Cover image for Aaron Copland : the life and work of an uncommon man
Aaron Copland : the life and work of an uncommon man
Pollack, Howard.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Henry Holt, 1999.
Physical Description:
xi, 690 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
ML410.C726 P6 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
ML410.C726 P6 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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A candid and fascinating portrait of the American composer.

The son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, Aaron Copland (1900-1990) became one of America's most beloved and esteemed composers. His work, which includes Fanfare for the Common Man, A Lincoln Portrait, and Appalachian Spring, has been honored by a huge following of devoted listeners. But the full richness of Copland's life and accomplishments has never, until now, been documented or understood. Howard Pollack's meticulously researched and engrossing biography explores the symphony of Copland's life: his childhood in Brooklyn; his homosexuality; Paris in the early 1920s; the Alfred Stieglitz circle; his experimentation with jazz; the communist witch trials; Hollywood in the forties; public disappointment with his later, intellectual work; and his struggle with Alzheimer's disease. Furthermore, Pollack presents informed discussions of Copland's music, explaining and clarifying its newness and originality, its aesthetic and social aspects, its distinctive and enduring personality.

Author Notes

Howard Pollack is associate professor of music history and literature at the University of Houston. He has written four books on classical music and has served as music critic for the Houston Press, among other publications. He lives in Houston.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Considered the dean of American music in his lifetime, Copland (1900^-90) was a private, unpresuming, generous man dedicated to his music and to promoting younger composers. He wrote only some 100 works, but in many forms--opera, songs, ballet and film scores, choral works, and chamber, solo piano, and orchestral music. He wrote and lectured, conducted throughout the world, and promoted twentieth-century music in concerts. As a student in 1920s Paris, he embraced complex rhythms, polytonal writing, and twelve-tone techniques, but folk-dance rhythms and melodies sparked his beloved ballet scores for El Salon Mexico, Billy the Kid, Rodeo, and Appalachian Spring. Rather than observing strict chronology, Pollack devotes single chapters to topics that include Copland's standing among his peers, his identities, and his contributions as a citizen. In contrast to the autobiography Copland wrote with Vivian Perlis, Pollack presents Copland's personal life through short biographies of his male lovers and others who were engaged in his life. In this honest, exhaustive, well-written, and loving biography, Copland appears as the quintessentially American composer. --Alan Hirsch

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this exhaustive study, Pollack (Walter Piston) offers a compelling look at a composer whose output included much more than the ballet scores so familiar to the general public, such as Billy the Kid, Rodeo and Appalachian Spring. Copland (1900-1990) wrote music for opera, ballet, chorus, orchestra, chamber ensemble, band, radio and film, while making important contributions as a music critic, teacher and conductor. Pollack follows Copland's development from the early pieces written when Copland was a student of Nadia Boulanger in Paris to his later 12-tone scores that alienated the public and many critics. He discusses the music that influenced Copland and examines his most important works, arguing that his compositions are distinctly American. Interspersed with analyses of Copland's music are discussions of his personality (he was typically characterized by friends and colleagues as warm and charming), his homosexual relationships and his lifelong social consciousness, which made him a tireless promoter of young composers and also led to his involvement in radical politics and hard times during the McCarthy era. Pollack captures the spirit of Copland's music in words, as when he compares the 1926 Concerto for Piano and Orchestra to a "mobile" in which "separate but related ideas appear and reappear in various combinations." (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Pollack (music history, Univ. of Houston), the author of books on three other American composers, prepared for this large biography by investigating archives and interviewing many people who knew Aaron Copland (1900-90). Many of them also contributed to Copland and Vivian Perlis's two volumes (Copland 1900-1942, LJ 7/84; Copland Since 1943, LJ 12/1/89), but time and distance bring new perspectives and emphases. Pollack discusses Copland's intimate relationships in one "Personal Affairs" chapter but spends most of the book on musical commentary, allowing his ideas about Copland's identity as an American, a Jew, and a homosexual to emerge where appropriate. With no musical examples and plenty of quotations from observers, Pollack's discussion requires no sophisticated musical knowledge. A solid study, if somewhat pedestrian in style; recommended for large public libraries and all academic music collections.¬ĎBonnie Jo Dopp, Univ. of Maryland Lib., College Park (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

As the 20th century draws to a close, its best-known and perhaps greatest US classical-music composer has become the subject of a massive, carefully researched biography. This critical and contextual study richly complements Copland's two-volume autobiography, Copland: 1900 through 1942 (CH, Jan'85) and Copland. Since 1943 (1989), both coauthored with Vivian Perlis. Taken together, these three volumes offer as much about Copland as readers are ever likely to know. Pollack explores all facets of Copland's life--his Brooklyn childhood, his study in New York and abroad, his struggle to gain recognition during the 1920s/30s, his arrival as the US's leading classical composer during the 1940s/50s, and his continuance as elder musical statesman nearly up to his death. Although Copland's style had fallen behind that of the avant-garde by the late 1950s, the popularity of his music did not wane. The sound embedded in Lincoln Portrait, Billy the Kid, Appalachian Spring, Fanfare for the Common Man, and his other music has become the "American" sound. As Pollack ably shows, one finds much to admire in both Copland's music and life. His purpose, responsibility, generosity, optimism, clarity of thought, friendliness, optimism, and vast influence have given the US a musical leader of whom it can be proud. Highly recommended for all libraries. W. K. Kearns University of Colorado at Boulder