Lincoln Kirstein and Eugene Loring of Ballet Caravan asked Copland to compose music for a cowboy ballet."Lincoln tempted me with several books of western tunes, and Loring wrote a scenario about the notorious bandit of the Southwest, Billy the Kid. I became intrigued with using tunes such as Git Along Little Dogies, The Old Chisholm Trail, and Goodbye Old Paint." The ballet is still performed regularly, and the orchestral suite of six connecting movements is one of Copland's most popular works.
Prairie Night and Celebration Dance: Two movements from Billy the Kid were reduced for small orchestra by the composer.
Waltz: The dance of the outlaw and his sweetheart is often performed as a single movement in the version Copland arranged for small orchestra.
A new edition of this work, edited by Philip Rothman, is now available from Boosey and Hawkes.
John Kriza in Billy the Kid, 1940 (Photo: Alfredo Valente)