Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes
piccolo, 3 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, celesta, piano, strings
Composed 1942. First performance: 16 October 1942, Metropolitan Opera House, New York.
Aaron Copland was an American composer, teacher, writer, and conductor whose music best represents the Americana style. Copland’s musical sound expresses open, slowly changing harmonies, presumably metaphoric of the vast American landscape. He also utilized music to intersect the American landscape with the Western cowboy lifestyle. This allusion formed after Copland tried his hand at twelve-tone serialism but realized a more significant need was calling to him. Copland sought to write music based on his self-coined principle of Gebrauchsmusik, meaning music deserved to be understood by everyone.
Copland was not immersed into a musical family at birth. However, he and his siblings took private lessons, often sharing their knowledge. The young Copland began writing pieces at eight and took piano lessons four years later. Copland went on to study composition in a formal setting by studying with numerous teachers in the United States and Europe. Nadia Boulanger was chief among them, who was a highly-respected teacher devoted to composition and technique studies. He returned to the United States in 1925 in hopes of establishing his composition career but momentarily worked as a writer for the New York Times, critiquing contemporary European composers and their works. Ten years later, Copland resumed composing, further developing his idea of Gebrauchsmusik. During this time, he composed many of his most successful ballets, symphonic works, concertos, and film scores, such as Appalachian Spring, Lincoln Portrait, and Fanfare for the Common Man.
Another One of his highly-regarded ballets is Rodeo, a five-act ballet composed and premiered in 1942. The music of this ballet was so well-received that the composer formed a symphonic version that omitted the middle episode, “Ranch House Party,” creating Four Dance Episodes. The ballet was choreographed by Agnes de Mille for the Ballet Russe de Monte-Carlo after their transplantation from France to the United States. De Mille encouraged Copland to write another cowboy-based ballet after Billy the Kid, though the composer was reluctant. However, after receiving a multitude of praise, Copland agreed, resulting in his Western masterpiece, Rodeo.
Copland’s use of Americana conventionally uses fragments of well-known American tunes, but in Rodeo, the borrowed melodies are left unaltered. _Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes _consists of four distinct sections, with the first being “Buckaroo Holiday”—an extravagant fanfare theme performed by the brass. The movement gradually softens to introduce the protagonist, a reserved cowgirl, in pursuit of finding love. A dance party ensues where various cowboys enter into the tune, “Sis Joe.” Attempting to entice the cowboys, the cowgirl’s theme, “If He’d Be a Buckaroo,” is introduced in hopes of getting their undivided attention. The prideful cowboys do not notice her, leaving the cowgirl gravely lovesick. Her immense grief is expressed in the following episode, “Corral Nocturne”—a movement whose quality is overwhelmingly lyrical. Copland assigns the oboes and bassoons to emote sensations of grief, languish, and despair. “Saturday Night Waltz” follows with a “Texas minuet” dance party that is set to the tune, “I Ride an Old Paint.” In this scene, the loveless cowgirl desperately tries to find a dance partner but is unsuccessful. Suddenly, the Champion Roper enters and allures the cowgirl, appeasing her grief-stricken heart. New musical textures create a sense of intimacy between the two lovers. To commemorate the cowgirl’s love dream coming true, Copland finishes with “Hoe Down,” one of the composer’s most recognizable melodies. The scene begins with the tune “Bonaparte’s Retreat,” quickly becoming the central theme for this episode. Copland reprises the “Buckaroo Holiday” theme from the first episode, interlaced with “Bonaparte’s Retreat,” culminating in a thrilling grand finale.
notes by Dr. Philip Hoch
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