In an interview with Copland published on the sleeve of the original LP issue he admits that though the orchestration diminishes the purely percussive element in the writing, there remains in orchestral terms a hard-bitten sound. He explains that he added no more than a few imitative voices to the original piano score. "With the perspective of 27 years it was not difficult to use the original as a piano sketch with orchestral possibilities". Brief as the variation theme is (a mere eleven bars) there is a cell of four notes merely (E-C-E flat-C sharp) which forms the core of the whole work. The variations are all very brief until the twentieth one leads into a coordinating coda, comparatively extended. Starting at the fifteenth variation Copland relaxes into a more scherzando style with characteristic seven- and five-in-a bar rhythms.
The Preamble for a Solemn Occasion, written in 1949 for the United Nations to commemorate the first anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights, is occasional music in the best sense—a characteristic Copland piece that goes well enough with the two major works, but emotionally says very much less.
In 1964 the London Symphony Orchestra celebrated its sixtieth anniversary; for the occasion Copland was commissioned to write a work, and in due course his Music for a Great City arrived. In this original LP issue of this recording it is suitably packaged, you would think, with a sleeve showing the dome of St. Paul's (see images included with download), a few hundred surrounding roofs, and a few thousand surrounding chimney pots. Indeed, the opening movement of the music is entitled "Skyline". The second "Night Thoughts", the fourth "Toward the Bridge". Which bridge? Tower? Westminster? Waterloo? The clue is given in the third movement: "Subway Jam". And further investigation reveals that Copland's Great City is indeed a newer one than London; it is the New York apostrophized in the 1961 film Something Wild, for it was Copland's score for this film which he rehashed as his tribute to London.
If the processes of thought, where suitability for the occasion is concerned, are not very clear, the music itself certainly is; it is a glorious welter of large-orchestral sound, relieved by quieter and altogether more intimate, personal moments. One can agree readily enough that a wider audience than that of those few film-goers who listen to the music may well find it highly enjoyable.
I already knew The Red Pony Suite in the version which Previn recorded for this same company with the St Louis Symphony—the American coupling for the Britten Sinfonia da Requiem on his first symphonic recording. Copland with the New Philharmonia is fresh and effective, but I confess that I was slightly disappointed by the relative lack of swagger in the most memorable of the numbers, the "Walk to the Bunkhouse". Copland understates it slightly, but some may prefer that.
Copland is one of the few composers who does not have to talk down to his audience in his film music. In each one of these colourful, atmospheric vignettes you get the feeling of Copland uninhibitedly enjoying himself, jotting down his ideas with less weight upon him than in his major works but with comparable intensity to Beethoven in his Bagatelles—equally chips from the master's workbench. This is the very essence of Copland's wide-open-spaces style, just as much as Appalachian Spring or The Tender Land, and as ever the open-eyed simplicity of some piece is always liable to clutch you by the throat just as the famous "Shaker Hymn" does in Appalachian Spring.
The less familiar Three Latin American Sketches of, originally, 1959 are less ebullient than the composer’s better-known El Salon Mexico and Danzon Cubano.In 1971 Copland added a third piece to the Sketches, the Venezuelan "Estribillo", to the original two, to make a finale (but now used as opener). Nevertheless that, collectively, the three sketches are less overwhelming than El Salon Mexico, and less dignified than the Danzon Cubano, is no hardship at all: their extended passages of comparative repose do certainly improve the balance of the record side of Latin-American music as a whole.
Nevertheless, if it is repose that is primarily sought, the listener will find it in greatest abundance in Dance Panels, another first time recording. This is a ballet score of, again, 1959. The ballet itself having no story, Copland obviously felt free to give the music its own balance of styles and durations, creating something much closer to an independent, symphonic, listening piece than is always possible in the medium.
In the process he created a great deal of beauty: if he is lyrical at extended length it is in splendid quality, and also splendidly contrasted for the ear with the livelier, but no less direct and simple, sections of the score. This is a most winning piece and it seems odd that it should only have received its first recording years after it was first composed. E.M. & M.M.
1. I. Morning On The Ranch
2. II. The Gift
3. III. Dream March And Circus Music
4. IV. Walk To The Bunkhouse
5. V. Grandfather's Story
6. VI. Happy Ending
7. Preamble For A Solemn Occasion (1949)
Orchestral Variations (1957)
8. Theme: Grave
9. Variation I - Varation XX
10. Coda: Subito lento moderato
Dance Panels (1959, Revised 1962) (Ballet In Seven Sections)
11. I. Introduction: Moderato (Tempo di Valzer); Espressivo un poco rubato
12. II. Allegretto con tenerezza (un poco rubato)
13. III. Scherzando; Moderato
14. IV. Pas de trois. Lento
15. V. Con brio
16. VI. Con moto
17. VII. Molto ritmico; Coda; come prima; Moderato
London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Aaron Copland except 1-6, New Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Aaron Copland
1-6 Recorded at EMI Studios, London on May 31, 1972; 7 Recorded at Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London on June 14, 1964; 8-10 Recorded at Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London on October 26, 1968; 11-17 Recorded at EMI Studios, London on FRebruary 12 & November 29, 1969
1. Connotations For Orchestra (1961-1962)
2. Down A Country Lane (1962)
Music For A Great City from Something Wild film score (1963-1964):
3. I. Skyline
4. II. Night Thoughts
5. III. Subway Jam
6. IV. Toward The Bridge
7. Inscape (1967)
Three Latin-American Sketches
8. Estribillo (1971)
9. Paisaje Mexicano (1959)
10. Danza de Jalisco (1959)
London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Aaron Copland except 1 & 7 New York Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein and 8-10 New Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Aaron Copland
1 Recorded at Philharmonic Hall on September 23, 1962; 2 Recorded at Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London on October 26, 1968; 3-6 Recorded at Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London on June 13-14, 1964; 7 Recorded at Philharmonic Hall on October 17, 1967; 8-10 Recorded at EMI Studios, London on June 1, 1972