Connotations For Orchestra - Background


The impetus for Connotations was a commission from Leonard Bernstein for the New York Philharmonic to perform at the opening concert at its new home Philharmonic Hall in Lincoln Center.. Since this hall was slated as the first part of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts for completion, its inauguration was considered especially momentous. Among the guest list of 2600 for the first concert and the white-tie gala which would follow it included First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, John D. Rockefeller III (chairman of Lincoln Center), Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Governor and Mrs. Nelson Rockefeller, United Nations Secretary General U Thant and prominent figures in the arts that included of Metropolitan Opera General Manager Rudolf Bing, violinist Isaac Stern and actress Merle Oberon. A number of noted composers would also attend, among them Samuel Barber, Henry Cowell, Roy Harris, Walter Piston, Richard Rodgers, William Schuman and Roger Sessions.

Copland was one of ten internationally-known composers to accept invitations to contribute music for the opening series of 13 concerts and his would be the first new piece to be heard. Other compositions included the Eighth Symphony of American composer William Schuman, an Overture Philharmonique by French composer Darius Milhaud and "Andromache's Farewell" for soprano and orchestra by American composer Samuel Barber. It would also be Copland's first purely symphonic piece since his Third Symphony of 1947, althogh he had penned orchestral works in a number of genres throughout the 1940s and 50s. According to Taruskin, Copland's receipt of such a commission testified to both his status as a creative figure and his close relationship with the American public. This position was unique among "serious" American composers and derived from the populist works he had written in the 1930s and 40s. However, from the 1950s Copland's public works—the ones for which he had developed his populist style—were increasingly written in what he called his "difficult" or "private" style. That style had become increasing non-tonal.

Copland began sketching the work early in 1961. To gain composing time, he cancelled his 1962 trip to Tanglewood and determined to stay at home the entire year. Even so, he accepted an invitation to revisit Japan early in 1962 for a United States State Department conference and combined the trip with conducting engagements in Seattle and Vancouver. By June 25, Copland wrote to Chavez, "I am working day and night on my symphony for the Philharmonic commission. It is in three movements and I have just finished the last, the first being more than half done." Copland then went to Mexico at Chavez's invitation, partly to conduct but mainly to compose. From there, he wrote American composer Leo Smit on July 4 that he was not yet finished and was having trouble finding a title for the new work. He completed the piece in September 1962, just in time for orchestra rehearsals.

When he considered the form the work would take, Copland wrote that he "concluded that the classical masters would undoubtedly provide the festive and dedicatory tone appropriate to such an occasion." He therefore decided to offer "a contemporary note," one that would reflect "the tensions, aspirations and drama inherent in the world today." This tension, he explained in 1975, "is inherent in the nature of the chordal structures, and in the general character of the piece."

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