Monday, March 30, 2009


A very substantial addition to the Aaron Copland discography, this was Copland's first film score and it led to his notable additional career at Hollywood.

It receives here the first modern recording of the music, which the composer surprisingly had not arranged as a concert suite.

The City was an unique documentary film by Ralph Steiner and Willard Van Dyke created for the 1939 New York World's Fair, its theme the contrast in living conditions and possibilities between a grim milltown and frantic city with the possibilities of a better life in a planned "new town", Greenbelt, Maryland. The score is unusual in its continuity and ironic commentary on the visual message, at its height in the city scenes, most especially commenting on rush hour traffic and hectic lunch breaks, the idyllic life near nature at Greenbelt counterpointed with beautiful music, maybe a little less arresting. But the music as rediscovered here would certainly justify a place in an orchestral concert programme.

This DVD is very much a labour of love and its "extras" are best seen first. The original film with Lewis Mumford's didactic commentary narrated by Morris Carnovsky and the music conducted by Max Goberman has a period quality, with the sound track of its time fully equal to putting across its uncommon quality within the genre; we found it riveting.

Next, see a short film made for the Greenbelt Museum, 2000, in which older residents (some of them had featured as children in The City) extol the virtues of this "garden town" which continues to be a desirable place to live and bring up families. Lastly there is a conversation with Joseph Horowitz which contextualises this ground breaking film of the thirties.

The new version has sharper, better contrasted visual images and a vivid modern stereo presentation of the score, an important example of Copland's more "popular" music reflecting his desire to reach an enlarged "new audience" in the thirties and forties. Conductor Angel Gil-Ordonez and new narrator Francis Guinan contribute to its success, the latter recorded deliberately "no louder than required for the words to be understood", thereby taking nothing from the force of the music. Peter Grahame Woolf

In the Los Angeles Times, Mark Swed called Aaron Copland’s score to The City “an astonishing missing link not only in the genesis of Copland’s Americana style, but in American music and cinema.” On January 27, Naxos releases The City (Naxos 2110231) with a newly-recorded soundtrack of the complete Copland score, featuring the Washington, D.C.-based Post-Classical Ensemble and conductor Angel Gil Ordóñez. Francis Guinan, a founding member of the renowned, Chicago-based Steppenwolf Theater Ensemble, narrates. This DVD is a sequel to The River and The Plow that Broke the Plains (Naxos 2110521), two classic Pare Lorentz documentaries that strongly influenced The City. The new DVD marks the first time Copland’s score has been recorded in its entirety.The DVD is produced by the Post-Classical Ensemble’s Artistic Director, Joseph Horowitz, author of Classical Music in America: A History and the recently-released Artists in Exile: How Refugees from Twentieth Century War and Revolution Transformed the American Performing Arts. Horowitz considers Copland’s little-known score (which was never condensed as a concert suite) his “highest achievement” as a film composer. Horowitz also notes: “At a time when the recession and a crisis in housing have focused attention on the New Deal, The City is suddently remarkably timely. The greenbelt towns it espouses were a quintessential New Deal experiment, federally planned and subsidized by Rexford Tugwell’s Resettlement Administration.”

About the film

Made for the 1939 World’s Fair (”The World of Tomorrow”), The City is a classic documentary film distinguished for its organic integration of narration (scripted by Lewis Mumford), cinematography (by Ralph Steiner and Willard Van Dyke), and music (by Copland). The resulting tapestry is astonishing for its vibrance and originality. Because filming outdoors with sound was so difficult and expensive, the story is told without dialogue, relying solely on its imagery, narration, and music. It is the absence of dialogue that makes it possible to create a new soundtrack - and for the first time do justice to the symphonic detail and depth of Copland’s score.

Depicting in sequence a New England village, a milltown, a “city,” and a “new town,” The City illustrates how the frantic pace of city and milltown living destroyed the quality of life formerly found in rural America-but which could be recaptured in “planned communities of modest size.” In the opening sequence, Mumford (an early critic of “urban sprawl,” whose seminal 1961 book, The City in History, explored the development of urban civilization) has the narrator rhapsodize: “The town was us, and we were part of it.” The culminating “new town” sequence was filmed in Greenbelt, Maryland, site of the first federal experiment using Mumford’s model of a small, planned community that provided Americans with jobs they could walk to, along with social services, schools, and shops-in short, a self-sustaining community. This historic city exists today and appears in the bonus film Which Playground for Your Child: Greenbelt or Gutter?, which features its original inhabitants (including those in The City), as well its next generation of residents.

Aaron Copland as Film Composer

Aaron Copland’s desire to broaden his audience in the 1930s and ‘40s attracted him to film; The City was his first soundtrack. His works were the antitheses of the lush, Romantic scores by his Hollywood contemporaries Erich Korngold and Max Steiner, leading famed composer, conductor, and pianist André Previn to comment that “what Copland represented in Hollywood was ‘fewer notes.’ ” Copland followed the example of Virgil Thomson, who, in The Plow that Broke the Plains (1936) and The River (1937), created a new style of film music Copland considered “fresher, more simple, and more personal” than most Hollywood movie music-”a lesson in how to treat Americana.”

The City’s structure permitted Copland to explore a gamut of iconic American locales. Sounds such as sirens, a taped emergency call, and typewriters become part of the musical score, evoking Varèse’s Amériques and Ionisation.

