“I Bought Me a Cat”

[Editor’s Note: The next few blogs will concentrate on songs chosen for our upcoming Americana concert. The San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus’ acclaimed Chamber Chorale brings to life America’s collective musical ancestry with the final performance of Americana on Sunday, March 5 at 7 p.m. as part of the highly acclaimed Music Series of the First United Methodist Church of San Diego. Tickets at SDGMC.org or at the door.]

“This is the music so embraced generation after generation that it’s become part of our musical consciousness. We grew up hearing these songs-as did our fathers and their fathers before them,” said Artistic Director RC Haus. “The words, notes, rhythms and melodies speak to us of pioneers, cowboys and everyday people exploring the wide open spaces of a new land.”

“I Bought Me a Cat”
Old American Songs Collection
By Aaron Copland (shown here at the piano with a handsome Leonard Bernstein by his side, circa 1940)

The most modern masterwork featured in our Americana concert is composer Aaron Copland’s whimsical children’s song “I Bought Me a Cat”—a far, yet fanciful cry from Copland’s landmark masterworks, the lyrical “Appalachian Spring” and the majestic “Fanfare for the Common Man.” This feline farce affords the opportunity for the singers and accompanist alike to impersonate various barnyard animals like the cat, duck, goose, hen, pig, horse and cow.

British composer Benjamin Britten originally asked Copland to arrange this song as part of a set of American folk tunes for his Music and Art Festival in Aldeburgh, England. Copland wrote five songs for male soloist and piano for the occasion as part of his Old American Songs collection written in 1950 which premiered in June of that year. In 1951, the song made its American premiere with Copland himself at the piano.

Just as fascinating as the song was the man himself–one of the few men of his time and stature to live openly with several romances involving other men in the arts. Before passing away in 1990, Copland was often called the “Dean of American Composers” because of his distinctly American style of composition. So it was ironic that he fell victim to Senator Joseph McCarthy’s rabid investigation of Communists and their sympathizers during the 1950s. Because of the investigation, Copland found himself blacklisted and his name was included on an FBI list of 151 artists thought to have Communist associations. However, his career and reputation as a master survived.

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