Wednesday, September 26, 2007


The Boston Symphony's Serge Koussevitzky hurried offstage, excitedly kissed several dowagers who had come up to congratulate him. He had just conducted the world premiere of Aaron Copland's Third Symphony. Said he: "There is no doubt about it—this is the greatest American symphony. It goes from the heart to the heart. He is the greatest American composer. Of course."

In the same auditorium 19 years ago Dr. Koussevitzky had led the first performance of Brooklyn-born Aaron Copland's raucous Jazz Concerto. On that evening Bostonians had hissed; some had laughed out loud; some had accused Dr. Koussevitzky of insulting them.* In those days, Aaron Copland was the kind of cacophonous enfant terrible in the U.S. that Igor Stravinsky had once been in Paris. If audiences were no longer disturbed by these terrible children, it was for different reasons. Igor Stravinsky had waited for the public ear to become attuned to his jazzy dissonances. Aaron Copland had modified his harmonies to please the public.

If 45-year-old Copland could be considered the top U.S. composer, the small stature of his colleagues had something to do with it. His technical competence far outshone his inventiveness. His first popular success, El Salon Mexico (1936), was full of Mexican folk tunes. He borrowed folk and hymn themes for his ballet scores (Billy the Kid, Appalachian Spring) and his movie music (Our Town). The Third Symphony, which Boston heard last week, varied from tenderness to brassy choirs which led a Boston Post critic to call it "Shostakovich in the Appalachians."

More often than he borrowed from others, Aaron Copland has borrowed from himself. The Third's opening movement uses a tonal device from Appalachian Spring (1944); the fourth movement intricately develops the theme of Fanfare for the Common Man (1942). Yet there was enough original music in the Third's 40 minutes, and so skilled a reworking of the old, that it would undoubtedly add to Aaron Copland's popularity—a kind of popularity that seemed to keep him too busy to be a great composer.
From TIME Magazine, Monday, Oct. 28, 1946

This most popular of Copland's symphonies---from whose final movement Fanfare for the Common Man was later excerpted---is represented by only four recordings, of which Yoel Levi's is by far the best: meditative, earnest, sumptuous, and overwhelming by turns, this is a definitive performance. As is Telarc's recording, not nearly as too-much-of-a-good-thing as usual: the bass drum in the Fanfare section is accurately stupendous. Squarely in the "stellar" category. Igor Kipnis

The companion piece on this disc is another recording of Music For The Theater, a more complete background of which is forthcoming.

Symphony No. 3 (1944-46)
1. Molto moderato, with simple expression 10:33
2. Allegro molto 09:15
3. Andantino quasi allegretto 10:33
4. Molto deliberato, freely at first 13:30

Music for the Theatre, Suite For Small Orchestra (1925)
5. Prologue 05:59
6. Dance 03:27
7. Interlude 05:14
8. Burlesque 03:08
9. Epilogue 03:45

Recorded in Symphony Hall, Atlanta GA USA on February 18-19 & April 14-18, 1989


Scoredaddy said...


