Tuesday, December 30, 2014


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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.


Scoredaddy said...



The Red Pony
Having won Academy Award nominations in quick succession for three very different kinds of films, by 1944 Copland found himself in considerable demand by the film industry. Producer Lester Cowan wanted him for a number of projects, including Tomorrow the World (1944), directed by Leslie Fenton. Samuel Goldwyn and William Wyler approached his agent about The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), David Selznick and Alfred Hitchcock about The Paradine Case (1947). But Copland's preoccupation with the Third Symphony (1944-46) prevented him from seriously considering these and other offers.
In early 1948, however, he returned to Hollywood to score the film version of John Steinbeck's The Red Pony for producer-director Lewis Milestone. He accepted the commission only after reading the novella, which he admired. He had worked with Milestone on two of his three previous Hollywood films-including another Steinbeck adaptation-and knew to expect better-than-average working conditions; this included a fee of $15,000 and a full ten weeks to complete the job. Moreover, the project enabled him to resume his affair with Erik Johns, back in Los Angeles.
The novella The Red Pony (1945) comprises four short stories, originally published between 1933 and 1938, about a young boy, Jody Tiflin, who lives with his parents, Carl and Ruth, and the cowhand Billy Buck on a ranch outside of Salinas, California, in the years around 1910. In the first story lody's beloved pony, Gabilan, dies, in part due to Billy's negligence; in despair, Jody kills one of the buzzards feeding on the pony's carcass. In the second story Jody meets an old Mexican peasant born in the area who has returned there to die. In the third Billy, regretful over the pony's death, kills his mare while she is in labor, so that he can save the foal for Jody. The fourth concerns an awkward visit by Jody's grandfather, whose frontier yarns bore everyone but the young boy.
The screenplay, written by Steinbeck himself, omitted the story about the old Mexican and interwove elements of the other three, with both the death of the pony and the birth of the foal appearing climactically near the film's end. Carl, Ruth, and Jody are renamed Fred, Alice, and Tom; Grandfather now lives on the ranch. More significant, Billy only prepares to kill Rosie, the mare; as it turns out, she successfully delivers, thus providing the film with a happy ending, one a far cry from the startling original that has Billy tear the foal from the dead mare's womb. Steinbeck also interpolated a new subplot in which Fred questions his relations with his son and with his community, finally corning to terms with both; this subplot-marked by Fred's feelings of paternal ineffectiveness and social isolation-bespoke a postwar malaise that distinguished the film from the novella.
Milestone assembled a solid cast for the film: Shepperd Strudwick and Myrna Loy as Fred and Alice Tiflin, Robert Mitchum as Billy Buck, Louis Calhern as Grandfather, and Peter Miles as Tom. Tony Gaudio supervised the fine cinematography for this, Milestone's first color film, and Nicholas Remisoff designed the set around the identical ranch used in Of Mice and Men. Copland initially described the film, privately, as "awfully dull," but he later remembered it, publicly, as "moving in a quiet way." Steinbeck conversely liked the film at first but took a dim view of it in later years. Critics widely agree that Copland's music constitutes the picture's outstanding feature; Joseph R. Millichap writes, "As in his earlier work with Milestone, Copland's score perfectly matches the mood of the visuals, and in this case often surpasses them in evoking the lyric naturalism of Steinbeck's original work."
Copland wrote nearly an hour's worth of music for this slowly paced, atmospheric film, making The Red Pony one of the largest works of his career. For most sequences, he provided his customary stopwatch and verbal cues, but for two episodes, "Walk to the Bunkhouse" and "Dream March," he employed, for the first time, the more precise click-track. He also meticulously indicated the orchestration, creating bright and delicate sonorities that reflect the youthful protagonist's viewpoint as well as, perhaps, the glistening Technicolor. Among sonorities unusual for Hollywood, he used a toy trumpet in "Dream March," a clarinet quartet at the end of "The Operation," and a stunningly brief vibraphone chord at the moment when Tom accuses Billy of letting Gabilan die. However, for the most part, he created the film's unique, memorable sounds including passages that twang like a mouth harp-with a conventional orchestra.
Even before the film's release in 1949, Copland prepared a suite in six movements: "Morning on the Ranch," "The Gift," "Dream March and Circus Music," "Walk to the Bunkhouse," "Grandfather's Story," and "Happy Ending." Dedicated to Erik Johns and premiered by Efrem Kurtz and the Houston Symphony Orchestra on 30 October 1948, the Red Pony Suite enjoyed widespread popularity; along with Prokofiev's Lieutenant Kije (1934), which it resembles in many ways, it became one of the few truly successful concert works so adapted from a film score.
Although the suite alters the chronological order of the various episodes as they appear in the movie, the movements themselves match the original cues to a surprisingly close degree. The two movements that frame the suite, "Morning on the Ranch" and "Happy Ending," contain two principal themes, one swaying, the other at a faster gallop. Each of these outer movements adapts music from both the beginning and end of the film: "Morning on the Ranch" contains the music just prior to the title, in which the swaying theme accompanies early stirring animals; the music just after the title, in which the galloping melody accompanies the Tiflin family at their morning routine; and a playfully transformed version of the same galloping music for the birth of the colt at the very end. The "Happy Ending" similarly comprises the galloping melody as it appears during the title; the tense passage in which Tom anxiously chases Billy, who is intent on killing Rosie; and a reprise of the baby colt music.
