Three quick tips from engraving Copland


The latest project in the ongoing effort to produce new editions of Aaron Copland’s music is his Three Latin American Sketches, a new edition of which I’ve recently completed in coordination with The Aaron Copland Fund for Music and Boosey & Hawkes.

Copland himself described the Sketches to Vivian Perlis as snappy and sizzling, and they originated in 1949 as Two Mexican Pieces. Copland later added a third piece — which is actually the first movement — in 1971.

[See the end of this post for a postscript, remembering Vivian Perlis, 1928-2019.]

In a review of the Grammy-nominated recording by Leonard Slatkin and the Detroit Symphony, Andrew Farach-Colton wrote in Gramophone: “Why we never hear the delightful Three Latin American Sketches is a mystery.”

I have a hunch why that may be. The parts leave much to be desired. While subpar materials won’t deter the Slatkins of the music world, they may give pause to other ensembles with limited time to learn and rehearse an unfamiliar piece, even by a composer as iconic as Aaron Copland.

First page of the hand-copied Flute part to Three Latin American Sketches

A few people have remarked on the “charm” of these parts, but unlike a composer’s manuscript, which may have musicological value in spite of legibility, the only charm these parts bring are in overtime payments to players, which may be needed as questions extend rehearsals beyond their allotted duration.

First page of the newly engraved Flute part to Three Latin American Sketches

Aside from the improvement in readability that an engraved part will bring, here are three other improvements that should not be overlooked:

1. Logical rehearsal marks

The old edition had rehearsal marks every 10 bars no matter what. Copland numbered his manuscript this way, and the copyists faithfully transferred them over, despite having no value for performers. Indeed, in Elaine Gould’s book Behind Bars, she says, “To number every five or ten bars gives these bars an apparent significance that they do not have, and should be avoided.”

In the new edition, we place bar numbers at the beginning of each system and the ranges underneath multirests. We’ve added rehearsal marks that correspond with musical significance and will thus be likely starting points for rehearsal.

2. Cues, especially in ambiguous beginnings

It should go without saying that cues are important in preparing parts when a player has been resting for a while. Don’t overlook the beginning of a piece or movement, especially if it’s not clear when the first entry is.

In this case, Copland wrote a full bar rest, but the first note of the piece is not played until beat 4. This is sure to require explanation in rehearsal even with a cue, but it won’t hurt to have it “in the ink” as a reminder.

3. List doublings

This “Flute” part is actually a doubling Flute and Piccolo part, but the original part only listed Flute. The Piccolo doesn’t appear until midway through the third movement, but it still needs to be listed at the beginning of the part. If a player grabbed this part quickly and left their piccolo at home, they’d either be out of luck or have some serious overblowing to do.

The same goes for percussion instruments — be sure to list them all at the beginning of a part.

Postscript: Vivian Perlis, 1928-2019

In the time between drafting this post and publishing it, I was saddened to learn of the death of Vivian Perlis. Vivian was the founder and former director of the Yale University Oral History of American Music. She died on July 4, 2019, in Weston, Connecticut.

Among Vivian’s legendary achievements were more than 3,000 recordings of interviews of iconic American composers, including Aaron Copland, with whom she co-authored two books: Copland: 1900 Through 1942, and Copland Since 1943.

Vivian Perlis and Aaron Copland (Credit: Yale School of Music)

I was very fortunate to get to know Vivian over the last decade through my work with the Copland Fund (of which she was a founding director) as we began work on these new editions of Copland’s music. I leaned on her particularly heavily when creating the new edition of his Clarinet Concerto. Vivian provided extensive notes to the new edition, and in corresponding with her about them, she told me, “I have not had directive re: length so I have opted for the short side, not mentioning tangential matters, such as Robbins Pied Piper, the fracas in the UK over Stolzman’s extreme freedom with the cadenza, Koussevitzky’s request to AC to present only the first movement at Tanglewood, Neidich, the Copland Collection at LC, the published arrangement for clarinet and piano.”

