The Dumbarton Oaks Research Library commissioned Copland's Nonet in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Woods Bliss (who presented the library to Harvard University). The premiere was to have been conducted at a special anniversary concert by Nadia Boulanger, who was a longtime friend of the music-loving Bliss family. The work was not finished in time for that event, so Copland conducted the premiere himself with nine string players from the National Symphony, and dedicated the score to Boulanger, "after forty years of friendship." The composer authorized three string configurations for performance by larger ensembles.
Aaron Copland rehearsing his Nonet, Library of Congress, 1981 (Photo: Donald L. Leavitt)