"The Gift" contains music for two consecutive sequences: the presentation of the red pony to an astonished Tom, and Tom's displaying Gabilan to his school friends. Its tender opening evokes Tom's love for the pony, while the ensuing waltzlike music underscores Billy's additional gift of a saddle, its allusions to circus music prompted by the mention of the circus from which Fred bought the pony. As Tom anticipates showing Gabilan to his friends, a theme introduced earlier in the film and associated with Tom the schoolboy and his schoolmates appears, embedded in the waltz. Almost immediately after, this theme appears in its more original guise as his friends rush to the barn to see the new pony. Consequently, the use of the schoolboy theme in the waltz section not only signifies Tom's thoughts but anticipates the following episode. After interpolating some material from a later cue, Copland arrives at a grand pause and a reprise of the opening tender theme as the school chums gawk speechlessly at the pony, thus rounding out the whole.
Copland extracted "The Dream March and Circus Music" (sometimes programmed as separate movements) from two episodes depicting Tom's daydreams. In the first, on his way to school Tom imagines that he and Billy lead a column of armored knights on horseback; in the second, while feeding the chickens he imagines the hens turned to white circus horses and himself a ringmaster, whip in hand. Both musical cues derive-appropriately enough-from those themes associated with school and ranch life, respectively; and both feature the kind of broad, satiric humor long Copland's trademark: toward the conclusion of "The Dream March," as Tom awakens from his glorious reveries, the march slowly falls apart; when he espies a little friend shuffling through the dust where he had imagined a knightly cavalcade, the music reduces to a mere piccolo tooting against the ubiquitous tuba. The harmonic dissonances of "Circus Music" are similarly droll. Because Milestone cut both of these episodes sizably (especially the circus fantasy), only preserved outtakes can fully reveal the imagery this music was meant to accompany.
"Walk to the Bunkhouse" contains two distinct musical ideas: a bowlegged theme of alternating meters for Billy Buck (at the shot of pinups in his bunkhouse, some amusing, bluesy grace notes slyly allude to his sexual life), and a more lyrical theme underscoring Tom's admiration for Billy and his mare. Whereas in the movie, music and dialogue alternate with razor-sharp clarity for comic effect, in the suite, clarinet figuration fills in the silences. "Grandfather's Story" similarly contains two elements: quietly sad music that represents Grandfather, and soft, slightly dissonant trumpet music that depicts his remembrances of crossing the plains.
The film contains a good deal more music than found in the suite. Copland was not the kind of film composer inclined to repeat large sections of music or even particular themes; each episode-the training of the pony, the thunderstorm, the sick pony, the fight with the buzzard, Tom's eventual recovery-evoked a fresh response. For the scene where Alice amuses herself at the piano after the troubled Fred leaves for San Jose, trenchant use is made of source music. At first Alice plays a Schubert duet arranged for solo piano; taunted by her father, who mischievously notes the absent piano partner, she launches into "Fur Elise" (the apparent pun on her name a little private joke); finally, all alone, she plays the hymn "Shall We Gather at the River?" a prayer for the impending family crisis. For much of the film, Copland leaves Fred in chilly silence, thus emphasizing his presence as a distant husband and father; this only enhances the lyrical outburst when, after his return from San Jose, he embraces his son.
The film achieves an impressive musical continuity throughout, often by having one cue pick up-tonally or melodically-where the last left off. The cues themselves are ingeniously shaped, making it possible, as mentioned, for Copland to adapt some of them for concert purposes with only minor alterations. To some extent, these musical forms derive from Milestone's direction, but Copland also imposes his own architecture on various scenes, resulting in a give and take between director and composer not unlike that between librettist and composer. For instance, the introduction and opening credits form a prologue that vaguely approximates the traditional French overture. In "Walk to the Bunkhouse," Copland, subtly catching shifts in the action, creates a charming little ABABA rondo. "Grandfather's Story" provides another example, this one an ABA form, with the A sections portraying Grandfather and the B section delineating his story.
For the climactic episode "The Buzzard Flight," Copland tried something different, creating, in response to Milestone's direction at this point, a corresponding musical montage, with little alternating bits associated with Tom, the buzzards, Gabilan's tracks, and, eventually, Fred and Billy. He may have omitted this particular sequence from the suite precisely because it was so tightly tailored to the imagery.
Had The Red Pony been released in 1948 as planned, the work very likely would have earned Copland an Academy Award nomination and possibly an Oscar; but because of its delayed release date, it ran into competition with his score to The Heiress, which the academy honored instead, in part, no doubt, because the film itself was a much stronger one. Nonetheless, expert critics quickly recognized the music for The Red Pony as masterful-"the most elegant," wrote Virgil Thomson, "in my opinion, yet composed and executed under 'industry conditions,' as Hollywood nowadays calls itself." The only weak spot, ventured Thomson, was one true of all Hollywood music, namely, its inability to interpret the feelings of the American cinema's mythic "goddesses," in this case, Myrna Loy. Thomson chose an odd vehicle for airing this provocative idea, considering that Copland purposefully curtailed musical representation of Tom's parents for dramatic reasons; this thesis would be better tested in and arguably refuted by-Copland's next film, The Heiress.
In 1964 Copland approached Steinbeck about writing a narrative that might accompany a recording or performance of the suite. Steinbeck, who admired Copland's "beautiful" music, gladly provided one of about three hundred words; but when Copland specifically requested a "children's version," Steinbeck respectfully but forcefully declined. "Children have nearly always understood my work-and yours," he pointed out. "It is only critics and sophisticates who do not." Copland reprinted the bulk of this letter in his autobiography, tactfully omitting Steinbeck's contention that children's literature engendered homosexuality. Not dissuaded, Copland approved a narration for children devised by Katherine Rosen, subtitling the work " 'a suite for children,' since the music and action were intended to come from a child's point of view."


