Copland – Symphony No. 3

by Max Derrickson

Aaron Copland   (b Brooklyn, NY, November 14, 1900; Westchester, NY, December 2, 1990)

Symphony No. 3
1. Molto moderato
2. Allegro molto
3. Andantino quasi allegretto
4. Molto deliberato (Fanfare) – Allegro risoluto


We have come to consider Aaron Copland as the quintessence of American art music, but what, indeed, is American music?

Copland’s attainment of that reputation came laboriously.   [. . .]

And so, again, what exactly was the musical essence of America?  Having spent some of his most formative years in Paris, undoubtedly Copland’s ideas derived in part from what Europeans found quintessential about the “New World.”  There were America’s extraordinary open spaces and dramatic wilderness – a country whose massive grass prairies alone almost eclipsed the size of Europe.  And, then, there was the way Americans “were” – independent-minded, tough, compassionate, and brash.

[. . .]

His Symphony No. 3 was commissioned in 1944 by conductor Serge Koussevitsky and the Boston Symphony just on the heels of Copland’s exceedingly popular Appalachian Spring.  Three general expectations accompanied this commission; first, to use a certain amount of bombast to please Koussevitsky; the second, to incorporate his most adored work, Fanfare for the Common Man, into the Symphony’s fabric; and third, to create a piece of “pure music” in Copland’s American voice (that is, without relying on a storyline, in contrast to his ballets).  The piece was more than two years in the making, and somewhat ironically, he conceived much of it in the rustic town ofTepotzlan,Mexico.  These expectations were resoundingly met, and its conductor, Koussevitsky, proclaimed upon its premiere in December, 1946 “the Symphony is the greatest American work ever written.”

[. . .]

Without pause, the last movement begins with the Fanfare for the Common Man as its prologue, although peacefully in the winds at first — an airy, enchanting way to start any piece of music.  Directly, however, we are treated to a full dose of the Fanfare with the brass and percussion.  The next section allows for the winds to rhapsodize themselves into the movement’s main theme, jaunty and upbeat.  After the main themes are presented, a development section follows, which is wonderfully clever and contrapuntally interesting.  The closing sections of the Symphony then combine the Fanfare with the movement’s main theme and a massive restatement of the first movement’s opening theme.  As the themes play off each other, the Symphony closes with a truly spine tingling finale.