Program Notes: Copland’s Rodeo
Jacksonville Symphony 2022/23 Florida Blue Classical Series
Aaron Copland’s Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes:
- Copland was a native New Yorker but studied extensively in Europe.
- Four years of study in France with Nadia Boulanger, famous music instructor and conductor, solidified his compositional mastery.
- He found his distinctly American voice composing ballets and patriotic music.
- An important teacher, he was a mentor to dozens of younger American composers.
- Copland also conducted, played piano and wrote several books on music.
Copland captured the spirit of “mom and apple pie” in many of his works. Rodeo is an excellent example. This work was originally a ballet score for Agnes de Mille, American dancer and choreographer for the company Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Its setting takes place in western America where a cowgirl tries to gain the affection of a man by outdoing the other men at their own craft. The four dance episodes contain elements of ragtime, old American tunes, square dance melodies and the sound of fiddles tuning. The suite concludes with a rousing “Hoe Down” that will have your feet tapping.
Carlos Chávez’s Symphony No. 2, “Sinfonía india:”
- Born in Mexico City, Chávez remained fiercely proud of his native heritage.
- He traveled to Berlin, Vienna, Paris and New York in his 20s, which inspired his musical style.
- Also a conductor, Chávez and the Mexico City Syndicate of Musicians founded the Symphony Orchestra of Mexico in 1928.
- Chávez was the Charles Eliot Norton Lecturer at Harvard University from 1958 to 1959.
“Sinfonía india” is the best-known composition by Chávez, one of Mexico’s greatest composers. Though it is called a symphony, it consists of one action-packed movement. The movement “Sinfonía” is a splendid salute to indigenous Mexican culture, which uses themes from the country’s indigenous Huichol, Yaqui and Seri peoples. These themes account for the “india” in the work’s subtitle and also employ several rarer Mexican and Indian percussion instruments. The percussion section is worth watching, for they are on high alert in this piece and guide the work to a thrilling, thrumming finish.
Florence Price’s Symphony No. 3 in C minor:
- Price was the first female, African American to gain recognition as a composer.
- She studied at the New England Conservatory and Chicago Musical College.
- A gifted pianist, Price played one of her piano concertos with the Chicago Symphony in 1932.
- Also in 1932, her Symphony in E minor won first prize in the Rodman Wanamaker Competition.
- Marian Anderson and Leontyne Price, two of America’s most celebrated singers, both performed Price’s songs regularly.
During the Great Depression, Chicago became an artistic and literary center for African American writers and musicians. Price, an Arkansas-born pianist and composer, had settled there in 1927 and wrote much of her finest music in Chicago. Her Third Symphony dates from 1938. She described it in a letter to Boston Symphony conductor Serge Koussevitzky:
“I tried to portray a cross section of Negro life and psychology as it is today, influenced by urban life north of the Mason Dixon line. It is not ‘program’ music. I merely had in mind the life and music of the Negro of today…and treated my themes in a manner different from what I would have done if I had centered my attention upon the religious themes of antebellum days, or yet the ragtime and jazz which followed. Rather [the piece is] a fusion of these, colored by present cultural influences.”
Arturo Márquez’s Danzón No. 2:
- Like many other Mexican composers, Márquez supplemented his early music education with study in Paris, France.
- Granted a Fulbright Fellowship, he earned a Master of Arts in composition at the California Institute of the Arts.
- He is interested in mixed media and interdisciplinary collaborations.
- Twentieth century popular urban music plays a major role in his compositions.
Danzón is a popular Cuban dance of 19th century origin. For Danzón No. 2, Márquez was inspired by friends who are professional ballroom dancers. Popular Mexican tunes and catchy rhythms course through this music, which is Márquez’s salute to the treasured genre. He has written:
“I discovered that the apparent lightness of the Danzón hides a music full of sensuality and rigor, music that our [elder] folks live with nostalgia and joy, a world that we can still grasp in the dance music of Veracruz and the dance halls of Mexico City. Danzón No. 2 is a tribute to this world that nurtured it. It tries to get as close as possible to the dance, to the nostalgic melodies and its rhythms… It is a personal way of expressing my admiration and feelings toward real popular music.”
Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes:
Born November 14, 1900, in Brooklyn, New York | Died December 2, 1990, in North Tarrytown, New York
Copland had just turned 41 when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Too old for military service, he contributed to the war effort by writing patriotic music. In the broadest sense, he celebrated Americana, evoking through music the small wonders that helped the United States develop into the country it is today.
During the Second World War, Copland’s music did a great deal to boost morale. His approach was both well-placed and effective. The founding fathers’ principle that all men are created equal found expression in Fanfare for the Common Man (1943). In praise of a great and inspiring president, Copland wrote Lincoln Portrait (1942). The pioneer spirit surfaced in Appalachian Spring (1944). He immortalized the lore of the western cowboy in Billy the Kid (1938) and Rodeo (1942).
Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo commissioned Rodeo on the heels of Billy the Kid’s success; the impresario wanted to capitalize on the market for another “cowboy” ballet. Thanks to Copland’s exuberant score and Agnes de Mille’s lively choreography, the production was a huge hit. Copland promptly made its four big moments into a suite so that Rodeo could be programmed in the concert hall as well as on the ballet stage.
Rodeo is the story of a cowgirl who tries to gain the affection of a man by outdoing men at their craft by lassoing broncos, pitching hay and toughing it out on the ranch. She is bewildered when the ranch hands, including the head wrangler and champion roper she’s after, are more interested in a group of pretty girls in frilly dresses than in her particular accomplishments.
Each of the four episodes has its own personality. Copland uses syncopations and ragtime riffs in “Buckaroo Holiday” to establish the ballet’s flirtatious yet wholesome atmosphere. Copland combines a simple descending C major scale with two old American tunes, “If he’d be a buckaroo on his trade” and “Sis Joe,” in a saucy pastiche that captures the flavor of the ranch. “Corral Nocturne” is the thinking woman’s movement. The heroine is hurt and confused by what she perceives as rejection. Copland’s nostalgic music provides the backdrop to her thoughts about resolving the romantic situation in her favor.
“Saturday Night Waltz” opens with the sound of fiddles tuning, which actually incorporates that pre-concert exercise into the score. Copland’s waltz is clever, merging European elegance with down-home simplicity. The music is sentimental without being cloying, and somehow, we know that our tale will have a happy ending. The concluding episode, “Hoe Down,” is the most famous part of Rodeo, which is a lively square dance that uses two traditional dance tunes, “Bonyparte” and “McLeod’s Reel.”
Originally subtitled The Courting at Burnt Ranch, the ballet Rodeo was first produced at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House on October 16, 1942. Copland extracted the Four Dance Episodes shortly afterward. Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops first performed three of the episodes on May 28, 1943. The entire suite was premiered by Alexander Smallens at the Stadium Concerts with the New York Philharmonic Symphony in July of 1943.
Instrumentation: Three flutes (2nd and 3rd doubling piccolo), two oboes, English horn, two clarinets, bass clarinet, two bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (xylophone, glockenspiel, suspended cymbal, bass drum, snare drum, wood block, slap stick and triangle), celesta, harp, piano and strings.
Symphony No. 2, “Sinfonía india:”
Born June 13, 1899, in Mexico City | Died August 2, 1978, in Mexico City
Chávez was a major figure in Mexican culture during the second quarter of the 20th century and remains one of the most important Latin American composers of recent times. “Sinfonía india” is his best-known composition and the one that has promoted the notion of Chávez as a nationalist. In fact, the work is somewhat singular among his compositions rather than being representative.
Tapping Local Culture
A one-movement symphony of approximately twelve minutes’ duration, “Sinfonía india” takes its name from the ancient indigenous groups of pre-Hispanic Mexico. Chávez had indigenous blood on his mother’s side and had regular contact with Mexican, indigenous people and their culture from his earliest years. A pianist who was largely self-taught as a composer, he channeled an interest in his indigenous roots into his music primarily during his early creative years and particularly during the 1930s. This Symphony was written in 1935 for a CBS radio broadcast concert in New York City. Chávez incorporated themes from the Huichol Indians in the state of Nayarit and the Yaqui Indians in the state of Sonora. The finale makes use of a Seri Indian melody as well.