It was incredible that this treasure trove of history was at Vivian’s instant disposal. While we are lucky that she has documented much of it, there will not be a substitute for the pleasure of discussing it directly with her.

Vivian Perlis and me in September 2013

Vivian was such a genuinely warm and caring individual. She was more than happy not only to share her knowledge, but also the credit. In the draft of the preface to the new edition of the Clarinet Concerto, I had originally listed her as its sole author. My only contribution to those notes was detailing the location of the ossias. Upon seeing only her name credited, she wrote to me and said, “Will you share credit with me for the clarinet concerto note? It seems only fair to me! After all, the locations of the ossias may be the most useful part of the preface.” So generous of her.

Around that same time in 2013 she published a compilation of the Copland volumes with an addendum under the title The Complete Copland. I purchased a copy of the book, and when my my wife Jake Lipman and I visited Vivian at her home that summer, I asked her to sign it. She laughed when I said I had bought a copy and said that she would have gladly given me one! But she was more than happy to inscribe it to us. I will cherish that memento from Vivian, our visits, and her invaluable contributions to music.


  1. francois grillot

    Nice pix of your and Vivian

    1. Philip Rothman

      Thanks, Francois!

  2. Victoria Bond

    Philip – thank you for the remembrance of Vivian Perlis and for your wise council regarding the best way to notate the flute part. I enjoy reading your blogs on Scoring Notes and wanted to reach out and thank you!
    Victoria Bond

    1. Philip Rothman

      Thanks, Victoria!

  3. Derek Williams

    Truly fascinating, thanks Philip!

    1. Philip Rothman

      Thanks, Derek!

  4. Michael Ferraguto

    Great piece!

    I’ve often wondered what role “engraving bias” had on American composers through the 20th century. With conductors and players accustomed to European publishers’ engravings (and their reprints), the quality of often hand-copied materials from American houses may have significantly influenced the perception and performance of the music. If the materials were unsatisfactory, perhaps that work or composer wouldn’t get programmed a second time.

    Of particular consideration are the works of early to mid 20th century African-American composers, many of which still have yet to get decent engravings. There are amazing works which given better initial engravings may have gained more ground.

    1. Philip Rothman

      Hi Michael! Thanks for that very illuminating perspective direct from the front lines of the orchestra library. We do hear with our eyes as well as with our ears, and a well-copied or engraved piece may make all the difference.

  5. Glenn A Pickett


    Thank you for sharing your thinking on Copland’s practice of giving rehearsal marks every ten measures and your logical explanation on why to change it. I think that the Dean would most likely approve were he alive today.

    Another note to thank you in general for the blog, its heritage and your stewardship of it. I very much look forward to each insightful edition. You are doing all of us who compose with a notation app. a wonderful service. I believe that the progress we once again are seeing in notation software is partially due to your care of the blog, Daniel’s original work here, and the that you are continuing to show in this important forum. Thank you!

    1. Philip Rothman

      Hi Glenn. Thanks so much for your kind words. It’s always nice to hear that the blog is being enjoyed in the ways you mention. I truly appreciate it and yes, it wouldn’t have happened without Daniel.

      Regarding Copland’s rehearsal marks, it’s interesting that in other works he did use rehearsal marks in his manuscript (such as consecutive numbers in Appalachian Spring and Billy the Kid), and in the new editions of those works, we preserved them along with adding bar numbers, especially because the rehearsal marks are in widespread use. But in the Sketches, numbering every 10 bars was of little use. I do hope the Dean would approve!

