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Composers Datebook®

with host John Birge

Tuesday, February 16

Copland's "Vitebsk"

Synopsis

On today’s date in 1929, a chamber trio by Aaron Copland entitled “Vitebsk” premiered at Town Hall in New York City. Copland said it was based on a Jewish folk tune from a Russian village called Vitebsk that he had once heard used in a play.

Two string players from the famous Belgian Pro Arte Quartet and the great German pianist Walter Gieseking were booked for the premiere. Despite the distinguished performers, the performance came off as something of a slap-stick comedy.

According to one of Copland’s friends, present that night, the heavy-set cellist accidentally knocked over the violinist’s music stand when he came on stage, and while bending over to retrieve his music knocked over his own stand, strewing music all over the stage. Then, just as he began Copland’s piece, his cello string snapped with a loud, comically timed twang.

Years after the 1929 premiere, when Copland visited the Soviet Union, Russian audiences expressed amazement that any American composer would choose to name a piece after Vitebsk, which, rather than a quaint Russian village like the one evoked in the musical “Fiddler on the Roof,” was in fact a large industrial complex resembling Pittsburgh or Cleveland.

Music Played in Today's Program

Aaron Copland (1900 - 1990) Vitebsk Gregory Ellis, violin; Christopher Marwood, cello; Michael Collins, piano ASV 1081

Additional Information

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