Aaron Copland, called “The Dean of American Composers,” was born in Brooklyn, New York on November 14, 1900. The child of Jewish Lithuanian immigrants, he showed an early aptitude for music, and at the age of 16 went to Manhattan to study composition with Rubin Goldmark. Copland was attracted to the classical musicians of Europe and in 1921 enrolled in the American Conservatory at Fountainebleau, France. Under the guidance of famed teacher Nadia Boulanger, he was encouraged to find his own musical voice and began incorporating popular forms of American music such as jazz and folk into his compositions. While in Europe, Copland met many important artists of the time including Serge Koussevitsky, who commissioned him to write his first major work for the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The piece, Symphony for Organ and Orchestra (1925) marked Copland’s entry into the life of professional American music.
From the mid 1930s to 1950 he wrote some of his most popular compositions for film and ballet, including: Of Mice and Men (1939), Our Town (1940), and The Heiress (1949), which won him an Academy Award; and Billy the Kid (1938), Rodeo (1942), and Appalachian Spring (1944), for which he won the Pulitzer Prize. He was a MacDowell Fellow eight times between 1925 and 1956, and became the second recipient of the Edward MacDowell Medal in 1961.
Copland supported the Colony throughout his life, serving as its president from 1962 to 1968. In later years, he turned from composing to conducting, traveling the world and creating numerous recorded works. Aaron Copland died on December 2, 1990 in Tarrytown, New York.