We talked about Copland in June 2010. He's an American composer, born in Brooklyn, New York in 1900. He passed away just 22 years ago in 1990. He is known as a uniquely American composer.
In 1942, a choreographer named Agnes de Mille approached Copland. She wanted to create a ballet called "Rodeo" (pronounced row-DAY-oh), and she wanted Copland to write the music. She was impressed with his earlier ballet, "Billy the Kid". Copland was, at first, afraid that he would only be known for "Cowboy ballets", but he decided to write it anyway.
Interesting side note, the premiere of Rodeo was attended by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein (aka Rogers & Hammerstein), and they were so impressed with the production that they hired Agnes de Mille to choreograph their upcoming musical production, Oklahoma!
The ballet Rodeo has five parts:
In 1943, Copland decided to write a formal symphonic suite containing the music from Rodeo. It is called "Four Dance Episodes from Rodeo" ("Ranch House Party" is left out). This has been a popular piece for concerts ever since.
Through dance and music, Rodeo tells the story of a cowgirl who's a bit of a tomboy. She tries unsuccessfully to win the heart of the Head Wrangler, as he has his eye on the Rancher's daughter. She also tries to attract the Champion Roper, but he, too, has his eye on the Rancher's daughter. Eventually, the Rancher's daughter's heart is won by the Head Wrangler, and, during the Hoe-Down, the Champion Roper approaches the Cowgirl. Before the end of the Hoe-Down, they share a kiss.
A traditional hoe-down is a two-step style dance, often involving a "caller". A "square dance" can also be considered a hoe-down. The caller chants a set of dance instructions to the dancers throughout the music. The music is typically provided by fiddles (violins).
Copland often incorporates folk tunes into his pieces, and there are three that are incorporated into Hoe-Down. The very first part is from a fiddle book put together by William H. Stepp. It's his interpretation of a tune called "Bonaparte's Retreat". There's also a section that is "McLeod's Reel", and a solo oboe and clarinet section that is the Irish theme "Gilderoy".
I'm not absolutely sure on this one, but I think I got most familiar with this piece from a tape that my band director, Jerry Borchardt, made for me when I was in 9th grade (1985-1986 school year). The tape featured Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man", but also "Four Dance Episodes from Rodeo" and possibly "Billy the Kid".
The following year, I was further helped by being introduced to Emerson, Lake & Palmer's rendition of Hoe-Down.
I've performed band arrangements of Hoe-Down in High School (in fact, if you hear the quiet trombone solo a little over two minutes into the piece, that was my solo; it's short).
In the early 1990s, the piece would enjoy renewed popularity, as it was the theme music used for a series of commericals sponsored by America's Beef Producers. The tag line was "Beef. It's what's for dinner."
So here is Hoe-Down from the ballet Rodeo. Enjoy!