Friday, January 1, 2016

Welcome to Fanfare For Aaron Copland

Aaron Copland has always been one of my personal musical heroes. Mr. Copland cannot be considered one of the major contributors to American music because Aaron Copland IS American music. His influence on two generations of composers in North America (and worldwide) is considerable and the Coplandisms depicting "Americana" he created in his beloved ballet scores and in his globally famous Fanfare For The Common Man are still heard today in film and television music (even in TV commercials!).

Biographical information on Copland is readily available from other sources (see links) so I will not address this on Fanfare For Aaron Copland. We will instead deal with the glorious music composed by Mr. Copland throughout his lengthy career. A systematic survey of Copland's complete oeuvre will not be conducted but a generous cross-section of his work will be posted. These will include orchestral, chamber, and vocal/choral pieces (many lesser-known compositions will be included). Ocassionally we will hear the same piece in different instrumentation. Sometimes we will feature the same piece interpreted by two different orchestras/conductors.
I hope this site will raise awareness of Aaron Copland's titanic contribution to his field and to the cultural history of the 20th century United States. All postings on this site will be in the lossless FLAC format and will be ripped from original CD's in my personal collection. All artwork included with the CD packaging will be added as image scans, now all done at 300DPI.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

DENNIS RUSSELL DAVIES, ORCHESTRA OF ST. LUKE'S: DANCE PANELS, EIGHT POEMS OF EMILY DICKINSON, SHORT SYMPHONY

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Aaron Copland, like Cole Porter, reversed his musical course in the 1930s from his earlier, astringent, severe form of classical writing to a more accessible, tonal style. Porter, of course, completely gave up his classical style to become a top popular and Broadway songwriter, while Copland went on to score multiple successes writing classical music for “everyman.” But when you aim for Everyman, you get just that, a blanket homogeneity of style that sounds alike, or very similar, piece after piece after piece, and unfortunately, this is what Copland achieved.

His best (but not necessarily his most popular) music in this style was the opera The Tender Land, an oft-neglected masterpiece that puts anything John Adams or Jake Heggie wrote to shame; the Clarinet Concerto; El salon Mexico; some of his later chamber works; and two pieces on this disc, the 8 Poems of Emily Dickinson and the “Short Symphony.” Dance Panels, composed in 1959 and revised in 1962, begins with a marvelous introduction, including some foreboding but interesting harmonic clashes, but quickly settles down into the sort of Everyman Generic Classical Sound that was a hallmark of his style. Gerard Schwarz’s recording with the New York Chamber Symphony (EMI 49095) is clean but glib, though exciting in the fast movements. Copland’s own recording with the London Symphony (Sony SM2K 47236) is a little slower but considerably warmer, with more legato phrasing that makes the slow passages more attractive. Davies’ performance here is similar in approach to Copland’s, but recorded in a cleaner, less warm acoustic. It’s very, very fine, but none of the three performances convince me that the music is anything but functional.

The “Short Symphony” is given an outstanding reading by Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony (RCA 68541) that I found both thrilling and able to project the very best qualities of the music, contrasting its quirky motor rhythms (the opening of the first movement always puts me in mind of the “Rocky and Bullwinkle” theme song) with the more lyrical sections brilliantly. The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra (DG 427335) also does a fine job but, as is often the case with Orpheus, there is a certain clinical sound in slow passages that disturbs me. Davies takes it somewhere in between, but plays the entire symphony—short though it is—quite a bit slower than written. The opening movement, for instance, clearly indicated in the score as quarter note = 144, is taken by Davies at quarter note = 138. In a sense, this helps alleviate the slightly “cartoony” quality of the rhythms, but I found the last movement, taken at the same tempo (hey, at least he’s consistent!), less exciting and invigorating than Tilson Thomas.

