“Simple Gifts” on Copland’s Birthday

This morning, just before Appalachian Spring played on the radio, I learned that today would have been composer Aaron Copland’s 112th birthday. This struck a particular chord with me as I grew up listening to his music. His pieces always brought to mind images of rural America, but, actually, Copland was born and raised in Brooklyn in the apartment of his Lithuanian Jewish parents.

Given Greenwich Village’s role as a haven for artists in the 20th century, I figured there might just be a Copland connection here…

Aaron Copland in 1970. Source: Wikipedia.

It turns out that Copland (1900-1990), one of America’s foremost composers, lived for a time in the carriage house at the rear of 9 Charlton Street. Located at the corner of Charlton and Sixth Avenue, the Greek Revival brick row house sits on the edge of the Charlton-King-Vandam Historic District. (Read more about this charming little district here.)

9 Charlton Street. Copland lived in the carriage house just visible at the rear of the driveway in the top photo. Source: Google Street View.

The carriage house where Copland lived is just visible at the end of the driveway in this street view photo. He didn’t live here very long, from 1951-1952, but it’s still a great tid-bit to know as you walk by this house! Thanks to a letter Copland wrote on November 8, 1952 to his longtime friend and fellow composer Irving Fine and his wife Verna, we know the exact date he left:

“How are you guys? How did App[alachian]. Spr.[ing] go at B.S.O.? Write me at 9 Charlton. I don’t move out till Dec. 1.”

The apartment turned out to be his last in Manhattan, as he bought a house in Ossining, New York.

The three-story row house sits at a prominent location on the corner of Sixth Avenue, but, oddly enough, it only has one designed elevation. The reason for this is it wasn’t always located at the end of the block. Before the extension of Sixth Avenue in the 1920s, no. 9 actually had four other row house neighbors at nos. 1-7 Charlton Street. The building also likely lost its stoop in the 1930s when it was converted from a single-family to multi-family dwelling (as was typical of many row houses in this era).

We’re glad to know that Mr. Copland chose the Village as his last city home before heading up “to the country.” If you’d like to learn more about Village history, please be sure to stop by our website!


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avatar Amanda is GVSHP's Director of Preservation & Research