savoadaki said...

This blog is simply wonderful, as informative as a college course if not more so. I hope I can get to see some of the films, though I appreciate the music in its own right. I like to keep up to date as I get into my last decade, but am not open-minded enough to go for hip hop etc. Movie music is more my speed, and seems to be deserving of the same respect as the classics -- good music is good music. Presenting Aaron Copland in many works is a real contribution -- his work needs to appropriately honoured.

mike from maine said...

Thanks for all the wonderful sharing of Copland's great music.

All the best!

MrBill said...

Thanks for this - I never knew that this soundtrack (or the movie, for that matter) existed. Steinbeck is one of my favorite authors, and "The Red Pony" was one of the first of his works that I read, back in junior high school (at this point I don't remember whether it was this or "The Pearl" that I read first). I look forward to hearing this - I'll bet Copland did it justice.

brian d said...

thanks for this!

Anonymous said...

Thanks to you we are more alive. More or less I suppose.

Manse said...

Hi Scoredaddy, great blog! Any chance you might be upgrading this one to flac soon? Thanks for all the great music!

Scoredaddy said...

Hello Manse
Thanks for your interest. I was just listening to this a few days ago and was thinking about FLAC. I still have the .wav tracks that I ripped. However, I am really not sure if worth the effort. These are pretty raggedy-sounding actetates. Do you really think they would benefit from FLAC encoding? I'm not yet sure what to do, if anything.

Manse said...

Hmmm, you may be right....I'd leave it and if you can find a newer recording, post that one instead....thanks!

Oscar said...

Hi Scoredaddy, great blog! Any chance you might be upgrading this one? the links are dead!

Scoredaddy said...

new link:

Oscar said...