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A compendium of queer people in the 19th and 20th centuries // Drawn and researched by Michele Rosenthal

Aaron  Copland

Aaron Copland 1900to –1990

Composer, teacher, and conductor, best known for his distinctly American works such as Appalachian Spring, Billy the Kid, Rodeo, and Fanfare for the Common Man. He was born to a Jewish family in Brooklyn, and though his mother and siblings played various instruments, his early passion in becoming a composer was considered a bit outlandish. He learned as much as he could in New York before attending a music school in Paris. There he was greatly influenced by the teacher Nadia Boulanger, though at first he was hesitant to study under a female composer. He returned to New York a few years later, determined to write music full time, and eager to develop a new style that was unmistakably American. He got by on lecturing, teaching, and the occasional commission, but realized that his highbrow, modernist music was not conducive to earning a living during the Depression. So in the mid 30s and 40s, he began composing more accessible and populist music for the ballet and orchestra, creating some of his best-loved work which is now considered the archetype of American composition. Copland kept his personal life very private, and though he had affairs with various male artists, musicians, and dancers over the years, he left behind little by way of documentation or thoughts on his homosexuality. Despite accusations by McCarthy in the 50s of being leftist, Copland was less interested in politics, and more interested in fostering a love of American music. He shifted into conducting as he grew older, and was known for his passion in mentoring a generation of musicians such as Leonard Bernstein, earning him the nickname “the Dean of American Composers.”

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