  6. Jay Anthony Gach

    I got a sudden ‘brivido’ seeing that photo of Copland at the piano with Vivian Perlis, looking thoroughly engaged highlighting a point of music. The two times I visited Copland at his home in Peekskill (early 1980’s) I was met with just the opposite image of him at the piano. Along with two other composers we sat in the piano room, windows overlooking the heavy tree lined hilly beautiful Hudson Highlands. (I was living a handful of hills north in Garrison.) Glancing over at the piano I noted there were only a few absolutely blank sheets of manuscript paper on the piano music rack ! Copland spoke enthusiastically about his conducting engagements – though he did confide that the 3rd Symphony was too much for him to manage anymore. He listened very patiently to some recorded music we had brought along, saying that was the most new music he had heard at one stretch in a long time. We asked him about his compositional activities and he mentioned somewhat off-hand about re-working an older piano piece of his; he might have been referring to “Mid-day Thoughts”.(?)

    Apologies for going off topic. Yes, I was saddened to hear of Vivian Perlis’ death. I never had occasion to meet Ms. Perlis but of course am very familiar with her contribution to Copland’s legacy and American music in general. The YALE Collection is an invaluable resource.

    1. Philip Rothman

      Hi Jay. Thanks for this fascinating recollection.

  7. Michael Patterson

    Beautiful work Phil, as always!

    Mike Patterson

    1. Philip Rothman

      Thanks, Mike!

  8. Antony Beaumont

    Interesting to compare that old flute/piccolo part with the new one.
    I participated as a violinist in a series of London sessions conducted by Copland in the autumn of 1971, including rarities such as the Suite From “The Red Pony”
    ( Release date: 1975.
    All the materials looked something like the flute part reproduced here. Copland was unhappy about our cultivated, “European” sound and constantly urged the players to try a more earthy approach. He didn’t really succeed, but from what I’ve heard of the disc, it turned out pretty well in the end.
    Apart from fidelity to the original MS etc. (and I’m pretty sure the parts used by Copland for the sessions will have been corrected with great care), professional musicians are used to working with materials such as illustrated above — and indeed far worse — and they take it in their stride. Are today’s players spoiled by computer engraving? In my experience, computer-engraved parts and scores are sometimes prepared by people less qualified for the task than the pen-and-ink copyists of earlier times. It used to be an accredited profession with a substantial learning curve (though very poorly paid!). And today?

    1. Philip Rothman

      Hi Antony! Thanks for this very interesting first-hand account of working with Copland and the sound that he was trying to achieve. It’s true, although the computer software has made it easier to create more accurate music and larger quantities in a shorter amount of time, the output achieved by the software is still only as good as the person at the controls.

  9. Simón


    This is Simón Zerpa, a curious musician originally from Venezuela. Even though, Copland’s name has the utmost praise in the Venezuelan symphonic world, as a violinist, I did not get to play much of his works while I grew up there and played in “El Sistema”. Two years ago, I came to the University of Iowa to star my Doctoral in Orchestral Conducting, and one of my colleagues was assigned to conduct the Three Latin American Sketches right at the beginning of my first semester here. To my surprise, a piece that I had never heard about before, not even vaguely, resulted VERY familiar to me, too familiar, to say so. It was the theme of the first movement. I immediately associated it with a Venezuelan folk song that played very clear in my head but I could not find its name. Finally, one or two months later after searching very hard, I found this Venezuelan folk song that seems to have the exact same melody, pitch and rhythm wise, and also similarities in the form it is presented.
    Since then I’ve been asking myself where did Coplan would have taken this melody from? Did he hear it in Venezuela?
    Interesting enough, the music the wrote for the first movement is not clearly Mexican as the material of the other two movements. Then, the Estribillo is a form that belongs to several Latin American countries’s folk music.
    What are your thoughts, Mr. Rothman? Would you think that this is a secret that Mr. Copland took to Heaven?

    Thanks for creating this performer-friendlier edition. Thanks for your all your contributions!


    1. Philip Rothman

      Hi Simón! Yes, “Estribillo” is the first movement although it was composed much later than the other two, and it is based on the tune that Copland heard while traveling in Venezuela. He conducted in Caracas in 1957 and the history of that performance is very interesting.

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