Aaron Copland was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1900. He studied music in his home city and also in Paris with Nadia Boulanger between 1921 and 1924, the first of many Americans to do so. He returned to the United States in 1925, and shortly afterwards, his Symphony for Organ and Orchestra was performed. It was in a brash, modern style which he inherited from Boulanger. He also began to include elements of jazz in his music, and developed a distinctively American style, drawing on folk music and ideas. As well as composing, Copland was heavily involved in composers’ organisations and between 1925 and 1927 held a Guggenheim grant, the first of many awards, commissions, and prizes he received.
Between 1927 and 1937, Copland also taught and lectured at the New School for Social Research, and wrote several books, including Music and Imagination (1952). He appeared frequently as a conductor of his own and other composers’ music. In 1964 he was awarded the Medal of Freedom by the U.S. government.
Copland is perhaps most famous for his superb ballet scores, such as Billy the Kid (1938), Rodeo (1942), and Appalachian Spring (1944), which are all based on American folklore. The last of these finishes with a set of variations on a Shaker hymn. He also composed two operas, The Second Hurricane (1937) and The Tender Land (1954), as well as choral works and songs.
Copland was also a leading composer of film music, and wrote scores for Of Mice and Men (1939), Our Town (1940), The Red Pony (1948), and The Heiress (1949). His Piano Variations (1930) and Clarinet Concerto (1948), written for jazz clarinettist Benny Goodman, are the most influential of his many solo and chamber works. Outstanding among his orchestral scores are Music for the Theatre (1925), the jazzy Piano Concerto (1927), El Salon Mexico (1936), and A Lincoln Portrait (1942) with spoken portions from Abraham Lincoln’s speeches. Copland's Symphony No. 3 (1946) is one of his most popular works, and incorporates as one of its movements the famous Fanfare for the Common Man (1942).