The Dickinson songs are among Copland’s finest achievements, not a page, not a phrase, sounding mechanical or merely functional to my ears, but as I am really fussy about singers I didn’t know how Helene Schneiderman, whom I had never heard of before, would sound in them. As it turns out, she is simply wonderful. Her light, airy, sweet high mezzo voice, sounding very soprano-ish to my ears, interprets the words with wry humor and fine clarity of diction. She is not only finer than Dawn Upsaw (Teldec 28169), but I can pay her no higher compliment than to say that she equals or surpasses the 1982 recording by the legendary Marni Nixon (Reference Recordings 22) with Keith Clark and the Pacific Symphony, though this may be because Davies is a finer and more emotionally responsive conductor. In toto, then, a fine performance of Dance Panels, a first-rate version of the Dickinson songs, and a very good if not scintillating “Short Symphony.” If you don’t have the Nixon recording of the Dickinson, you’ll definitely want this disc. FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley

Dance Panels (1959, rev 1962)
1. Introduction: Moderato 4:45
2. Allegretto con tenerezza 5:06
3. Scherzando 3:16
4. Pas de trois: Lento 5:12
5. Con brio 3:32
6. Con moto 1:55
7. Molto ritmico 5:08

Eight Poems of Emily Dickenson (1949/1950)
8. Nature, the Gentlest Mother
9. There Came a Wind Like a Bugle
10. The World Feels Dusty
11. Heart, We Will Forget Him
12. Dear March, Come In!
13. Sleep Is Supposed to Be
14. Going to Heaven!
15. The Chariot

Helene Schneiderman (mezzo-soprano)

Symphony No 2 "Short Symphony" (1932-1933)
16. I. Tempo = 144 (incisivo) 4:41
17. II. Tempo = circa 44 5:25
18. III. Tempo = 144 (preciso e ritmico) 5:49

Orchestra of St. Luke's
Dennis Russell Davies (conductor)

Sunday, January 18, 2015

LEONARD SLATKIN/ST. LOUIS SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA: APPALACHIAN SPRING (COMPLETE)

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It was Eugene Ormandy who persuaded Copland to reinstate and re-orchestrate those pages of music that he had omitted from the orchestral suite. In contention are several minutes of music leading up to the final tutti statement of the Shaker hymn Simple gifts; by no means the most inspired or accomplished music in the score, perhaps—and particularly when divorced from the physical drama on stage—but a substantial and dramatic sequence building from under a cloud of anxiety, with driving, stuttering ostinatos and the urgent summons of brass and alarm bell. Moments of consolation and repose come and go—one senses the hopes and fears of the settlers—until confidence is fully restored with the Shaker hymn emerging affirmatively from the crisis, its effect to my mind greatly heightened by the uncertainty of what has gone before. At least those were my thoughts at the close of Slatkin's persuasive and big-hearted reading. And I can see why he should have chosen Copland's full orchestral garb in preference to the pithier chamber original. I don't recall these contentious 'extra' pages making anything like such an impression in the composer's complete CBS recording of the original version.

Grohg (the 'h' inserted "to avoid alcoholic connotation!"), Copland's earliest ballet, a 'vampire ballet' inspired by the German expressionist movie Nosferatu, was never staged or even choreographed. Some of its music was later recycled for the Dance Symphony, but "Cortege macabre" was one of two sections salvaged for concert purposes. It was Copland's first orchestral score and the second to be performed. And it is very much as the title would suggest: a grisly processional, disrupted briefly by the energetic "Servitors' Dance" (echoes of Barber's Medea—Slatkin himself has pointed to the similarities) and building to a resplendent trill and glissando-laden entrance for Grohg himself.

