In the early 1930s Aaron Copland began to compose in an accessible idiom he described as “imposed simplicity.” Many works written within this style, including El Salón México, the Fanfare for the Common Man, and the Third Symphony, have come to epitomize a nostalgic Americanism and sentimental populism. Yet the relatively simple surface of Copland's music belies a complex aesthetic ideology that owes to a tradition of progressive politics in the context of the Popular Front.
Recent revisionist historiography understands the Front as a cultural force extending from the late 1920s through the war years and advocating a social-democratic politics, reform of corporate capitalism, and multiethnic solidarity. These ideals can be read in the aesthetic ideology of Copland's music of the same era. El Salón México (1932), for example, draws upon working-class ethnic culture to mount a critique of industrial modernism, while the Third Symphony (1946) and its hommage to the “common man” evoke a radical populism to project a progressive vision of social justice. In contrast to portrayals of the composer as merely sympathetic to the cultural forces of depression and war, Copland was a politically engaged and ideologically aligned artist working within what historian Michael Denning has called “the cultural front.”
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