The Third Symphony
After a few decades of relative neglect, the symphony, especially in its more epic guise, made a vigorous comeback in America in the late 1930s and 1940s. Copland's growing legion of friends hoped that he, too, would write a symphony, a genre which practically took the form of a patriotic gesture during the war. He met the challenge by writing his Third Symphony in the two-year period from the summer of 1944 to the summer of 1946, a large undertaking made possible by money earned from The North Star and a commission from the Koussevitzky Foundation; he dedicated the score to the conductor's late wife, Natalie.
Copland's Third Symphony-a big four-movement work lasting forty minutes, with a dramatic first movement, a scherzo, a slow movement, and a rousing finale-came closer to popular expectations of a symphony than had his earlier ones. It would be by far his longest orchestral composition. Copland attributed its unique character to Koussevitzky, explaining, "I knew exactly the kind of music he enjoyed conducting and the sentiments he brought to it, and I knew the sound of his orchestra, so I had every reason to do my darndest to write a symphony in the grand manner." At the same time, he also admitted, "The conditions for the writing of such a piece had been in place for some time."
Copland provided succinct program notes for the piece at the premiere, paraphrased later in his autobiography. "If I forced myself," he stated, "I could invent an ideological basis for the Third Symphony. But if I did, I'd be bluffing-or at any rate, adding something ex post facto, something that might or might not be true but that played no role at the moment of creation." He went only so far as to say that the work "intended to reflect the euphoric spirit of the country at the time."
Two helpful analyses of the Third Symphony followed soon after its premiere: a published one by Arthur Berger and an unpublished one by William Austin, who observed,
Aaron Copland's Third Symphony is his largest work, and the favorite work of some of his closest students, such as Arthur Berger and Lawrence Morton, though not yet a favorite of the large audiences that enjoy his ballets and film scores, or of the adventurous musicians who prefer the Piano Variations, Piano Sonata, and perhaps the chamber music. The Third Symphony seems to its admirers the kind of work that could be and should be a favorite of all these people, for it is rich in tunes and in orchestral color, and at the same time original and intricate in its forms. The tunes, however, may need to be pointed out to some listeners, since the forms do not throw them into obvious relief. Likewise some listeners may benefit from an analysis of the forms, which have very little in common with those of Beethoven or Berg, and cannot be grasped in a superficial glance at the score or a single listening. To be sure, nothing can persuade a listener to enjoy the piece if he is altogether out of sympathy with its rather New-Dealish spirit of hopeful resolution and neighborliness. But if he can entertain such a spirit for a moment, Copland offers him a priceless opportunity to enter into it more deeply.
Although still not as popular as the ballets, the work has established itself as a cornerstone of the American symphonic repertory. "The Symphony has become an American monument," stated Leonard Bernstein, "like the Washington Monument or the Lincoln Memorial or something."
For many concertgoers, the Third's incorporation of the popular Fanfare for the Common Man-heard first at the very beginning of the finale and subsequently used as one of that movement's principal themes represents its most intriguing feature; for others it is a letdown. Berger, for instance, felt "a little uneasy" about the inclusion of music whose "pomp and overstatement were calculated to stir the most inattentive listener." In any event, it is important to realize that Copland did not simply arrive at the fourth movement and fall back on the Fanfare for want of another idea. Rather, he apparently intended to use the Fanfare from the very start, at least as early as the summer of 1944, when David Diamond wrote to him, "Make it a really KO symphony. And do, please use the fanfare material." Nor was his objective to capitalize on the piece's popularity; when he set about to work on the symphony, the Fanfare was an obscure little commission that he had every reason to expect would Soon be forgotten. Rather, he wanted a noble finale that would reflect upon the war's victorious struggle, and the Fanfare suited such intentions.
And while the Fanfare did not provide the genesis of the other themes per se-Elizabeth Bergman traces some of the symphony's main ideas to sketches dated 1940-it complements the kinds of other melodic materials found elsewhere in the work; this includes the main theme of the second movement, which originated, as Bergman has also discovered, as a discarded fanfare idea for the same Goossens commission that gave rise to the Fanfare. Typically, symphonies present short themes suitable for development; in some contrast, the Third presents long themes that, to an extraordinary degree, keep their shape, the score moving from one long theme to another. Many of the symphony's favored formal methods such as juxtaposing, refiguring, or rescoring themes or subjecting them to canon or augmentation-allow Copland to keep his themes, as it were, intact. At times, especially when the themes are augmented, it takes pages and pages of orchestral score-perhaps a minute or two of music-to get from the beginning of a particular theme to its end. Such intensely thematic writing gives the Third an astounding breadth and monumentality, and makes the work, as Austin notes, challenging to grasp.
