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The Tender Land

Music by Aaron Copland
Libretto by Horace Everett (a.k.a. Erik Johns)
inspired by pictures from Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee
About The Tender Land

The Tender Land was commissioned from Copland by Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II. Copland's second opera is a much more mature work than the earlier The Second Hurricane. Written for young singers, the work contains some of the best music of Copland's mature years, and deserves a greater place in the repretory. A number of recent recordings will hopefully help to raise its status among twentieth century opera. The closing chorus of Act 1, "The promise of living," is often exerpted and sung by choruses.

After the premiere production, Copland revised the work extensively, in the process changing it from two to three acts. This 1955 version is the one commonly performed today.

Cast of Characters
Laurie, s Ma Moss
Beth Grandpa Moss, b
Martin, t Top, bar
Mr. Splinters Mr. Jenks
Mrs. Jenks
Chorus of neighbors, party guests, etc.

1955 version

Act I

Beth, a young girl, is playing with her doll, Daniel, in front of her family's farmhouse. The mailman, Mr. Splinters, brings a package for her mother. It is Beth's older sister Laurie's graduation dress; the next day she will become the first in their family to graduate from high school. Ma Moss invites Splinters to the graduation party that night; Splinters tells her that two strange men have been seen in the neighborhood, and that they have raped two of the local girls. Laurie comes in; she wonders that her childhood has passed so fast; she feels like she has outgrown her home town. She is angry that her mother, and especially her grandfather, try to control her life.

Two drifters, Martin and Top, enter; they meet Laurie, and convince her grandfather, against his better judgement, to hire them to help with the harvest. Laurie invites them to her party, and Top asks Martin to get Grandpa drunk there so he can get acquainted with Laurie.

Act II

At the party, Grandpa makes a toast to Laurie; while the guests dance, Top begins to get Grandpa drunk. Ma Moss, still suspicious, sends Mr. Splinters for the sherriff. Martin dances with Laurie; the two of them, smitten with each other, go off alone to the porch; their kiss is interrupted by Grandpa, and Ma Moss accuses the boys of being the men who attacked the other local girls; just as she does, though, Splinters returns, saying the sherriff has already caught those men, who have confessed. Grandpa tells Martin and Top to leave by morning.


That night, Martin and Laurie meet secretly outside. They agree that Laurie will come with Martin when he leaves, but after she leaves Martin begins to have second thoughts; when Top arrives, he convinces Martin that Laurie couldn't come with them; they depart. Laurie, coming out and finding them gone, decides to leave anyway rather than staying for her graduation. Ma Moss, left alone with Beth, turns her attention to her younger daughter; as the curtain falls, she goes back into the house and Beth is left playing in the road as at the beginning of the opera.

Performance History
World premiere
New York City Opera, New York, New York
April 1, 1954
Thomas Schippers, conductor
Premiere of three-act version

Chicago premiere
Chicago Opera Theater
June 23, 1995
Discography Search for recordings of The Tender Land at Amazon.com

Aaron Copland

The Tender Land

University of Kentucky, Kirk Trevor

2 CD / Albany (2002)

Aaron Copland

The Tender Land

Bohn/Comeaux/Dressen/Fristad, Plymouth Music Series/Brunelle

2 CD / Virgin Classics VCD-7-91113-2 (1990)

Suite from The Tender Land


Aaron Copland

Suite from the Tender Land, Etc.

Third Angle New Music Ensemble/Sidlin

CD / Koch 7403 (1997)

Aaron Copland

The Tender Land (first recording of chamber version)

Hanson/Vargas/Zeller/MacNeil, Third Angle New Music Ensemble/Sidlin

2 CD / Koch 7480 (1999)

Aaron Copland: Excerpts from The Tender Land


New York Philharmonic/Copland

A Copland Celebration, Volume 3

2 CD / Sony 89329 (2000)

Suite from The Tender Land


Aaron Copland

Appalachian Spring, Etc.

Boston Symphony Orchestra/Copland

CD / RCA 61505 (1993)

Aaron Copland: Laurie's Song from The Tender Land


Dawn Upshaw

The World So Wide

CD / Nonesuch 79458 (1998)

Last update: January 1, 2009