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One hundred years after his birth and ten after his death, Aaron Copland (1900-1990) continues to be the archetypal American composer. Copland, like several American composers before him, studied in Europe, but where his predecessors came out of the experience able to write accomplished music in a European style, Copland was able to create something distinctive from what he learned, incorporating folk music into an approachable musical language. As a composer, Copland alternated between writing in this kind of style and writing in ways that presented audiences with greater challenges.
In the early 1970s, when Copland composed his three chamber works for flute and various other instruments, he had returned to approachability after coming to grips with twelve-tone composition in several important works of the 1950s and 1960s. The Duo for Flute and Piano was composed in 1971. It opens with a typical Copland gesture, a slow, serene movement that sounds as if it was crafted from American folk music. The second movement is more melancholic, but the third snaps us out of this mood, opening with the most rhythmically defined music of the duo and closing with a virtuosic coda.
John Mangum is a Ph.D. candidate in history at UCLA and has annotated programs for the Hollywood Bowl, the Los Angeles Opera, and the Hong Kong Arts Festival.