For instance, in the ABA first movement, the entire first A section essentially states two lengthy themes, so closely related that the listener may well think of them as one extended theme. Like others in the work (including the fanfare itself), the opening theme, a melody of extraordinary repose, has struck many listeners as hymnlike; Berger writes that the entire symphony evokes the "general character of a glorified and expansive hymn-of prayer, of praise, of sorrow, of patriotic sentiment." This particular first theme-the work's motto, slowly put forth by the strings in unison-especially recalls the opening of Harris's Third Symphony, a work deeply admired by both Copland and Koussevitzky and one whose sweep may well have influenced the Third's own long-lined grandeur; but the sweetly calm and caring tone is Copland's own. With the slightly faster second theme, for violas and woodwinds, the music turns more expressive and urgent, becoming even more intense as the violins and horns put forth the melody in canon.
This canon leads directly into the movement's still faster-and dramatically brassy-contrasting middle section, built largely on a thirteen note theme initially declaimed by two trombones. In contrast to the sedate previous material, this trombone melody makes a kind of circle, its last notes reiterating its first notes but at a different pitch level, so that in effect it modulates. Copland fully exploits this feature, restlessly moving from key to key; the sense of conflict intensifies until a climactic return of the motto theme, initiating the return of the A section.
As the music quickly subsides, the trombone and flute simultaneously recapitulate the first and second themes, the dramatic difference in timbre highlighting the juxtaposition; the presence of the trombone ineluctably retains some flavor of the middle section as well. The midsection's trombone theme subsequently appears (in counterpoint with fragments of the motto theme), remarkably transformed by its brittle scoring and cheerful tags in the major mode. A somber brass chorale follows, foreshadowing the finale's fanfare and dramatically reestablishing (via a brief arrival in C minor) the movement's tonal center, E. The motto theme, now rhythmically augmented and modally ambiguous, returns, slowly weaving its way back to the original major modality; the movement concludes with an exquisitely luminous E-major triad. The movement somewhat conforms, consequently, to the spirit if not the letter of sonata form, with its ABA sections corresponding to the exposition, development, and recapitulation, respectively.
The second movement comprises an ABA scherzo movement, with a bustling scherzo and a pastoral trio. The scherzo has a marchlike main theme stated, in the first A section, three times. In the first two statements, the French horns round the tune off with a tag that incorporates, at its end, the opening phrase of the main theme; in the third, augmented statement, the trumpets shrill out this same tag, at the end taking a brief detour before reaching their mark. The scherzo does not state its main theme immediately; rather, it opens with an unusual two-part introduction: a brassy section that breaks up the aforementioned cadential tag into brilliant splinters, and a perky section that explores an even smaller bit from the main theme. In other words, the movement's longish introduction constitutes a kind of development of a theme not yet heard. The perky material in particular seems to have a life of its own, either as a counterpoint to the main theme or in episodes separating the statements of the theme, to the extent that some ambiguity exists as to the relation of the parts to the whole; the main theme seems as much a kind of refrain as a principal theme per se. Austin notes, in this context, "how radically the structures of his music depart from classic conventions, from the very principle of classical reserve, as if he wanted to expose the way his min~ actually works with musical ideas, rather than the stylized finished product of its working."
The trio conforms to traditional expectations in its tender quiet, its folklike ambience, its triple meter, and its emphasis on woodwinds. In particular it recalls Copland's Western idiom, a rare instance of his incorporating this style, for all its popularity, into a nonprogrammatic Context. It made sense to use it here, as a means of distinctively honoring the rustic associations of the traditional symphonic trio while at the same time making some small place for this, the composer's most familiar trademark; it also serves as a natural foil to the somewhat mechanistic scherzo proper. Even so, the music-whose two themes form a tiny ABA design is considerably more complex than that found in the cowboy ballets, in terms of both the melodies themselves and their highly contrapuntal settings.
The scherzo proper returns with the main theme strikingly presented in the piano's highest register, the tag amusingly scored for oboes and clarinets. After an intervening episode, music similar to the second statement of the main theme appears, but Copland does not complete the theme and proceed to a third statement as before; rather, he puts forth a climactic statement of the trio's gentle theme, now in canon and gigantically scored for full orchestra. This climax leads directly into the cadential tag that it had interrupted, but in the augmented guise that had concluded the earlier A section. This ending is even bigger, with rim shots in the snare and tenor drums, and all the players reaching upward to the tonic pitch in their highest registers.
Like the first movement, the arched third movement progressively speeds up and slows down; even more symmetrical, its formal design can be described as ABCBA, with C the fastest section and the B sections serving in a transitional capacity. This movement thematically mirrors the opening movement: its A sections put forth a rather fatigued and brooding version (subjected as well to inversion) of the first movement’s trombone melody, while the Band C sections derive from the first movement's motto theme. The A sections are introspective and later impassioned; the waltzlike B sections, nostalgic and bittersweet; and the vigorous middle section, whimsical and dancelike, with those quicksilver metrical changes often associated with Copland but in rather scant eVI-
