Header Image (book)


Sunday, April 21, 2013

Musical Interlude: Rodeo Suite

(If you must have politics, please scroll down)

Composed in 1942 by Aaron Copland; performed by Antal Dorati and the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra; recorded by Mercury in 1957.

The four dance episodes of Rodeo Suite: 00:00 - Buckaroo Holiday, 08:02 - Corral Nocturne, 11:27 - Saturday Night Waltz, 15:33 - Hoe-Down:

The story:
The ballet Rodeo was danced by its choreographer, Agnes de Mille, and the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1942 and soon became a standard work in the repertory of the Ballet Theatre and other companies. The orchestral suite from Rodeo, first performed at a Lewisohn Stadium summer concert in 1943, is made up of Four Dance Episodes.

It tells the story of a young Cowgirl who has always been a tomboy. Suddenly aware of men and romance for the first time, she seeks the attention of the Head Wrangler, her favorite, and the Champion Roper, trying to impress them with her prowess as a rider. After the sweeping opening, in which the Western scene is immediately set by Copland's 'open' harmony and exposition of rhythm, we find the Cowgirl in the corral with the men. They pay no attention to her cavorting, concentrating on their own riding and ranch work. They finally gallop off without even a parting glance, and she in turn rides away in anger and in tears. The exuberant movements of the men and the slightly awkward jogging of the girl in 'Buckaroo Holiday' are done to music deriving from the folk tune 'If He'd Be a Buckaroo By His Trade.' There is a pause in the rhythm of one of the measures of the tune, and Copland enhances its syncopated effect by making the pause longer. 'Sis Joe' is another authentic song in the episode; both it and 'Buckaroo' were taken from the collection Our Singing Country, by John A. and Alan Lomax.

The music in 'Corral Nocturne' is all Copland's own. Girls from the city, wearing pretty dresses instead of dungarees, have come to visit the Rancher's Daughter and to enjoy the Saturday night dance. Once more the Cowgirl is ignored; she cannot compete with feminine frills. A tranquil, somewhat sad mood pervades the scene as darkness falls. The couples move off, eager for the dance. The Cowgirl is left behind again.

Saturday night at the ranch is the time for dancing. The Cowgirl, still in dungarees and boots, sits alone, watching the festivities. The Roper and the Wrangler take pity on the wallflower and ask her to dance. She is too shy and misses her opportunity. As the 'Saturday Night Waltz' begins (the song 'Old Paint' is recognized), the Roper insists that the Cowgirl dance. She starts to, then sees the Wrangler dancing with the Rancher's Daughter. Jealous, confused, she stands seemingly paralyzed amidst the dancers. Annoyed, the Roper turns and leaves her. The Cowgirl runs from the dance floor.

The dancing reaches a climax in the hilarious 'Hoe-Down' (based on the old tune 'Bonyparte,' which Copland found in Traditional Music of America by Ira Forbes). Suddenly the Cowgirl reappears, this time wearing a party dress. She is vivacious, pretty, the center of attention. The Roper again asks her to dance. Though she would rather have the Wrangler, she wisely accepts the Roper and joins the others in the wild dancing as the ballet ends. It is interesting to note that whereas 'Buckaroo Holiday' is a rather complex symphonic movement, the 'Hoe-Down' is presented in an almost photographic copy of the original dance." - Eugene Bruck
Joyous American music!


  1. Interesting that Mr. Bruck makes rather a big deal out of Copland's use of American folk tunes, as though that somehow made Copland's work "less original."

    Using folk tunes as the basis for more complex or dignified compositions is a well-established practice that goes back all the way to the Middle Ages -- and possibly before. Just about every published composer has done it at one time or another.

    The tune Herzlich tut mich verlangen, the "Passion Chorale" J.S. Bach used throughout The Saint Matthew Passion [in several keys with many different harmonizations, mind you!] started out life as a folk song. It's original title, as far as we have determined, was "My heart belongs to a fair young maiden," believe it or not. It was first used for liturgical purposes by Hans Leo Hassler who preceded Bach by a great many years -- several generations at least.

    I, myself, as you may recall, wrote a set of variations on Herzlich tut mich verlangen during my long tenure as organist and choirmaster. The treatment I gave it was radically different from Bach's or anyone else's, yet totally recognizable.

    Like Bach -- and all the other composers before his time and since -- I wrote organ and choral compositions on familiar hymn tunes that were unique treatments, I think, of the well-known material. I even wrote Variations and Fugue on We Shall Overcome for organ -- a version no Freedom Rider or typical participant in a Civil Rights Demonstration would recognize too easily.

    Tchaikovsky's symphonies are loaded with Russian folk tunes. The music of Jan Sibelius with Finnish folk tunes. Mozart and Beethoven wrote many sets of variations on folk tunes and on contemporary popular tunes by lesser composers.

    Beethoven's most esteemed set of piano variations were based on a rather banal little waltz tune by Diabelli, which Beethoven turned into a work of profoundest genius.

    Liszt, Brahms and Rachmaninoff each wrote an incredibly brilliant set of piano variations on one little tune that originated with the violin virtuoso Nicolo Paganini. It never occurred to Paganini that anything had been 'stolen" from him, I know. If anything he was flattered, since it only increased his fame.

    In none of these cases, including my own, should it said that the compositions based on little tunes of humble origin were not entirely original.

    Tunes have neutral value. It's what a given composer DOES with them that gives them special character. For a career music buff like me a great deal of the fun in study and listening is learning to appreciate the many different ways the better composers used simple material of folk origin and made it completely their own.

  2. Something that has always astonished me is the way a Jewish man from Brooklyn, NY, who strongly identified himself as a COMMUNIST, could so well capture the spirit of America's Wild West that NO ONE with an ear for music could POSSIBLY mistake his work for anything OTHER than that.

    So many of Copland's compositions capture and clearly evoke a deep understanding and appreciation of rural America and America's natural wonders it's uncanny.

    Despite his Jewish roots and profoundly anti-American ethnic and philosophical orientation he managed to be very probably the most AMERICAN of American composers.

    Needless to say I LOVE "Rodeo," and have since the first time I came into contact with it when dragged to the ballet in New York when just a child.

  3. America's ideology of radical individualism extols "authenticity"... hence the emphasis, FT.

    I agree, "absolute" authenticity is a ridiculous expectation.

    Even our "professional" entertainers adopt idiosyncisies to disguise their musical training.

  4. Yes, FT, using themes with variations (and other methods too) are time-honored methods.

    I actually LOVE that Copland used some folk tunes that he elaborated on in an original way. That is artistry, IMO!

    Furthermore, folk tunes are a HUGE part of the cultural legacy of the Old West and the American West. We have some of the songs included in the American Literature textbook that I use in my classes. I don't have the book in front of me right now, but I know for a fact that "Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie" is included in that particular unit of the book.

    Six years ago, one of the computer-genius parents affiliated with my classes at that time put together a wonderful audio CD for the students, and I have a copy of this CD, which includes Negro spirituals as well as basic folk music from America's fast. This CD includes both words and music; hardly any of the students know these songs, which I grew up singing in school as part of our American heritage. I plan to play the CD for the class this coming Tuesday.


We welcome civil dialogue at Always on Watch. Comments that include any of the following are subject to deletion:
1. Any use of profanity or abusive language
2. Off topic comments and spam
3. Use of personal invective