Of the two remaining pieces, Letter from home was commissioned by Paul Whiteman and the American Broadcasting Company and premiered on radio less than two weeks before the Washington premiere of Appalachian Spring. It belongs very much within that nostalgic, rather homely rural America context. As does John Henry— originally designated "A railroad ballet for small orchestra" but later revised for this larger orchestra some years later. The folk-hero/construction worker of the title was said to have pitted his manual skills against a steam hammer—and won, "at the cost of his own life". And Copland's energetic little tone-poem, another radio commission, is replete with the strains of steel and steam trains and one of those very heroic, prairiefied outdoor themes. All three of these shorter pieces might be deemed curio rather than vintage Copland, but anyone at all interested in the development of his music will want to hear them—at least once. Slatkin and his orchestra do them proud. Warm, sumptuous recording. E.S.

1. Appalachian Spring (complete ballet) (1945) 36:33
2. Cortége macabre from “Grohg” (1922-25, revised 1932) 13:43
3. Letter from Home (1943-1944) 6:39
4. John Henry (1940) 3:45

St. Louis Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin
Recorded at Powell Symphony Hall, St. Louis, MO USA

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

THE RED PONY - ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK

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FROM THE LINER NOTES:
I wish more audiences could have the experience of watching the movie without any music and then seeing it the second time with music added. I think that would give them a full sense of what music does for making the cold movie screen seem more humane, more touching, and more civilized. -Aaron Copland


Aaron Copland (with William Walton and Sergei Prokofiev) has had to put up with the critics' stubborn notions that movie music and concert music are mutually exclusive; the former being, somehow, not quite worthy of the snob's time ... especially in concert!

According to composer, conductor, writer, educator Aaron Copland (who ought to know), 'I fail to see why, if successful suites like Grieg's Peer Gynt can be made from nineteenth-century incidental stage mu­sic, a twentieth-century composer can't be expected to do as well with a film score." (from WHAT TO LISTEN FOR IN MUSIC, McGraw-Hill).

Copland scored less than 10 films. He arranged three Suites from these: MUSIC FOR A GREAT CITY (pulled from Something Wild,196l); 1943's MUSIC FOR MOVIES (from The City, Of Mice And Men, and Our Town); and the most famous, THE RED PONY SUITE, a case where a good soundtrack is perfect for film, and (with a bit of tinkering) just as effective in the concert hall.
THE RED PONY was finished at the beginning of 1948. Efrem Kurtz requested a Suite be made for performance. Copland obliged and Kurtz conducted the Houston Symphony Orchestra for the first performance in October of the same year. It readily stands next to Copland's other, 'populist' pieces; buckaroo ballets like BILLY THE KID (1938) and RODEO (1942); Martha Graham's APPAlACHIAN SPRING (1944); A LINCOLN PORTRAIT (1942); the opera, THE TENDER LAND (1944), and A FANFARE FOR THE COMMON MAN (1943).

There's no need to have read Steinbeck's novel or seen the picture; the music doesn't need visual cues to make sense. It survives solely on the composer's ability to combine touching melodies, kinetic rhythms, and dramatic harmonies into a powerful whole.

Those familiar with the Suite will hear a good deal of music never before on record. There are fresh thematic treatments; extended sequences (some which were not in the film or the Suite); and some segments which could have easily been lifted right out of the score and added to the Suite (an inspiration to some future arranger, perhaps). As marvel­ous as THE RED PONY SUITE is, it could have been much, much longer.

1. "Tom's Theme/The Ringmaster (chickens into horses)": Tom Tiflin's (Peter Miles) Theme is the exuberant, naive melody based on a C triad, alternating between dominant and tonic chords in F. The original Ringmaster music (called "Circus Music" in the Suite) is about three times longer than that which appears in the film, sug­gesting that quite a few chickens ended up on the cutting room floor.

2. "The Clipping/Walk To The Bunkhouse": Tom idolizes and idealizes Billy Buck (Robert Mitchum), the glib, horse-smart cowboy who works for Tom's father. Copland's music for "The Clipping" (the title referring to a news article about Billy's horse, Rosie) is a series of Thirds, airily sprinkled around the key of C. The music uses mellow winds and strings. There is a sincerity and warmth which shows the true rela­tionship between Tom and Billy.
Walk To The Bunkhouse, conversely, is musical shorthand for Tom's idealization of Billy, the consummate cowpoke. Copland uses a three ­against-two syncopation, relaxed, masculine trumpet and even more relaxed strings. This gives a feel of wide-open-spaciness that has been much copied by Copland successors like Elmer Bernstein and Jerry Goldsmith. The section closes with Tom's Theme and a variant ending of Ringmaster.

