When we talking about nationalism and internationalism, we firstly think these two notions are somehow conflicting. Nationalism is almost always associated exclusiveness and rejection of otherness, while internationalism seemed to symbol a universal embracement of culture. However, in the case of Aaron Copland and his musical identity as “American”, nationalism and internationalism are in fact interchangeable. As many scholars had studied, Copland was a transatlantic musical figure whose music successfully attracted both American and French audiences.
In the United Stated, Copland was, and still is, one of the most representative composers of the nation, and his musical works symbolized how the American serious music should sound like. Since his early career started around mid-1920s, Copland had never stopped labeling and proving his music “American”, from his earlier attempt using jazz as the embodiment of American urban culture, to his later success using folk tunes to evoke American rural life. Under the general social context of world war, economic crisis and globalization, the nation was in need of the ideology of nationalism, and Americans really bought Copland’s selling of his “American music”.
In fact, not only Americans but also Europeans, specifically French people, acknowledged Copland’s music because Copland’s “Americanism” largely corresponded with the French expectation of the American sound. During the early 1920s when Copland was studying in Paris as a music student, the conception that jazz was the American music was widely spread over France. Composers like Debussy, Milhaud and Stravinsky pervasively used jazz-related elements in their compositions in order to create an evocation of American culture which Parisians were in fond of. Learning from them, although speaking from the perspective of an American composer, Copland in fact was doing the French thing: applying some jazzy qualities into a composition and claimed it “American”. Essentially sharing the same compositional approach and musical aesthetics as French music, Copland’s “American” music was surely comfortable for the French to accept and appreciate.
Importing the French musical aesthetics of “Americanism”, utilizing it in composing his own “American”music, and selling his music to both audiences, Copland made nationalism and internationalism the two sides on the same coin – the consistent recognition of “American music” in America and France.
Annegret Fauser, “Aaron Copland, Nadia Boulanger and the Making of an ‘American’ Composer”, Musical Quarterly 89(2006):524-54. Accessed October 6th, 2015, doi:10.1093/musqtl/gdm005.
Gayle Murchison, The American Stravinsky: The style and Aesthetics of Copland’s New American Music, the Early Works, 1921-1928 (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2012).
Aaron Copland, “Jazz Influence and Structure”, Musical Quarterly 4 (1926): 9-14;