A production of PBS award-winning bibliography series “American Masters”, “Aaron Copland: A Self-Portrait” (1986) 1 introduces a chronological panorama of Aaron Copland’s life as a great composer, conductor, teacher and human being. An interview with Copland strings together the various excerpts of Copland’s musical life so that the audience experiences a vivid life story narrated by the protagonist himself.
The story of Copland’s experience in Paris as a music student and young composer starts with his recollection in American Conservatory in 1921. Full of energy and excitement, Copland’s talking draw us back to the Paris of 1920s, an extraordinary center of art, literature and music, where Copland got opportunities to meet and study from those big names of the time. As Copland said in the film,
“I met Stravinsky, I met Poulenc and Milhaud and all the younger composers, and I even shook hands with Saint-Saëns!”
Also, Copland’s storytelling reveals some of his musical ideas in his young age, giving the audience a chance to closely learn about Copland as a young musician. For instance, when fellow students asked him to visit Nadia Boulanger’s harmony class, he said,
“I’m not going to visit any harmony class. I had three years of harmony and I don’t want to hear anything more about harmony.”
Besides, Copland also mentions some thoughts that concerned with and implies contemporary social trends that worth noticing,
“Gradually, I decided to I would like to study with Nadia Boulanger. But I hesitated. Because I couldn’t think of the whole history of the music, of any well-known famous composer, who study with a women teacher.”
Copland’s own narration brings the audience a concise and vivid introductory of his life in Pairs, which is a good starting point for further study of Copland’s musical relationship with France. From this point, we are able to ask more questions that will lead us dig more deeply into Copland’s life in Paris and beyond: “What kind of musical training he gained in his 4-year study in Paris?” “How does his musical works reflect his study in Paris?” “How long does this French influence lasts?” “How would Copland value this period of time in his life?”
1 Aaron Copland: A Self-Portrait. Films On Demand. 1985. Accessed September 28, 2015. http://digital.films.com/PortalPlaylists.aspx?aid=17396&xtid=989.