The symphony, a variant of sonata form essentially without development, makes extensive use of the pentatonic scale. Chávez also employs cross-rhythms, rapid meter changes and jolting syncopations that lend the “Sinfonía india” a pattern of its own. This distinctive rhythmic profile is enhanced by the composer’s imaginative use of an expanded percussion section that draws heavily on exotic native instruments such as the Yaqui drum, metal rattle, clay rattle, water gourd and Grijutian (a string of deer hooves). These unusual percussion sounds are particularly effective in the thrilling end of the piece.
Instrumentation: two piccolos (2nd doubling as third flute), three flutes, three oboes, three clarinets, bass clarinet, three bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, two trombones, a huge percussion battery requiring four players (maracas, suspended cymbal, tenor drum, claves, xylophone, side drum, güiro (a notched gourd that is scraped to produce sound), bass drum, Indian drum, metal rattle, soft rattle, rattling string, rasping stick), plus timpani, harp and strings.
Symphony No. 3 in C minor:
Florence Beatrice Price
Born April 9, 1887, in Little Rock, Arkansas | Died June 3, 1953, in Chicago, Illinois
Florence Price was the first female, African American composer to have a symphony performed by a major American orchestra. Her compositions are getting a considerable amount of well-deserved attention, enjoying a modern renaissance.
Her story is remarkable. She performed in public at age four and published her first composition when she was 11. She was accepted to the New England Conservatory at 16, studying composition, piano and organ. After teaching in Little Rock and Atlanta for several years, she left the South for Chicago, pursuing additional study at Chicago Musical College and the American Conservatory. By the 1920s, she was winning awards, and in 1932, she earned first prize in the Rodman Wanamaker Competition for her Symphony in E minor. Chicago Symphony conductor Frederick Stock took note and premiered that work in 1933. He also encouraged her to write a piano concerto. Marian Anderson incorporated two of Price’s arrangements of spirituals into her repertoire, enhancing Price’s reputation. She continued to teach and compose until her death in 1953.
The context for her Symphony No. 3 is the Great Depression. In 1935, the U.S. government formed the Federal Music Project under the umbrella of the Works Project Administration (WPA). Initially intended as a relief measure for unemployed musicians, the new project boosted the careers of many African American artists, including William Grant Still, Harry Burleigh, W.C. Handy and Florence Price. Simultaneously, Chicago, where Price was based from 1927 forward, had become a hotbed for up-and-coming African American writers. Their principal voice was Richard Wright, whose Native Son roiled American fiction in 1940. Price’s biographer, Rae Linda Brown, asserts that the writings and attitudes of these writers had a significant influence on her music.
She composed the symphony in the summer of 1938 and revised it the following year. The first performance took place on November 6, 1940, at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Valter Poole conducted the Michigan WPA Symphony. In September of 1941, she wrote to Boston Symphony conductor Serge Koussevizky:
“I tried to portray a cross section of Negro life and psychology as it is today, influenced by urban life north of the Mason Dixon line. It is not ‘program’ music. I merely had in mind the life and music of the Negro of today…and treated my themes in a manner different from what I would have done if I had centered my attention upon the religious themes of antebellum days, or yet the ragtime and jazz which followed. Rather [the work is] a fusion of these, colored by present cultural influences.”
Price’s style is neo-romantic and rooted in the Western classical tradition. Her first movement comprises a slow introduction followed by a free sonata allegro. A brass and wind chorale deliver the introduction, and lower strings announce the Allegro’s syncopated theme. She tends to use the instrumental sections one at a time–winds, brass and strings–except in big moments for full orchestra. Although she did not use any folk material, her second theme that is first stated by trombones, has the character of a spiritual. She writes with surprising transparency, providing cameo solos to principals throughout the orchestra.
