Program Notes

Clarinet Concerto

By Aaron Copland

Benny Goodman, the great jazz pianist, commissioned Aaron Copland’s Clarinet Concerto in 1947, just as the composer was setting off on a good-will tour of South America. He finished the first movement in Rio de Janeiro that October, but on his return to the United States he had to put the Concerto aside to compose the music for The Red Pony, a film based on the novel by John Steinbeck. He completed the Concerto in October 1948, after making some revisions that Goodman suggested would alleviate the problems of some high notes and other difficulties. Goodman gave the first performance on November 6, 1950, with Fritz Reiner and the NBC Symphony Orchestra.

The Clarinet Concerto is a short work in two connected movements, the first slow and the second fast, combining the kind of musical elements from jazz that Copland had used in many of his early compositions with the stark and severe style of his later concert music. The two movements are linked by a cadenza for the clarinet soloist. The concerto is a subtle and elegant score that Jerome Robbins used in 1951 for his ballet, The Pied Piper , a work that was very successful in the theater, although some of Copland’s admirers thought that the music was too fine for the choreographer’s clownish extravagance.