program notes by composition > H > Hoe Down from "Rodeo"

Hoe Down from “Rodeo”

Aaron Copland, transcribed for band by Mark Rogers

Copland composed Rodeo in 1942 as a ballet to be choreographed by Agnes de Mille for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. She initially described it to him as “the story of The Taming of the Shrew — cowboy style.” She continued: “It is not an epic, or the story of pioneer conquest. It builds no empires. It is a pastorale, a lyric joke.  There are never more than a very few people on the stage at a time … one must be always conscious of the enormous land on which these people live and of their proud loneliness.” The ballet was received with enthusiasm. In the Chicago Tribune, the much-feared critic Claudia Cassidy wrote: “Rodeo is a smash hit. What Miss de Mille has turned out in this brilliant skirmish with Americana is a shining little masterpiece.”

To capture the profoundly national spirit of the subject, Copland drew directly from the well of American folk song, which was an obsession of composers at the time. Folk tunes (or melodies that mimic them) appear in quite a few Copland scores, but in Rodeo they play a role almost constantly, drawn largely from the collections Our Singing Country (by John A. and Alan Lomax) and Traditional Music of America Rodeo in Progress (by Ira Ford). Hoe-Down makes use of several traditional fiddle tunes, most specifically the square-dance number Bonyparte and, as Copland explained to the oral historian Vivian Perlis, “a few measures of McLeod’s Reel played in folk fiddle style.” He continued, “Pizzicato strings and xylophone add a comic effect to Bonyparte, and the music winds down before the tune returns for the last time.” (credit to New York Philharmonic)

Last updated on July 2, 2023 by Palatine Concert Band