“The Promise Of Living”: Copland’s Hymn of Thanksgiving

The Promise of Living forms the first act finale of Aaron Copland’s opera, The Tender Land. Conceived for the NBC Television Opera Workshop but ultimately rejected by the network’s producers, The Tender Land was premiered by New York City Opera on April 1, 1954. Dramatically, it occupies the same hazy, surreal space we encounter in Copland’s ballet, Appalachian SpringSet in the rural American heartland during the Great Depression, the plot centers around the coming of age of Laurie Moss, a young girl who graduates from high school, falls in love with a drifter, and ultimately leaves her family’s farm to set out on her own.

The Promise of Living  grows out of the early American revivalist song, Zion’s Walls. The same year the opera was completed, Copland adapted the music for mixed chorus. The text by Horace Everett is an anthem to rugged self reliance, community, the sanctity of purposeful labor, and the blessings of the harvest:

The promise of living with hope and thanksgiving
is born of our loving our friends and our labor.

In 1958, Copland compiled a three-movement orchestral suite based on music from the opera which concludes with The Promise of Living. As with so many excerpts from Wagner’s operas, the music stands on its own dramatically, even with the elimination of the vocal lines. Listen to the way its plaintive voices gradually build, leading to a majestic climax:

Symphony for the Common Man

In an earlier post, we explored Aaron Copland’s monumental Third Symphony, completed in 1943. One of the most extraordinary aspects of this Symphony is its sublime motivic unity. The entire piece develops with a sense of inevitability out of the first movement’s serene opening statement. Suddenly, in the opening of the final movement, we discover this theme’s underlying kinship with the famous Fanfare for the Common Man. Among the recommended recordings in my earlier post from June, I failed to include this excellent 2015 recording featuring Carlos Kalmar and the Oregon Symphony. Here is the final movement:

Recordings

  • Copland: The Promise of Living (The Tender Land), Vincent Metallo, The American Boychoir Amazon
  • Copland: Suite from The Tender Land, James Sedares, The Phoenix Symphony Amazon
  • Copland: Symphony No. 3, Carlos Kalmar, The Oregon Symphony orsymphony.org

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.