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A Fateful Meeting

Library of Congress

Lifelong Friends: Leonard Bernstein (l) and Aaron Copland (r)

Library of Congress

November 14th should be a holiday. For one thing, the dean of American composers, Aaron Copland was born on the fourteenth in 1900. In my opinion, that would be enough to warrant a yearly celebration, but that's not all that transpired on this day.

The fourteenth of November marks the very first meeting of two lifelong friends and two of the most influential musicians in American history: The birthday boy Copland, and conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein.

Bernstein was an undergraduate at Harvard University in 1937 and met Copland at a modern-dance concert in New York City. Copland invited Bernstein to a party at his apartment later that evening and the rest, as they say, is history.

The two remained dear friends for the rest of their lives with Copland acting as a mentor to the younger Bernstein. Bernstein once admitted:

"I worried and complained terrifically back then and always took my troubles to Aaron, who would tell me to stop whining. He seemed to have such complete confidence in me that he didn't show a bit of surprise when on Sunday, November 14th, 1943, I made a dramatic success by filling in for the ailing Bruno Walter and conducting the New York Philharmonic."

Since their fateful meeting in 1937, Bernstein remained a champion of Copland's music. The two found themselves celebrating Copland's birthday yet again in 1980 on stage at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. Bernstein conducted the National Symphony in a concert honoring the dean of American composers. The final piece that night was Copland's Lincoln Portrait for which Copland served as the narrator.

Despite an 18-year age difference, the two died within six weeks of each other in 1990. They truly were friends until the end.

Here is that 1980 performance of Copland's Lincoln Portrait. Enjoy.

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