3. "Tom And The Pony/The Storm": A different variation of "Tom's Theme" segues into "The Storm", a quick, expressive, marcato gyration of dry strings, woodwinds and horns.

4. "The Gift/The Red Pony Debuts-Tom's School Friends/Homecoming": The section starts with a dreamy, evening mood, the orchestration perfectly capturing the emotions of a young boy whose wish for a pony has been fulfilled. Copland used instrumention and structure as deli­cate as the foal's first steps.
"Tom's Schoolfriends" has a reedy, brisk, staccato theme in C#; there is a taunting, prankish bounce to this music, depicting the kind of 'friends' who tend to come around just when their prying isn't needed.
"Homecoming" is an anguished undercurrent to the icy reunion of Tom's parents (Myrna Loy and Shepperd Strudwick). Copland's score defines the emotional tension and turmoil of the scene, a cinematic dimension which only music can express.

5. "The Knights At Arms": As Tom makes his dusty way to school, his mind turns the dirty trail into Medieval mists; the trees behind him become castles, and his beating of a stick against his lunchpail swells into a powerful, soul-stirring march. Copland matched the crystal­lizing fantasy of Knights on Horseback by modulating his March into an orchestral tutti that gleamed like so much Hollywood armour. The splendor is shattered by yells from Tom's chums. The end is buf­foonish, a tuba solo taking over the musical masses.

6. "Shall We Gather At The River": Robert Lowry's beautiful hymn is given the finger-clunk treatment by Tom's mother, This is an excellent example of source music adding the appropriate touch, Mrs, Tiflin's piano playing illustrating that all is not right with the family.

7. "Moth 'Round A Flame": This is where the Tiflin troubles began. Grandfather (Louis Calhern), an old saw who once trekked the West when men were men (etcetera), is telling a story at the dinner table. It soon becomes apparent that everyone has heard these stories ... over ... and ... over ... and ... over! Copland creates a dissonant, monoto­nous dirge which makes us feel like we, too, have heard Grandfather's ramblings before. A moth soon gains everyone's attention. Flitting flutes and tremulo strings illustrate that it is a mere insect, not Grand­father's umpteenth telling of tougher times, which holds the family's interest.

8. "Night/Grandfather's Story-Westerin'": Low reeds signal disaster. The Pony, already sick, runs off into the night and dies.
In "Grandfather's Story", Tom, the only Tiflin to enjoy Grandpa's retellings, is told the real reason Grandfather clings to the past. There was once a pioneering push to the sea, a thrill of exploring, the exhilaration of conquest. When people like Grandpa met the Pacific, it was allover. Now his breed was dying out, ''westerin' isn't a hunger any more." There is an encompassing, rich passion to Copland's music. As effectively as he made Grandfather's first stories tedious, he makes this new confession sound courageous, but distant. It builds to a harsh, drum-beaten march, with trumpets sounding like the last, lonely vestiges of "Westerin'."

9. "The Pony Gets Sick/Rosie At The Pond": This sequence begins with a painful, two-note motif, thrown from strings to winds, and back again, finally descending to the lowest depths of the clarinet. It ends with a sequence for Tom sitting sadly by the water, being playfully nudged by Billy's horse, Rosie.

10. "After The Vulture Fight-He Let Him Die": Throbbing strings and cold clarinets accompany Billy as he carries the slashed Tom home after the boy's fight to ward buzzards off the Pony's body. Tom blames Billy for the Pony's death.

