An Outdoor Overture

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            By his very nature Copland was completely dedicated to the cause of the creation and encouragement of an indigenous American music—in every manifestation of the idea.  So it came to pass that relatively early in his stylistic move to a more “accessible” musical style that explored American indigenous elements, he composed An Outdoor Overture.  The title is a bit misleading, for it played nothing in the creation, nor is it reflective of anything specific in the music itself.   In 1938 he was urged by the head of the music department of the High School of Music and Art in New York City to compose a work for the school’s orchestra to more or less kick off a campaign promulgating “American Music for American Youth.”  Always a supporter of music education, Copland interrupted his scoring of “Billy the Kid” to write a concert overture for the school, one that was “optimistic” and which would appeal to the youth of the country.  When it was finished, it was suggested that the work had an “open-air” quality to it, and so it was named.

            In Copland’s best, straightforward, simple and angular style of the time, the overture begins with a stentorian musical motif that would see much use.  It is soon transformed into a formidable, cantabile solo for trumpet over a kind of string vamp--a signature of the piece.  A more vigorous, rhythmic section ensues in a kind of march style that eventually dissipates and yields to a quiet, lyrical solo in the flute, then clarinet, and finally strings.  Another theme is introduced—also a march, but in a different mood from the other—to round off all of the important materials of the work.  All of these ideas undergo some recapitulation, varied of course, before the composer brings them all back in combination to end in dramatic fashion.  The overture was warmly received and has been in the standard repertoire since.  It went on to be transcribed for concert band by the composer and is played just about everywhere in our country by orchestras and bands, alike.

--Wm. E. Runyan

©2019 William E. Runyan