Copland learned to play piano from an older sister. By the time he was fifteen he had decided to become a composer. His first tentative steps included a correspondence course in writing harmony. In 1921 Copland traveled to Paris to attend the newly founded music school for Americans at Fontainebleau. He was the first American student of the brilliant teacher, Nadia Boulanger. After three years in Paris he returned to New York with his first major commission, writing an organ concerto for the American appearances of Madame Boulanger. His "Symphony for Organ and Orchestra" premiered in at Carnegie Hall in 1925.
Copland's growth as a composer mirrored important trends of his time. After his return from Paris he worked with jazz rhythms in his "Piano Concerto" (1926). His "Piano Variations" (1930) was strongly influenced by Igor Stravinsky's Neoclassicism.
In 1936 he changed his orientation toward a simpler style. He felt this made his music more meaningful to the large music-loving audience being created by radio and the movies. His most important works during this period were based on American folk lore including "Billy the Kid" (1938) and "Rodeo" (1942). Other works during this period were a series of movie scores including "Of Mice and Men" (1938) and "The Heiress" (1948).
In his later years Copland's work reflected the serial techniques of the so-called 12-tone school of Arnold Schoenberg. Notable among these was "Connotations" (1962) commissioned for the opening of Lincoln Center.
After 1970 Copland stopped composing, though he continued to lecture and conduct through the mid-1980s. He died on December 2, 1990 at the Phelps Memorial Hospital in Tarrytown (Westchester County), New York.
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