Aaron Copland (November 14, 1900 – December 2, 1990) was an American composer, composition teacher, writer, and later a conductor of his own and other American music. Copland was referred to by his peers and critics as the "Dean of American Composers". The open, slowly changing harmonies in much of his music are typical of what many people consider to be the sound of American music, evoking the vast American landscape and pioneer spirit.
Aaron Copland was born in Brooklyn, New York, on November 14, 1900. He was the youngest of five children in a Conservative Jewish family of Lithuanian origins. While emigrating from Russia to the United States, Copland's father, Harris Morris Copland (1864–1945), lived and worked in Scotland for two to three years to pay for his boat fare to the United States. It was there that Copland's father may have Anglicized his surname "Kaplan" to "Copland," though Copland himself believed for many years that the change had been due to an Ellis Island immigration official when his father entered the country.
Copland began studying piano at the age of six, and by the time he was 15 he had decided to become a composer. As a first step Copland tried to learn harmony through a correspondence course. In 1917, he entered the Juilliard School of Music, where he studied with Rubin Goldmark and Nadia Boulanger.
In 1921, Copland traveled to Paris to study with Boulanger. In Paris, Copland was exposed to a wide range of musical influences, including jazz, folk music, and the music of Igor Stravinsky. He also began to develop his own unique style of composition.
After returning to the United States in 1924, Copland quickly established himself as one of the leading composers of his generation. His music was praised for its freshness, originality, and American flavor. He wrote in a variety of genres, including orchestral music, chamber music, ballet, opera, and film scores.
Copland was also a gifted teacher and writer. He wrote several books on music, including What to Listen for in Music (1939) and Our Singing Country (1940). He also taught at the Juilliard School, the New School for Social Research, and the Aspen Music Festival.
Copland was a major figure in American music for over half a century. He was a pioneer in the development of a uniquely American style of music, and he helped to make American music known and loved around the world. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1945, and he was also a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors. Copland died in Sleepy Hollow, New York, on December 2, 1990.