Ridgefield notables: Aaron Copland, secretly composing
A portion of one of America’s most famous symphonies was composed in Ridgefield, but few people here were ever aware of it. Aaron Copland was a secret Ridgefielder.
Copland quietly moved to town in December 1945, wrote the third movement of his Third Symphony, and began work on the final movement. The symphony is considered one of the most important American classical works of the 20th Century.
“I told almost no one where I could be found,” he said of his stay in Ridgefield. “I felt in self-exile, but it was essential if I was to finish the symphony.”
Eighteen months earlier, Boston Symphony conductor Serge Koussevitzky commissioned Copland to write a symphony. “It would be the major concern for two years following Appalachian Spring,” Copland said in his autobiography. “I had been working on various sections whenever I could find time during the past few years. My colleagues had been urging me to compose a major orchestral work.”
The war effort — writing scores for films and radio programs for the federal Office of War Information — had delayed his focusing on the Third Symphony until 1945. Early that year, Copland had won the Pulitzer Prize for Appalachian Spring, making him a national celebrity. To escape notoriety and concentrate on his new symphony, he needed to leave New York City. He eventually found a house to rent on what is now lower Great Hill Road, but which Copland called Limestone Road.
“Conn. is cold and bleak, but self-exile is essential if I’m ever to finish up that piece,” Copland wrote a friend in December 1945, one of dozens of letters penned in Ridgefield, many now in the Library of Congress.
By February, he was working on the fourth movement — the one that incorporates his famous “Fanfare for the Common Man,” composed several years earlier. He was also working on the orchestral score of Appalachian Spring.
By March, Copland and his friend, Leonard Bernstein, were planning for the summer. Copland was assistant director of the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood, and planned to move to western Massachusetts to be close to Tanglewood. “Lenny and I have been talking houses for the summer,” he wrote a friend. “We’ve had one offer of an eight-bedroom former country club sort of place — but they asked $2,300 for it!”
In April, still in Ridgefield, he wrote Koussevitzky, “it seems … that there is a great interest among the conductors about my new symphony.”
Copland completed the symphony that spring, summer and fall, in between tasks at Tanglewood and during stays in Mexico, the Berkshires and at a music colony.
Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony premiered it Oct. 18.
Copland later settled in Cortlandt Manor in Westchester County. He died in 1990 at age 90.