BSO – Copland: Rodeo – Meet the Music

BSO – Copland: Rodeo – Meet the Music


After the Great Depression of 1929,
composers could generally go down one of two paths. Either you would look into the
abyss and go to the dark side and have your music question its very existence
or you could use your music to cheer the nation up and be part of that common
endeavor, and Copland in the 30’s with his three populist ballets based on
the Midwest did exactly that. Let’s have a look at the language of the four dance
episodes from ‘Rodeo’ to see what makes it so accessible. First of all, in ‘Buckaroo Holiday’ you’ve got a jauntiness source of offbeat
rhythm in the piano and yes, he uses an orchestral piano which is a very sort of
Copland sound. Later you’ve got the thwack of a
bass drum just pretend my left hand is that drum. and these wonderful sort of
playful rhythmic games between the drum and the rest of the orchestra. Another element are the triadic
harmonies you’ve just heard them in fact in the excerpt I played. Triads are the
prime colours of music and if we go to the opening of the ‘Corral Nocturne’ he
uses them in a very sort of blockish, obvious way. It’s almost too simple, isn’t it? But what
he does with his armies is anything but simple, it’s deceptive in fact. I love
this magical coloring that he gets in the ‘Saturday Night Waltz’ just listen to
this. He’s doing this very triadic harmonies here. This is the clarinet just wafting around As if improvising and then they go like this Absolutely beautiful, to get from there
to in there, so nice, and finally he uses folk song and folk dance so very
effectively and in the case of a Western ballet you can expect cowboy ballads and
barn dances. In ‘Saturday Night Waltz’ you get a complete quote which is quite
unusual, in fact, of a cowboy ballad which is old paint, colour of a horse. Actually, it’s going between 6/8
and 3/4 it’s rather cunning. So, beneath that simplicity is a very clever
mind that’s working. Let’s go to ‘Hoedown’ to finish, the bit you’re
probably all looking forward to. We have the open fifths and the string crossing of typical barn dance fiddle playing. It’s so unpretentious and
unshowy isn’t it. That’s why the language is
so direct and accessible and yes it cheered everybody up in that era, post-Depression in the 1930’s, and it continues to cheer us up now.

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