11. "Tom's Theme/I Want Rosie's Colt": Billy offers Tom Rosie's Colt. After getting over the death of his own horse (and his grudge against Billy), he accepts. Even though this sequence happens at the end of the film, Copland introduces new material to show Tom's changing attitude and maturity. -Thomas J. Clement

About This Recording
This album has been produced from the original Republic Pictures 78rpm disc masters at the soundtrack recording sessions in 1948. Because these records were not made with commercial release in mind, the monaural sound quality varies. Surface noise due to age and condition of the acetate originals has been minimized as much as possible in making the transfer to the tape from which this album was produced.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

SOMETHING WILD - ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK (1961)

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Who would have guessed that Aaron Copland's last film score would receive its first commercial release 42 years after it was recorded?

Something Wild, a 1961 film starring Carroll Baker, was a box-office flop, so distributor United Artists nixed a proposed soundtrack album despite its composer's fame.

New York film-music buff Mark Leneker, doing research into Copland's music four years ago, discovered that Copland had assembled a 35-minute album mockup and that a handful of copies were privately pressed and given to friends.

Leneker contacted the film's director, Jack Garfein, who now lives in Paris (and who, at the time of the film, was Carroll Baker's husband). It turned out that Garfein's current wife had discovered a mint, sealed copy of the LP in the family attic.

Copland conducted a 55-piece orchestra in the music, which is stylistically different from his earlier, more familiar Americana scores like Of Mice and Men (1939) and The Red Pony (1949). Because the film's subject matter is grim and violent (Baker plays a suicidal rape victim in New York City), the composer's idiom is more contemporary, incorporating jazz influences, serialism and occasional dissonance.

Copland adapted the score into a concert work, Music for a Great City, which was premiered in 1964. For those who prefer this suite, Music for a Great City is available in two recorded versions: Copland's own, with the London Symphony Orchestra (Sony 47236), and Leonard Slatkin's, with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (RCA 60149).

Something Wild is a welcome addition to the recent resurgence of interest in Copland's film music. Jonathan Sheffer's 2000 collection (Telarc 80583) of obscure Copland includes suites from The City (a documentary presented at the 1939 World's Fair), The Cummington Story (documentary short, 1945) and The North Star (1943).

More familiar to many listeners will be the Americana classics – Of Mice and Men, Our Town (1940) and The Red Pony – which are regularly performed in concert and have been the subject of multiple recordings over the years. Slatkin's Music for Films collection (RCA 61699) is comprised of a seven-movement suite from The Red Pony, nine minutes from Our Town and the five-movement Music for Movies, which includes two pieces from The City, two from Of Mice and Men – the barley-wagon and threshing sequences – and one from Our Town.

What caps the Slatkin CD is an eight-minute suite from The Heiress, Copland's Oscar-winning 1949 score – including the composer’s Prelude that director William Wyler dropped in post-production in favor of an orchestral arrangement of the plot-specific chanson, "Plaisir d'Amour." Jon Burlingame

Track listing

1. New York Profile (02:48)
2. Park At Night (01:27)
3. Subway Jam (02:16)
4. Mary Ann Resigned (02:01)
5. Incarceration and Nightmares (07:06)
6. Escape Through The City (07:23)
7. Love Music (01:57)
8. Walk Downtown (03:11)
9. Episode On The Bridge (04:51)
10. Mother Alone (00:57)
11. Reunion (01:05)

Total Duration: 00:35:02

Saturday, July 5, 2014

JOSEPH LEVINE & BALLET THEATRE ORCHESTRA: BILLY THE KID/BERNSTEIN: FACSIMILE/GOULD: FALL RIVER LEGEND

The name of conductor Joseph Levine hasn't survived, nor that of Ballet Theatre, the most important and innovative dance company in NY (along with Martha Graham) particularly in the Forties. This CD is a memorial to both, and it turns out to be delightful. Three classics of American ballet are included: Copland's Billy the Kid, Bernstein's Facsimile, and a lesser work, Morton Gould's Fall River Legend.

