto for Koto and Orchestra, by Kimio Eto (Koto soloist), with the Philadelphia Orchestra, Leopold Stokowski conducting;

  • 1994 - Morten Lauridsen: “O Magnum Mysterium” for chorus, at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, by the Los Angeles Master Chorale, Paul Salamunovich conducting;

  • 1999 - André Previn: "Three Dickinson Songs," in Quebec, Canada, by soprano Renée Fleming and pianist Richard Bado;


  • 1732 - John Rich opens his "Theatre Royal, Covent Garden" in London (Julian date: Dec. 7).

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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