These pages contain program notes written for Redwood
Symphony. You are free to use the information in your own program
notes. If you quote me directly, please attribute it. Thanks!
These notes were edited, amended, and otherwise
improved by Eric Kujawsky, Peter Stahl, and Doug Wyatt.
An Outdoor Overture
The late 1930's may have been a rough time for Americans, but it was a
fertile time for composer Aaron Copland, who was at the height of his
"populist" phase. After periods composing in the jazz and then avant
garde idioms, he had set out to consciously simplify his music, using folk
themes and writing music for more utilitarian purposes, such as film scores or
music for schools. In 1936 he wrote an opera, The Second Hurricane, to be sung
by children in school performances (along with a chorus for their parents!).
Alexander Richter, director of music for the High School of Music and Art in New
York City, heard a performance of Hurricane, and when he began a campaign to get
more new music written for use in schools, he contacted Copland and asked him to
be a part of it. The campaign, called "American Music for American
Youth," would feature music that was "optimistic in tone, which would
have a definite appeal to the adolescent youth of this country."
Copland agreed to the project and created An Outdoor Overture, scoring both a
band and an orchestral version of the piece. The work was premiered at Richter's
school in December, 1938, the same year that Copland completed Billy the Kid.
The two pieces share some distinct similarities, especially in the opening
fanfare of the Overture. This fanfare, and an extended trumpet solo, are
contrasted with a march-like theme and a lyrical melody for strings, all of
which are cleverly woven into the final, joyous conclusion. Copland's
contemporary, composer Elliott Carter, wrote that the work "...contains
some of the finest and most personal music. Its opening is as lofty and
beautiful as any passage that has been written by a contemporary composer."