Aaron Copland’s Symphony No. 3

Notes by TŌN trumpet player Guillermo García Cuesta

The Work
Aaron Copland’s 3rd Symphony is probably the biggest American symphony ever written. Copland began working on it in 1944 and finished it in 1946, which means the compositional process started during World War II and finished once the war was over. It was premiered in Boston by the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Serge Koussevitzky in October of 1946. If we count Copland’s 1930 Dance Symphony, the 3rd Symphony would be his fourth work under this form.

The Sound
Copland is a great icon of the orchestral sound that we identify as American. His music always sounds to me like open fields, the far West, and a quest for land and freedom. When I was first discovering his music back in the day, as a teenager in a small town in Spain, I could easily imagine Copland wearing a big cowboy hat like John Wayne did in the movies, riding a horse out on the prairie. Well, it wasn’t like that. Aaron Copland was born into a family of Lithuanian immigrants. He was a gay, Jewish New Yorker . . . and he never rode a horse.

American Brass
The last movement of this symphony features Copland’s most famous creation, which also works as a piece on its own, orchestrated only for brass and percussion: the Fanfare for the Common Man. Copland’s way of writing for brass, no doubt, helped to create the characteristic American way of playing those instruments, and for a European who grew up listening to Hollywood soundtracks (even though many of them were recorded by English orchestras), playing this symphony, here in New York, is a dream come true.