Heckscher Museum of Art

Huntington, Long Island, NY




Aaron Copland's America

November 4, 2000 - January 21, 2001


Through compositions such as Appalachian Spring, Rodeo, Billy the Kid, El Salon Mexico, Fanfare for the Common Man, and Lincoln Portrait, Aaron Copland pioneered a distinctive American sound and spirit. He created music which stemmed from his fascination with American folk themes and multiculturalism.

Copland's music was revolutionary in that it reflected the strands and diversity of the many cultures which comprise the American landscape. He was influenced by visual and literary artists, and in turn, influenced the work of many others. On the centennial of his birth (November 14, 1900), Heckscher Museum of Art presents a sweeping three-gallery exhibition which includes depictions of Aaron Copland by American artists and photographers, and also explores the impact of Copland's American spirit through works by many American and European artists who were influenced by Copland's music, or who were similarly intrigued by the growing sense of a uniquely American spirit and aesthetic. (left: Marsden Hartley, Carnelian Country, 1932, oil on cardboard)

Aaron Copland's America, opening at the Heckscher on November 4, 2000 and running through January 21, 2001, weaves sight and sound in an exhibition which, for the first time, examines the relationship between Copland, his music, and contemporaneous visual arts and artists. It is curated by Gail Levin, professor of fine and performing arts and art history at Baruch College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

In connection with the exhibition, Watson-Guptill is publishing a book, Aaron Copland's America: A Cultural Perspective by Gail Levin and Judith Tick. Tick, a noted musicologist who is a distinguished professor of music at Boston's Northeastern University, is a consultant to the Heckscher's exhibition. Levin and Tick will participate in a day-long symposium on November 20, one of the many workshops, discussions, and concerts sponsored by the Heckscher Museum of Art in conjunction with the presentation of Aaron Copland's America. In addition, Cablevision, The Copland Heritage Association, Long Island University, and Tilles Center for the Performing Arts are among the other regional institutions which have joined in this celebration by sponsoring concerts or other events and activities related to this exhibition marking Copland's centennial.

Among the exhibition themes of Aaron Copland's America is the influence of jazz on both the composer and on visual artists, featuring works such as Man Ray's Jazz (1919) and Charles Demuth's Negro Jazz Band (1916). Abstract and avant-garde representations of sound will be shown by e.e. cumming's Sound (1919), Salvador Dali's Le Piano Surrealiste (1937), and Marcel Duchamp's Sonata (1911). Another theme, Copland's interest in folk cultures, is exemplified by the visual parallel of Marc Chagall's Green Violinist (1923-4), a painting which corresponds to Copland's Vitebsk (1928). Among the other works which comment on folk themes as a source of inspiration for Copland are Rufino Tamayo's Guitar Player (1926-30) and Mermaids (1926-30), Grant Wood's Spring in Town (1941), Walker Evans' Alabama Cotton Tenant Farmer's Wife (1936), and Charles Sheeler's Interior (1926), a painting which depicts Shaker furniture, corresponding to Copland's quotation of a Shaker hymn in his ballet music for Appalachian Spring. Visual artists, who like Copland, sought to create an American esthetic are exemplified through the inclusion of works such as Thomas Hart Benton's Missouri Musicians (1931) and Grant Wood's Young Corn (1931).

Aaron Copland's America includes images of Copland by such noted photographers as Hans Namuth, Arnold Newman, Gordon Parks, Irving Penn, and Ralph Steiner, as well as depictions of the composer in sculpture, works on paper, and on canvas. The exhibition also surveys the enormous community of visual, musical, theatrical, and literary artists who peopled Copland's world -- Aline Fruhauf's Nadia Boulanger (1960), Georgia O'Keeffe's Evening Star No. 2 (1917), Paul Strand's Carlos Chavez (1931), Pavel Tchelitchew's Portrait of Lincoln Kirstein (1937), Carl Van Vechten''s Gertrude Stein (1934), Alfred Stieglitz's Marcel Duchamp (1923), Willem de Kooning's Max Margulis (1944), Dorothy Norman's Harold Clurman (1942), and Paul Meltsner's Martha Graham (1938) are among the works in this group.

Copland's work as a composer of music for ballet is also documented in the exhibition. The music for the ballet, Billy the Kid (1938), is featured with George Platt Lynes' photographs of the original production and Jared French's costume designs: Alias as Mexican (1938), and Alias as Sheriff (1938). Also included are photographs of the performance of Agnes de Mille's Rodeo (1942). Copland's music for Martha Graham's Appalachian Spring (1944) is represented by Isamu Noguchi's sketches and the rocking chair he designed for the production's set.

Copland's career composing cinematic scores is documented by stills from films such as The City (1939), Of Mice and Men (1940), Our Town (1940), The Red Pony (1949), The Heiress (1949), and Something Wild (1961).

Copland's Into the Streets May First (1934), Lincoln Portrait (1942), and Fanfare for the Common Man (1943) represent the composer's political engagement, patriotism, and concern for social welfare. The exhibition includes such parallels in the visual arts as Ben Shahn's Bartolomeo Vanzetti and Niccola Sacco (1931), Marsden Hartley's Weary of the Truth (1940), Daniel Chester French's Seated Lincoln (1924-5), and Raphael Soyer's In the City Park (1934).

For the first time, Heckscher Museum of Art is offering an audio tour. The audio tour for Aaron Copland's America includes Copland's music as well as illuminating discussions of how many of the works in the exhibit are related to Copland's life and work. For a full schedule of concerts, workshops, and discussions being offered by the Heckscher in connection with Aaron Copland's America, call the Museum.

revised 11/27/00

Read more in Resource Library Magazine about the Heckscher Museum of Art.

For further biographical information on selected artists cited in this article please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

rev. 10/18/10

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This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 3/23/11

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