Billy the Kid is a 1938 ballet written by the American composer Aaron Copland on commission from 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 several cowboy tunes and American folk songs and, although built around the figure and the exploits of Billy the kid, is not so much a biography of a notorious but peculiarly appealing desperado as it is a perception of the pioneer West, in which a figure such as Billy played a vivid role.
It was premiered on 16 October 1938 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 24 May 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. The mother is killed by a stray bullet during a gunfight and Billy stabs his mother's killer, then goes on the run.
The next scene shows episodes in Billy's later life. He is living in the desert, is hunted and captured by a posse (in which the ensuing gun battle features prominent percussive effects) and taken to jail. Billy manages to escape after stealing a gun from the warden during a game of cards and returns to his hideout, where he thinks he is safe, but sheriff Pat Garrett catches up and shoots him to death. The ballet ends with the 'open prairie' theme and pioneers once again travelling West.
^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.
^ abElizabeth Bergman Crist (Dec 11, 2008). Music for the Common Man: Aaron Copland during the Depression and War. Oxford University Press. p. 74. ISBN9780199888801.