Aaron Copland wrote this piece of music for cor anglais, trumpet and string orchestra after initially having written incidental music for the 1939 Irwin Shaw play of the same name. The play set out to display the quiet thoughts of people in the big city of New York and was based around two brothers, one of whom was a trumpeter. It was dropped after just two weekend performances but Copland, after having friends asking him to do it, decided to take the music he’d written for it and put together the resultant composition.
Following on with the some of the characteristics of the play but also adding much of his own thoughts and style to it, Copland described it as “an attempt to mirror the troubled main character” who was dealing with loneliness and his own conscience. He also said that the piece seemed to “have become a musical entity superseding reasons for its composition”.
The Saidenberg Little Symphony performed the premiere in New York on 28th January 1941. It has been performed in concerts many times since and appears on several recordings.