The Kennedy Center

Rondino from Two Pieces for String Quartet

About the Work

Aaron Copland Composer: Aaron Copland
© Dr. Richard E. Rodda

In June 1921 Copland sailed for France to imbibe that country's heady artistic atmosphere and to study at the American Conservatory at Fontainebleau, near Paris. His teacher at Fontainebleau was Nadia Boulanger, then just beginning a career that would make her the most influential musical pedagogue of the 20th century. She was strict, meticulous, and nurturing with her students' instruction, and Copland revered her. He composed slowly and carefully under her guidance, writing just his Four Motets on Biblical texts in 1921 and a Passacaglia for Piano and some sketches for an orchestral Cortège Macabre, inspired by an early film of the Dracula story, the following year. Copland related the background of his next composition in the first volume of his autobiography (Copland: 1900 through 1942, with Vivian Perlis):

"In my catalogue under ‘Chamber Music' can be found Two Pieces-Lento Molto and Rondino for String Quartet. The Rondino was written in the spring of 1923 in Paris as the second part of an ‘Hommage à Fauré.' (Gabriel Fauré was Boulanger's favorite composer, and I soon shared her admiration for him.) Preceding the Rondino had been an arrangement for string quartet of the Prélude IX from Fauré's Préludes pour piano (Op. 103). The Rondino was based on the letters of Fauré's name. [The Rondino opens with the notes G-A-B-flat, but the derivation of thematic material from the French composer's name is difficult to follow thereafter.] Mixed with his influence can be heard a hint of American jazz and a bit of mild polytonality. Rondino was my first completed work for string quartet. Mademoiselle got together a professional quartet to read through it one Wednesday afternoon. Nadia often did this for students, and the hearing of one's imagined instrumentation did more toward the learning of instrumentation and orchestration than many hours of spoken instruction. The first performance of ‘Hommage à Fauré' took place in September 1924 at Fontainebleau. The old master, Fauré, was then 78 and within a few months of his death. I came to admire his classic sense of order. It is strange that the musical public outside of France has never been convinced of his special charms, the delicacy, reserve, imperturbable calm-qualities that are not easily exportable. One of my first published articles was: ‘Gabriel Fauré, a Neglected Master.' My arrangement of Fauré's Prélude was appropriate to the occasion in 1924."