Major Works for Orchestra and for the Voice
Copland also continued to write works for the concert hall, often using the somewhat simplified musical language he had developed for his ballet and film scores and for a series of works for young performers, including the school opera The Second Hurricane, of 1937 and An Outdoor Overture from 1938, the latter an orchestral piece accessible to very accomplished student players. Among these pieces for the concert hall Fanfare for the Common Man and Lincoln Portrait (both 1942) reflect the patriotic spirit of the World War II era. Others were straight concert music: notably Quiet City (1939), based on incidental music for a play about New York; the landmark Piano Sonata (1941), inspired by the piano playing of the young Leonard Bernstein and written in response to a request by Clifford Odets; and the Sonata for Violin and Piano (1943), which speaks the most radically simplified language of any Copland concert work.
The climactic composition of this period is the Third Symphony (1946). It is Copland's most extensive symphonic work, drawing on the language of Appalachian Spring and of the Fanfare for the Common Man (and on the notes of the latter) to celebrate the American spirit at the end of World War II. It is also Copland's most public utterance, moving in the world of the major Prokofiev, Stravinsky, and Shostakovich symphonies of the 1940s.
In the late 1940s Copland wrote two of his most popular and frequently performed works, the long 1947 a cappella chorus In the Beginning (which he wrote sequestered in a Boston hotel room against the deadline of a performance at Harvard's Symposium on Music Criticism) and the 1948 Concerto for Clarinet and String Orchestra, written for Benny Goodman. At the same time he was also meditating what would be another of his key works.
As a teenager Copland had admired the songs of Hugo Wolf, and his early production had included several individual songs; "Poet's Song" (1927) was the one completed song of a planned cycle on poems of e.e. cummings. In 1950 Copland completed his only song cycle, the Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson for voice and piano. Avoiding the most famous of Dickinson's poems save for the final setting of "The Chariot" ("Because I would not stop for Death"), this cycle "center[s] around no single theme, but . . . treat[s] of subject matter particularly close to Miss Dickinson—nature, death, life, eternity, " as he explained in the note published at the start of the cycle. One of the century's great song cycles, it is regarded by some Copland scholars as his finest work.