Skylines —2000

Skylines was commissioned by the ASCAP Foundation and the Boston Pops Orchestra, in honor of the Aaron Copland Centenary. Aaron Copland’s magnificent musical evocations of both urban and pastoral America suggested the title and spirit of this energetic concert opener.

Program Note

From the outset, Keith Lockhart and I discussed paying tribute to Aaron Copland in a tangible form in the music itself, so with this in mind, I constructed Skylines out of three melodies that relate to Copland and his embrace of American folk music. All three melodies are presented in the brief introduction. The trumpets herald the first melody, “Animation,” a two-part anonymously-composed American folk-hymn (first published in John Wyeth’s Repository of Sacred Music, Part Second in 1813). After this opening fanfare by the brass section, a solo flute softly sings a phrase of the second melody, “The Little Horses.” This famous lullaby (which Copland used in his Old American Songs, Vol. 2) returns later in the quiet, intimate middle section of the piece. At the end of the introduction section, the low brass and strings vigorously interrupt “The Little Horses,” stating the third melody—a short motive, constructed from the letters in Aaron Copland’s name (A-A-C-A-D) which correspond to the letters in the musical scale. This is a 16th century technique known as soggetto cavato (carved subject). This jazzy five-note motive becomes a driving force in the main body of the piece where it is often picked up with a swing feel in the woodwinds and percussion.

The short three-part (fast-slow-fast) introduction is a mirror of the landscape of the whole piece. Following the introduction, the five-note “Copland motive” and the folk-hymn take turns singing out over a bustling rhythmic energy. Their voices dissolve into a lyrical, bittersweet lullaby in the center section before returning for a rousing call-and-response in the final section.

Skylines is dedicated to the memory of Aaron Copland, whose music has been a deep source of inspiration for me since I first began composing.


There was also a world premiere, ‘Skylines,’ by Philadelphia-based Robert Maggio (b. 1964), a work commissioned by the ASCAP Foundation and the Pops in honor of Copland’s centenary. An altercation over a parking space—welcome to Boston, folks—led to my missing the brief introduction to ‘Skylines’ described in the program note. But I did enjoy the rest. It deserves a better fate than the oblivion that has enfolded most Pops commissions since John Williams hit the jackpot in 1985 with Peter Maxwell Davies’s ‘An Orkney Wedding: With Sunrise.’

The title ‘Skylines’ refers both to the edgy, urban Copland and the rocking-chair-on-the-back-porch side of his work. Maggio’s materials come from American folk song, including one arranged by Copland; from American singing traditions, like call-and-response; and from making a motto out of the letters that correspond to the notes in Copland’s name. The piece is skillfully crafted in a three-part structure with lots of ‘invisible weaving’ among the sections. The audience enjoyed it, which means it’s got a good head start onto the programs of every orchestra in the land.

Richard Dyer, The Boston Globe, June 15, 2000

The musical centerpiece of the evening was a commission by the Pops, ASCAP and the American Symphony Orchestra League, by American composer Robert Maggio, called “Skylines.” … Maggio said that Keith Lockhart had asked for a piece that “would honor Copland.” “I think of it as Copland, but more compressed,” he said after the performance. ‘Skylines’ might be around for the Copland bicentennial in 2100. It had a strong energy throughout, and definitely was loyal to the Copland genre while still finding its own identity.

Keith Powers, Boston Herald, June 15, 2000