Copland’s El Salón México

This letter from Leonard Bernstein was sent to Aaron Copland in October of 1938. The letter was written in response to Copland’s El Salón México.

It is important to note the effect that Copland’s piece had on Bernstein and how it reflects views of music during the time. One of the first things that Bernstein mentions is how Copland’s music got stuck in his head. He is also able to easily notate the opening theme of El Salón México. This goes to show that Copland accomplished music writing that was simple enough to be remembered, and he incorporated themes that would recognizable.

Bernstein acknowledges that he admires Copland’s work and calls him a “master in America.” Copland’s simplified style of this time period is well-known as Copland’s own sound as well as an American sound. Copland was working to move contemporary composition from appealing to a select few towards appealing to the masses. It seems that Copland accomplished this with the success of El Salón México and other works. In fact, Elizabeth B. Crist argues that Copland’s El Salón México was able to project political ideologies onto the concert public.

Crist acknowledges that, the ideological dimensions of Copland’s works have been generally lost within the music’s enduring success, obscured by the legacy of anticommunist historiography and its formalist reification of art.” Bernstein focuses on Copland’s technique and the “solid sureness of that construction.” This makes me wonder more about Copland’s other non-musical intentions.

A recording of Leonard Bernstein conducting Copland’s El Salón México:


Crawford, Richard. America’s Musical Life. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001.

Crist, Elizabeth B. “Aaron Copland and the Popular Front.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 56, no. 2 (Summer 2003): 409–465.

Pollack, Howard. “Copland, Aaron.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed November 7, 2017,

Simeone, Nigel, ed. The Leonard Bernstein Letters. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2013.

El Salón México: a Production of Political Ideology?

A few scholars had pointed out that Copland’s music in 1930s-40s was somehow associated with the idea of Pan Americanism. During the promotion of “Good Neighbor Policy” time, not only did Copland serve the government in an official capacity, but he published on Latin American music and composed Latin-American–style works such as El Salon Mexico.

Audiences are pretty sure that Copland’s deep interest in Latin America music absolutely went beyond the “Good Neighbor policy”, but I personally think that Pan Americanist aesthetic ideology actually influenced Copland’s way of composing. Some Argentine critics also pointed out that Copland’s interest in Latin America was largely motivated by his leftist politics, and that this ideology, moreover, permeates the very scores of his Latin- American–themed compositions (Crist 2003). They insisted that various forces had aligned to promote U.S folklore as an emblem of progressive politics.

However, Copland did care about his audience and the music public. It is said that in his memoirs, Copland claimed El Salon Mexico had “started the ball rolling toward the popular success and wide audience I had only just begun to think about.”


Crist, Elizabeth B. “Aaron Copland and the popular front.” (2003): 409-465.


To attract the public attention (or promote the belief of Pan Americanism), Copland tried new approaches in his composition. El Salon Mexico uses an abstract ideal of musical logic in favor of a rhapsodic form that emphasizes rhetorical coherence more than structural design. In addition, this one-movement orchestral fantasy features a new accentuation of melody. As the first of Copland’s works to make extensive use of folk song, this composition captures the spirit of the eponymous dance hall by quoting traditional Mexican tunes and evoking such popular musical. For example, it shows how Mexico rhythmic developments are free and always in transition.


Copland, Aaron. “The Story behind My El Salón México.” Tempo, No. 4 (1939):2-4


I would think that during Copland’s time, he promoted folklore to Latin American composers while cultivating accessible folkloric elements in his own music- and all these qualities also valued by the government committees on which he served.


Works Cited:

Crist, Elizabeth B. “Aaron Copland and the popular front.” (2003): 409-465.

Copland, Aaron. “The Story behind My El Salón México.” Tempo, No. 4 (1939):2-4