Billy the Kid (ballet)

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Billy the Kid
Choreographer Eugene Loring
Music Aaron Copland
Based on the story of Billy the Kid
Premiere October 16, 1938
Original ballet company Ballet Caravan Company
Setting Wild West
Type classical ballet

Billy the Kid is a 1938 ballet written by the American composer Aaron Copland and commissioned by Lincoln Kirstein. It was choreographed by Eugene Loring for Ballet Caravan. Along with Rodeo and Appalachian Spring, it is one of Copland's most popular and widely performed pieces. The ballet is most famous for its incorporation of many cowboy tunes and American folk songs.

It was premiered on October 16, 1938,[1] in Chicago by the Ballet Caravan Company, with pianists Arthur Gold and Walter Hendl performing a two-piano version of the score. The first performance of Billy the Kid in New York City occurred on May 24, 1939, with an orchestra conducted by Fritz Kitzinger.


The story follows the life of the infamous outlaw Billy the Kid. It begins with the sweeping song "The Open Prairie" and shows many pioneers trekking westward. The action shifts to a small frontier town, in which a young Billy and his mother are present. Billy's mother is killed by an outlaw, and Billy himself kills the murderer, and goes on the run.

The scene then shifts to years in the future. Billy is an outlaw living in the desert. He is captured by a posse (in which the ensuing gun battle features prominent percussive effects) and taken to jail, but manages to escape after stealing a gun from the warden during a game of cards. Returning to his hideout, Billy thinks he is safe, but Pat Garrett catches up and kills Billy. The ballet ends with the 'open prairie' theme and pioneers once again travelling west.


Cowboy and folk tunes were heavily used, for instance:[2]

It also includes the Mexican Jarabe dance, played in 5/8 by a solo trumpet, just before "Goodbye Old Paint". [2]


The seven movements of Billy The Kid make up the first seven tracks of jazz guitarist Bill Frisell's album "Have a Little Faith".


  1. ^ This October 16 premiere date is persistently but incorrectly listed as October 6 in many standard reference works and Copland biographies, but contemporary advertisements and reviews in Chicago newspapers confirm October 16 as the correct premiere date.
  2. ^ a b Elizabeth Bergman Crist (Dec 11, 2008). Music for the Common Man: Aaron Copland during the Depression and War. Oxford University Press. p. 74. ISBN 9780199888801. 

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