Composers Datebook®

with host John Zech

Friday, November 23

Short (but tough) Copland

Synopsis

On today’s date in 1934, after 10 intense rehearsals, the Orquestra Sinfonica de Mexico, conducted by the Mexican Carlos Chávez, gave the premiere performance of the Symphony No. 2 of the American composer Aaron Copland.

Copland’s Second was titled ‘The Short Symphony,” but there was a lot packed into its 15-minute duration. “The Short Symphony’s preoccupation is with complex rhythms, combined with clear textures,” said Copland. “Sonority-wise, the most rhythmically complex moments have a certain lightness and clarity.”

“I had briefly considered naming the piece (at Chavez’s suggestion) ‘The Bounding Line,’” said Copland, “until another friend wisely advised me against it, pointing out that ‘bounding’ seemed more like ‘boundary’ than the ‘bounce’ I had in mind.”

“Shortly after its Mexican introduction,” recalled Copland, “the piece was announced for an American premiere by Leopold Stokowski with the Philadelphia Orchestra, but was never given. A similarly announced performance by the Boston Symphony under Koussevitzsky was also cancelled. Both told me subsequently that they had announced performances because they had admired the work, but that the composition was so intricate from a rhythmic standpoint that they dared not attempt a performance within the allotted period.”

In 1937, Copland recast his “Short Symphony” as a chamber sextet, leaving the music fundamentally unchanged, but re-barring the score to make it less challenging for performers. It wasn’t until the 1980s, some four decades after its Mexican premiere, that Copland’s 15-minute Symphony became increasingly performed by American orchestras in its original form.

Music Played in Today's Program

Aaron Copland (1900 – 1990) Short Symphony (Symphony No. 2) San Francisco Symphony; Michael Tilson Thomas, cond. BMG 68541

Additional Information

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