The recordings date from 1953 and 1955; all are in good mono (originally billed by Capitol Records as "full dimensional sound"), although noticeably thin and wiry at full volume. The important thing is how lively and imaginative the interpretations are. The Ballet Theatre orchestra wasn't ful of virtuosos, but they and Levine knew how to play for dancers. These aren't symphonic readings of the kind Leonard Bernstein gave when he did Copland or his own music with hte NY Phil. Great as those performances are, Levine is much lighter and more rhythmic, also more casually swaggering and folksy when need be. This deleted CD from EMI may be hard to find outside the used market, but it's a gem. Amazon reviewer

1-10 Aaron Copland: Billy The Kid (Complete Ballet 1938)

11-15 Leonard Bernstein: Facsimile (A Choreographic Essay 1946)

16-24 Morton Gould: Fall River Legend (Complete Ballet 1947)

Ballet Theatre Orchestra conducted by Joseph Levine
Recorded April, 1953 and April, 1955 at the Riverside Plaza Hote, New York City

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

JOANN FALLETA & BUFFALO PHILHARMONIC: RODEO/THE RED PONY/PRAIRIE JOURNAL/LETTER FROM HOME

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Although it's played and recorded frequently, there is a genuine difference between a decent performance of Rodeo and a really excellent one such as we have here. This difference can be summed up in two words: rhythm and tempo. When it comes to rhythm, it's not merely a question of hitting the syncopations in the opening movement and concluding Hoedown, but of being both accurate and relaxed enough to let the music swing. This is a quality that Bernstein's performances always had, and JoAnn Falletta understands it too. This gives the music both the necessary verve in the outer sections and real balletic grace in the two inner ones, reminding us that we are, after all, hearing a story told through physical movement.

When it comes to tempo, the issue is at once simpler and less impressionistic. In Buckaroo Holiday, speeds have to be quick enough to prevent the music from breaking up into discrete, detached bits. Once again, Falletta & Co. come through with flying colors. The music never sounds mechanical, disconnected, or excessively "Stravinskian". Copland disliked excessive sentimentality, but his music is never dry (the rich, warm, but clear sonics also help in this department). And what turns out to be a successful recipe for Rodeo works just as well in all of the other pieces here. Prairie Journal (a.k.a. Music for Radio) is one of the least known of Copland's "Westerns", but it's every bit as enjoyable as the three great ballets, and this is as fine a performance as you will hear anywhere. Letter from Home is an exercise in nostalgia that never turns overly sweet.

Best of all, perhaps, is The Red Pony, one of the great film scores of all time, and a glorious work that for some reason seldom gets played live. Copland's invention is of exceptionally high quality throughout, and once again you can hear from the unusual freshness of the opening bars how effortlessly Falletta and the Buffalo players get into the spirit of the music. There are so many delightful moments, from the raucous Circus Music to the unforgettable Walk to the Bunkhouse, a piece that has become the very essence of musical Americana. Finally, it's great to see one of the very popular pieces, like Rodeo, coupled with some less ubiquitous examples of Copland's genius. A wonderful disc! David Hurwitz

1. Prairie Journal (1937) 10:55

Rodeo - Four Dance Episodes (1942)
2. Buckeroo Holiday 7:20
3. Corral Nocturne 3:41
4. Saturday Night Waltz 4:26
5. Hoe Down 3:26

6. Letter from Home (1944) 6:23

The Red Pony Suite (orchestral version) 1948
7. I. Morning on the Ranch 4:27
8. II. The Gift 4:35
9. IIIa. Dream March 2:29
10. IIIb Circus March 2:29
11. IV. Walk to the Bunkhouse 2:58
12. V. Grandfather's Story 4:15
13. VI. Happy Ending 3:11

Recorded at Kleinhans Music Hall, Buffalo, NY USA on January 31 and February 1, 2005