Aaron Copland (1900-1990) was an innovative, award-winning American composer, best known for his Fanfare for the Common Man. He is sometimes referred to as the "dean" of American composers for his interest in and assistance to budding music students.
Fanfare for the Common Man, written in 1942, has enjoyed a life of its own and continues to be popular today. From interpretations by Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and the Rolling Stones to opening the celebration of the Obama inauguration, it is likely most familiar from a 1990s-era National Cattlemen's Beef Association television ad and the tagline, "Beef. It's what's for dinner."
Copland's music is largely associated with the American pioneer and folk life. He was born in Brooklyn, the youngest of the five children of a shopkeeper. Music was important to Copland's parents. His mother, who sang and played piano, wanted all of the children to have music lessons; Copland's elder sister gave him piano lessons. He began seriously studying music at 13 and gave his first public performance at age 17.
He continued his studies in Paris during the early 1920s, rubbing elbows with contemporary musicians, authors and artists like Ernest Hemingway, Picasso and Marcel Proust. Copland's early works were influenced by the jazz age which would be the first of many genres throughout his career.
By the late 1930s, Copland took his talents to Hollywood, producing multiple film scores and ballets. His score for "The Heiress" in 1949 captured Copland an Academy Award. His work on the 1944 ballet "Appalachian Spring" earned him a Pulitzer.
Following World War II, a newfound interest in classical music sprang to life, providing Copland with a new level of economic security. He would continue, however, to lecture, write, teach and conduct for most of the rest of his life.
Copland shifted focus to conducting during the 1950s. (By the 1970s he had ceased composing almost entirely.) Copland conducted his last concert in 1983.