Price’s reliance on antiphonal instrumental groups (those that alternate playing) is even more pronounced in the gentle, slow movement. She also favors pentatonic scales and an occasional whiff of whole tone harmonies in this peaceful interlude.
Her third movement is a juba (or djouba in Haiti), an African dance that involves stomping and clapping. Its descendants in this country include ragtime and cakewalk. Strong syncopations define the outer sections. The more relaxed Andantino middle part, almost a slow tango, features a sultry new theme for muted trumpets in its first statement and later for xylophone. The jazz imprint is unmistakable.
The symphony concludes with a scherzo-finale in tarantella (a group of various folk dances characterized by a fast, upbeat tempo) rhythm, suffused with manic energy. Woodwinds and strings open in antiphonal dialogue, sometimes in canon. Her dramatic coda, on an extended dominant chord, has a Beethovenian urgency, driving the symphony to a satisfying close.
Instrumentation: piccolo, three flutes, two oboes, English horn, two clarinets, bass clarinet, two bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, timpani, tambourine, snare drum, suspended cymbal, bass drum, triangle, crash cymbals, wood block, sandpaper, castanets, slapstick, gong, orchestral bells, xylophone, celesta, harp and strings.
Danzón No. 2 (1994):
Born December 20, 1950, in Álamos, Sonora, Mexico
Arturo Márquez is a star among contemporary Mexican composers. He studied with many of Mexico’s most prominent musicians, including Joaquín Gutiérrez Heras, Héctor Quintanar, Federico Ibarra and Manuel Enríquez. Like most of his countrymen interested in pursuing a career in music, Márquez sought to broaden his horizons with study in Europe, in his case, France, and in the United States. His early works reflect a keen interest in avant-garde techniques such as electronic music, which he studied with the American composer Morton Subotnick, and mixed media works.
In Márquez’s more recent compositions, however, he has embraced Mexican folklore and tradition, melding urban sophistication with an attractive, accessible approach. Nowhere is this more evident than in his series of eight works with the title “Danzón.” The term denotes a Cuban dance genre that became popular by the late 19th century and remained entrenched in Latin ballroom music through the mid-20th century. It is related to the contradanza and the habanera styles of music with syncopated rhythms in duple meter. Danzónes frequently have a recurrent refrain that gives the dance a rondo structure, which is also characterized by recurring themes. The concluding segment lifts up the energy level.
A Collection of Danzónes
Márquez’s eight Danzónes are for various ensembles. Several of them exist in versions for different instrumental combinations. Danzón No. 2, for example, may be performed by large mixed ensembles, symphonic bands or full orchestras as we hear it this evening. It was first performed in 1994 in Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico. The composer has written that the idea for this piece came to him while he was traveling to Malinalco, Mexico, with a painter, Andrés Fonseca, and a dancer, Irene Martínez. Both were experts in ballroom dancing and shared a special passion for the Danzón. In observing them and hearing the music to which they danced, Márquez acquired a taste for the old recordings of Acerina and his Danzónera, two principal artists of Danzón in the 1950s. At the same time, Márquez says that he was absorbing the rhythms, forms and melodic twists of the Danzón.
“I discovered that the apparent lightness of the Danzón hides a music full of sensuality and rigor, music that our [elder] folks live with nostalgia and joy, a world that we can still grasp in the dance music of Veracruz and the dance halls of Mexico City. Danzón No. 2 is a tribute to this world that nurtured it. It tries to get as close as possible to the dance, to the nostalgic melodies and its rhythms…It is a personal way of expressing my admiration and feelings toward real popular music.”
The piece was commissioned by the Music Department of Mexico’s National University and is dedicated to the composer’s daughter, Lily Márquez. It is approximately ten minutes long.
Instrumentation: two flutes, piccolo, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, tuba, a large percussion section requiring three players and including claves, snare drum, large, suspended cymbal, güiro, three tom-toms, bass drum, timpani, piano and strings.
Program Notes by Laurie Shulman ©2023