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Copland, Aaron - Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes

Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes
Aaron Copland
b. Brooklyn, New York, USA / November 14, 1900
d. Peekskill, New York, USA / December 2, 1990

Although Copland composed in a variety of styles, including the moderately avant-garde, he won his most enduring successes with compositions that celebrate (and directly quote from) the folk culture of America. Topping his list of “hits” are the ballets Billy the Kid (1938), Rodeo (1942), and Appalachian Spring (1944).

Looking to show its support for America’s efforts in the Second World War, the renowned dance company Les Ballets russes (Russian Ballet) commissioned a ballet on an American subject from dancer/choreographer Agnes de Mille. She turned to Copland for the music because of his success with Billy the Kid. The troupe’s classically trained dancers were leery of performing de Mille’s naturalistic, exuberant choreography, the very opposite of what they were used to, and known for, but the premiere in New York City, with de Mille dancing the lead, scored a huge success

The plot is simplicity itself, though feminists will think it a museum piece. A cowgirl who is infatuated with a handsome wrangler dresses and acts like a man in hopes of impressing him. It doesn’t work, so she goes back to wearing skirts and wins him over. In addition to original material, Copland’s score for Rodeo makes use of several authentic cowboy songs. The full score contains music for solo piano, which Copland omitted when preparing the otherwise complete concert version that you will hear at this concert.

Here’s his own introduction to the suite.

“The first section is the most complex. Included are variations on two folk tunes, If He Be a Buckaroo by His Trade, and Sis Joe. The second section, Coral Nocturne, is characterized by woodwind solos in 5/4 time. I was striving here for a sense of the isolation felt by the heroine. In Saturday Night Waltz, country fiddlers are heard tuning up, followed by hints of the tune Old Paint. The final movement, Hoe Down, is the best known and most frequently performed episode. Two square dance tunes are included: Bonyparte and a few measures of McLeod’s Reel played in folk fiddle style. Pizzicato strings and a xylophone add a comic effect to Bonyparte, and the music winds down like a clock before the tune returns for the last time.”

Program Notes by Don Anderson © 2019

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