One of the last chamber works of the American composer Aaron Copland received its first performance on today’s date in 1971.
This took place in Philadelphia as a benefit for that city’s Settlement Music School, with Copland himself present for the premiere of his “Duo” for flute and piano. The work was commissioned by friends and students of the late William Kincaid, for many years the principal flutist of the Philadelphia Orchestra.
By 1971, thorny, complex, and atonal music was the fashion in both Europe and America. Copland, for his part, had composed some challenging orchestral works along these lines as well. His “Duo,” however was unashamedly lyrical.
As Copland put it: “What can you do with a flute in an extended form that would not emphasize its songful nature? Lyricism seems to be built into the flute. Some expressed surprise at the tonal nature of my Duo, considering that my recent works had been in a more severe idiom; however, the style was naturally influenced by the fact that I was composing for Kincaid’s students, not for future generations (although I hoped younger flutists would play my Duo eventually).”
Copland needn’t have worried. As music critic Michael Steinberg put it, reviewing its first performance in Boston: “Copland’s Duo is a lightweight work of a masterful craftsman. It is going to give pleasure to flutists and their audiences for a long time.”