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ClassicsOnline Home » COPLAND, A.: Symphony No. 3 / Billy the Kid Suite (New Zealand Symphony, Judd)
By Steve Vasta
"One needn't make allowances for this performance's super-budget price. James Judd has the full measure of the Symphony's variegated moods and colors: the eerie, questing undertones after the first movement's big climax; the strings' aching lyricism in the scherzo; the expansive "Fanfare for the Common Man" theme vividly playing against faster, more pressing motifs in the finale. And in a piece that isn't really standard fare even among American orchestras, Judd has the New Zealanders playing capably and confidently. Full-throated unison horns launch the scherzo, whose middle section features a plaintive oboe; the brasses are light and dancey in the finale. Only the high, transparent bits of the Andantino betray tentativeness: the violins carefully, conscientiously "place" each note, and still the topmost ones whistle."
By Lawrence Budmen
Coral Gables Gazette
"This score is moving and powerful - Copland at his very best. Music lovers who have missed James Judd's brilliant music making with the Florida Philharmonic can enjoy his splendid work on this new recording. Judd leads a stirring, eloquent performance with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (of which he is music director). The string and wind playing is sweet toned and beautiful and the brass and percussion playing really has sonic impact. This outstanding performance is fully equal to the famous recordings by Copland and Leonard Bernstein and is superior to Eiji Oue's recent fine sounding account. As a bonus, the CD also contains a surprisingly subtle and idiomatic rendition of the Suite from Copland's 1938 ballet score 'Billy the Kid."
Aaron Copland (1900-1990)
Billy the Kid (Suite)
Arguably the greatest American composer of the last
century and without doubt one of its most unmistakable voice" Aaron
Copland was also a distinguished pianist, conductor and writer Although perhaps
best known for his three ballets Billy the Kid (1938), Rodeo (1942)
and Appalachian Spring (1943-44), he produced major works in a variety
of genres including two operas, The Second Hurricane (1936) and The
Tender Land (1952-54), film scores, symphonies, concertos, choral and
chamber music, as well as a significant contribution to the solo piano repertoire.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, on 14th November 1900,
Copland began theory and composition lessons in 1917 with Rubin Goldmark
Continuing his studies with Goldmark unti11921, he then became a student of Nadia
Boulanger in Paris and under her guidance produced his first orchestral score,
the one-act ballet Grohg (1922-25), inspired by F.W Murnau's film Nosferatu.
Of even greater note, Boulanger asked Copland to write a work for her American
debut as organist resulting in the Symphony for Organ and Orchestra
(1924), first performed by the New York Symphony Orchestra under Walter Damrosch
(who jokingly remarked of its dissonance - 'If a young man at the age of 23 can
write a symphony like that, in five years he will be ready to commit murder').
The work was also performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Serge
Koussevitzky, who was to become a key supporter of the composer, not only
commissioning and performing his works but also appointing Copland assistant
director of the Berkshire Music Center where he taught from 1940 to 1965 The Organ
Symphony secured another Boston commission for Copland, the five-movement
suite Music for the Theatre (1925). Both the latter work, the
jazz-influenced Piano Concerto (1926), which received a critical
mauling, and the Symphonic Ode (1928-29), which Copland regarded as one
of his most important works, were all given their first performances under
Koussevitzky. Copland's next compositions such as the Piano Variations
(1930) and the Short Symphony (1932-33) adopted a more austere, abstract
style. Then, at the instigation of the Mexican composer Carlos Chivez, he made
the first of several visits to Mexico in 1932, a country which made a deep impression
on him and inspired his first international success, the delightful and
immediately accessible orchestral work El salon Mexico (1933-36).
Throughout the late 1930s and 1940s his reputation steadily grew with the
composition of the aforementioned ballets, film scores and patriotic works such
as the Lincoln Portrait and Fanfare for the Common Man (both
dating from 1942). With the composition of the Piano Quartet (1950)
Copland entered yet another stylistic period, employing his own highly personal
application of the twelve-note technique which he used in such major works as
the Piano Fantasy (1955-57) and the orchestral works Connotations
(1961-62) and Inscape (1967).
As well as being the first composer to receive a Guggenheim
Fellowship (1925-27) Copland was also the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in
1945 for his ballet Appalachian Spring, generally acknowledged as his most
popular work, whilst his conducting debut with the New York Philharmonic
Orchestra in 1958 saw the start of an international career that was to last
more than twenty years (he actually composed little after 1972).
Copland composed his hugely popular one-act ballet Billy
the Kid in Paris and Peterborough, New Hampshire, in the summer of 1938.
Written for Lincoln Kirstein's Ballet Caravan, and with choreography by Eugene Loring
and decor by Jared French, the work was first perfoffi1ed in an arrangement for
two pianos (the soloists were Arthur Gold and Walter Hendl) on 6th October 1938
in Chicago. The orchestral version was first performed in New York the
following year and in 1940 the seven-movement orchestral suite from the ballet
was given its first perfoffi1ance by the NBC Symphony Orchestra under William
Steinberg, once again in New York The scenario centres upon the chief episodes
in the short-lived career of the American outlaw William H. Bonney (1859-1881)
The action, framed by depictions of the open prairie, starts in the street of a
frontier town: during a drunken brawl guns are drawn and Billy's mother is
accidentally shot and killed In a rage, Billy, then a boy of only twelve, draws
a blade from a cowboy's sheath and stabs his mother's killers - so begins his
life as an outlaw Several scenes from his later life are depicted including a
night-time card game, a gun battle between Billy and his former associate Pat
Garrett, and the celebrations that follow Billy's capture. After his escape
from prison and a pas de deux with his girlfriend in the desert, both
omitted from the orchestral suite, Billy finally meets his demise.
Copland's Third Symphony (1944-46), his most imposing
orchestral work, was commissioned by the Koussevitzky Music Foundation and
dedicated 'to the memory of my dear friend Natalie Koussevitzky'. Unlike
traditional symphonic first movements, usually cast in sonata-allegro form, the
opening movement, marked Molto moderato, presents three distinct themes in
an arch-like form the first stated by strings, the second by oboes and violas,
and the third by trombones and horns. The form of the Scherzo, marked Allegro
molto, is much more typical of the classical symphonic model, consisting of
three statements of the principal theme in part one, separated by episodes, a
contrasting Trio section, and a veiled recapitulation of the principal theme.
In the composer's programme note for the premiere he described the slow
movement, with the direction Andante quasi allegretto, as being the
'freest of all in formal structure. Although it is built up sectionally, the
various sections are intended to emerge on from the other in continuous flow,
somewhat in the manner of a close-knit series of variations’. The final
movement, Allegro deloberato – Allegro risoluto, the most
substantial of the symphony, adheres more strictly to the sonata-allegro model.
The rousing introductory fanfare is based on Fanfare for the Common Man,
an initial pianissimo version for flutes and clarinets followed by a
complete statement of the stirring original version for brass and percussion.
The Third Symphony earned Copland the New York Music Critics’ Circle
Award for the best orchestral work of the 1946-47 concert season.
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