The dramatic opposition between this movement's outer and middle sections corresponds to the kind of dialectical thinking found in the previous two movements; and although there is precedence for slow movements with fast middle sections, this heightened internal contrast strikes a peculiar note. On a first listening, even an experienced listener might guess that the middle section marks the start of the finale. Adding to possible confusion is the fact that the movement eventually does lead directly into the finale, which begins with a statement of the fanfare for flutes, pianissimo; consequently, the opening of the finale provides in some ways less contrast than that found within the slow movement itself. It may help to remember that the first movement also begins with a slow melody; indeed, three of the work's four movements start slowly and move on to faster sections, which imparts to the piece, like its many augmented themes, a certain ponderous quality.
Adding to this sense of massiveness is the fact that this finale-like that of Beethoven's Ninth-is the longest of the work's four movements; in opening the movement with a quiet anticipation of the fanfare, Copland may even have been thinking of the "Ode to Joy." After a full statement of the fanfare for brass, Copland-who described this movement as a kind of sonata form-introduces a new theme, a fast toccata like burbling that alternately resembles bird warblings and Latin-American dance, in particular, the rumba. Copland occasionally interrupts this jubilant outpouring with little brass figures that recall the fanfare.
A development section pits the fanfare theme, in canon and augmentation, against the toccata theme; this includes, after a dramatic pause, an ethereally scored passage featuring two harps, celesta, and piano. Most of the development, however, is given over to a new theme, a noble hymnlike tune that, as Austin points out, features conga like rhythms. The rumba-toccata returns, accompanied, eventually, by an augmented version of itself; the music grows more and more frenzied, until it is suddenly stopped dead in its tracks by a loud, strident chord, reminiscent of the music for Curley's crushed hand in Of Mice and Men. The piccolo tentatively resumes the toccata (shades of Mahler's Second), marking the start of the recapitulation.
As in the first movement, this recapitulation quickly juxtaposes the two principal themes from its A section, namely, the fanfare (now in canon as in the development) and the toccata. At a climactic point, Copland reintroduces the hymn (with its congalike syncopations ironed out) accompanied at first by both toccata theme and the motto theme, then by the fanfare and motto theme. The recapitulation proper concludes with a restatement of the fanfare's last phrases, now scored for full orchestra. A coda puts forth final statements of the hymn and the motto (and between them, in the uncut version, the toccata theme as well), accompanied all the while by fragments of the fanfare.
Some have pointed out that the Third Symphony as a whole represents a study in contrast. Virgil Thomson early on saw the work as a conflict between the pastoral and the military, resolved in the finale. Hugh Wolff likened it to songs of innocence and experience, of lightness and darkness. In each of the first three movements, the outer and middle sections present particularly stark contrasts: between repose and strife in the first movement, military-industrial activity and pastoral tranquility in the second, and elegy and joy in the third. Moreover, in all four movements the recapitulations incorporate aspects of the contrasting section to the point that these final sections represent a synthesis. Consequently, each movement can be said to constitute a kind of Hegelian thesis, antithesis, and synthesis; it is not impossible that Copland was actually thinking of the Marxist dialectic.16
Of the work's many interesting details, the use of palindrome might be mentioned; some years earlier, Copland's discussion of music's most famous palindrome-the second theme from the first movement of Schubert's Unfinished Symphony-revealed no small fascination with this device. Here his own use of palindrome operates on a number of levels, from having motives and melodies to whole movements end as they begin. All this equating of ends and beginnings only contributes further to the work's grandeur.
More readily apparent are the work's imaginative and varied colors; from the spacious doublings of its opening to the brilliantly rich tuttis of its final moments, the symphony constitutes a dazzling tour de force of virtuoso orchestral writing. This includes some striking passages that variously employ the top registers of the brightest instruments; even the warm and expressive string writing veers toward the upper ranges. Although critics have understandably compared the Third to Shostakovich’s Fifth, the sound worlds of these two works actually stand poles apart; Copland characteristically tends toward the very highest registers, Shostakovich to rather dark sonorities.
From its premiere on 18 October 1946, the symphony was greeted as a major achievement. Reviewing its first performance in the Boston Globe, Cyrus Durgin rated it and Harris's Third "as the two finest works in the form by American composers." Koussevitzky declared it simply the greatest American symphony ever written. It won some prestigious awards, including the New York Music Critics' Circle Award of 1947.
Many regarded it as a culminating accomplishment. Arthur Berger referred to it as "a kind of panorama of all the musical resources that have through the years formed his musical language," while Leonard Bernstein went further, deeming it the epitome of a decades-long search by many composers for a distinctly American music; as he explained to a Young People's audience in 1958, the work contained "a lot of these American qualities we've been talking about: jazz rhythms, and wide open optimism, and wide-open spaces, and the simplicity, and the sentimentality, and a mixture of things from all over the world, a noble fanfare, a hymn, everything!" In 1987 K. Robert Schwarz described the Third as one of those works that "every so often in a nation's history ... captures the mood of a people, that speaks a shared language of hope, conviction, and affirmation.”
And yet a sense of dissatisfaction hovered about from the start. Even Copland's friends faulted aspects of the work: Fine took a dim view of its "populist tendencies," Berger winced at the "blatant" fanfare, and Shapero criticized, among other things, the first movement's trombone melody. Virgil Thomson, who felt it necessary to assure readers of the work's sincerity, alternated blame and praise throughout his lengthy 1946 review, finding problems especially with the orchestration.
Two days after giving the European premiere in Prague in 1947, Bernstein wrote Copland a rather grim letter in which he went from complaining about the work's coda, as had Thomson, to criticizing three of its four movements; he also reported negative reactions from Shostakovich ("too eclectic") and Walton ("not up my street"). Bernstein himself only warmed up to the work after conducting it a few times in Israel in 1948 in his own revised version that included "a sizable cut near the end." (Though offended by this unauthorized action, Copland agreed to omit eight measures of the coda for the work's 1947 publication.
Some of the harsher complaints that the Symphony was "an example of grandiloquence hiding sheer emptiness" or a work defeated by "a busy web of contrapuntal academicism" recalled the invective typically leveled at the composer's more serious orchestral works; Copland himself described the piece, significantly, as "being closest in feeling" to the highly unpopular Symphonic Ode. But the Third elicited its own kind of respectful belittlement: Time, for instance, claimed that Copland had achieved "a kind of popularity that seemed to keep him too busy to be a great composer"; and Fanfare opined, "There is no real depth to the work ... but as a picturesque filmscore in symphonic form it is quite delightful." Wilfrid Mellers's omission of the work from his 1964 survey-even more glaring than his neglect of Lincoln Portrait and the Fanfare-suggested that he thought the Third simply a grander version of these other secondary pieces.
Nonetheless, the piece attracted enough conductors and listeners to make it the best-known American symphony of the century, more often performed and recorded than any other. Antal Dorati, Eduardo Mata, Leonard Slatkin, Yoel Levi, and Neeme Jarvi all recorded the work, as did Copland and Bernstein, both twice. The Bernstein recordings-especially the second, a live performance with the New York Philharmonic from December 1985-demonstrate unequaled control over this treacherous score; on the other hand, the conductor's magniloquence tends to underline just those aspects of the music that have consistently put some people off. In this respect, Slatkin's more straightforward performance makes for a refreshing alternative. But even in Slatkin's ingratiating hands, the Third remains formidable in its intricate monumentality and frank in its social connotations.
In a retrospective of a number of these recordings, William Malloch discussed as well live performances he had heard, including an "exemplary" performance by George Szell and a "beautifully proportioned" one by Pierre Monteux. Of Copland's renditions, his favorite was a 1968 performance with the New York Philharmonic: "It had all the dash and brio of his best intentions, magnificently brought off by the orchestra." Malloch urged a commercial release of the archival tape. He also hoped that conductors would reinsert the eight cut bars near the end of the finale: "Even as it stands, the ending is clearly overwritten. The cut did not solve the problem, and as long as it's going to be overwritten anyway, it might as well be good and overwritten."
Christopher Rouse and other informed admirers similarly maintained that the cut should be reinstated. "It certainly would be interesting to hear the work performed as I originally conceived it," conceded Copland. Sympathetic to this general viewpoint, Hugh Wolff decided in favor of the cut after performing it both ways: "I found it to be one too many endings."
As in all recordings of the work to date, Leonard Slatkin preserved the cut in his release with the St. Louis Symphony, but then restored it to good effect on his 1997 European tour with the National Symphony. However this matter is resolved, it is important to note that the cut passage not only provides additional grandeur, as Malloch notes, but offers a glorious culmination of the toccata theme. In a lecture on the symphony, Hugh Ottaway regarded the Third as pertinent to no less a question than the very future of the genre:
Some, no doubt, will consider it perverse to end with a reference to Copland's Third Symphony. True, this composer is neither a born symphonist nor the heir to a symphonic tradition; his imagination is much inclined towards a terse, epigrammatic mode of expression. But this is precisely the point. The fact that a composer such as Copland, as he enlarged and opened out his vision, sought fulfillment in a large-scale symphonic work is not the least of answers to those who say the form is "worn out." In reality a form does not wear out, for it has no physical existence; so long as there are artists prepared to grapple with experience, not merely to reflect it, the idea of the symphony-dynamic, constructive, expansive-will remain a great creative challenge.


Anonymous said...

Thanks very much scoredaddy. You're da man.

David Alexander McDonald said...

Excellent. Gives me a guide to going out and acquiring these works.

António said...

Thank you, from Portugal

xoseluis said...

thanks from Spain

Anonymous said...

Downloading and eager to listening to it after reading the accompanying article. Thanks a lot!

Anonymous said...

Thanks from Brazil.

makropulos said...

Great - thanks for this upload!

Anonymous said...

Scoredaddy you,ve really opened my eyes to this vast repetoire of great music. Yoel Levi is someone I admire greatly too. Many thanks for your work. May you live long and prosper.


gpdlt2010 said...

This is really one of the finer versions of the symphony (and certainly the one with best sound).