The City was Copland’s ticket to Hollywood, where he later composed the soundtracks to Of Mice and Men (1939), Our Town (1940), The North Star (1943), The Red Pony (1948), and The Heiress (1949), among others. He won an Academy Award for The Heiress, but director William Wyler’s insistence on bringing in another composer to soften his score soured him on working in Hollywood.

DVD Extras:

The City with the original soundtrack (43:40)
Featuring Morris Carnovsky (narrator) and an orchestra conducted by Max Goberman.

Which Playground for Your Child: Greenbelt or Gutter? (15:09)
A film produced in 2000 by Video Art Productions for the Greenbelt Museum. These interviews with three “pioneers” who lived in Greenbelt, Maryland, beginning in 1937 and 1938, include the reminiscences of Bob Sommers, who recalls the filming of The City and is the boy with the flat tire in the film.

George Stoney in Conversation with Joseph Horowitz (29:15)
This conversation with the legendary documentary filmmaker, who is also a historian of the genre (and, at age 91, an eyewitness to the New Deal and the 1939 World’s Fair), begins with a discussion of why 1930s documentaries such as The City eschewed dialogue-and the artistic consequences.

The DVD is produced with the support of the National Endowment for the Arts, the Aaron Copland Fund, and the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at Maryland and is distributed in the United States by Naxos of America.

Recorded at Dekelboum Concert Hall, Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland, College Park, 15 October 2007

Picture format: NTSC 4:3
Audio format: Dolby Digital / DTS Surround
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Running time: 132 mins
No. of DVDs: 1 (DVD 9)

Friday, March 27, 2009


This is an excellent collection of Aaron Copland’s early orchestral works, written when the composer was in his twenties and mid-thirties. These pieces have not achieved the notoriety of Mr. Copland’s later “populist” compositions and contain more modernist devices. Some of these feature jazz elements (such as the Piano Concerto, Music for the Theater and the Dance Symphony, which was drawn from materials composed for the “Grogh” ballet). Despite the complexity of these selections, the music is both exhilarating and interesting, albeit challenging. Repeat listenings are required if one wishes to fully appreciate these compositions.

Of the eight works, three are conducted by Leonard Bernstein, who is often considered the definitive interpreter of Copland’s music. The rest are under the direction of the composer himself. Below find various reviews of the original issues culled from the archives at Gramophone Magazine. Scoredaddy

At some time in the 1920s, after returning from Europe and his studies with Nadia Boulanger, Copland seems to have discovered in himself an excessive dependence on European models, and to have made a conscious decision to 'Americanize' his music. One can almost hear him making that decision—with a snap of the fingers and a cry of 'Eureka!'—half-way through the finale of the Dance Symphony that he wrote when he and the twentieth century were 25 years old. After a portentous slow introduction, a brisk and rhythmically alert allegro and a sort of sarabande with bonily lyrical woodwind solos (all these sounding post-Roussel, if anything, and not in the least transatlantic), he finds the logical conclusion of a drivingly energetic presto in a passage of jazz-derived syncopation. The slithery mockromantic waltz and the brashly noisy coda that follow sound like gestures of exuberance from a man who has found a voice and knows what he can say with it. The Short Symphony of eight years later is recognizably Copland in every bar: two lithely athletic toccatas, the first of them incorporating music of earnest endeavour by way of contrast, are placed on either side of an andante full of his characteristic sense of open spaces beneath broad skies—it is almost a sketch for the "Corral Nocturne" in his ballet Rodeo, still at this date nine years in the future. That it is an 'early' work is . occasionally betrayed by a tendency to the raucous, on the one hand, and by a few pages of over-blown rhetoric on the other. It could also be objected that neither work, sternly considered, is truly a symphony: both could be more accurately described by the title of a later Copland work, Dance Panels. But both have ample vigour and freshness to make such a reservation seem irrelevant. It is good to welcome them back to the catalogue. Performances and recordings alike are crisp., clean and efficient. M.E.O.

The Two Pieces for String Orchestra date from the twenties. Both originally written for string quartet, the first piece dates from 1928, the Rondino from Copland's Paris period five years earlier with the name Gabriel Faure providing the main theme for a chattering neo-classic piece that suggests Hindemith rather than any French composer. E.G.

Statements is not quite such a clear case: there are six of them (militant, cryptic, dogmatic, subjective, jingo, and prophetic respectively), and six orchestral movements to expound them. But the statement of a single mood lends itself less well than that of two or more contrasted or interwoven moods to large-scale music (this was why sonata form was invented); and in these pieces Copland's ends and means do not seem altogether well-matched. M.M.

Symphonic Ode, which as Copland says himself, is in essence a one movement symphony: It was written for the same fiftieth anniversary of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which inspired among other works Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms, and was revised 25 years later for the same orchestra's seventy-fifth anniversary. The later version reduces the extravagance of the earlier scoring, and transposes the outer sections a tone lower to make the brass parts more convenient to play.

The bare harmonies and wide intervals in the opening section at once link this music with Copland’s Orchestral Variations, a degree more severe in style than one expects with Copland, but the purpose is more obviously rhetorical, and when the music subsides to mezzo-piano there is a hint of the more approachable Copland of Quiet City and the like. Not that any of this music is unapproachable, and the scherzo section with its quaver triplets and duplets in irregular patterns has (as Copland is the first to admit) its association with jazz. The slow section keeps the manner rugged, and I am reminded of another one-movement symphony from America, Roy Harris's Third. If only the Symphonic Ode had been called a symphony, it might have been better known. Both the Harris and the Copland works in fact betray clear influence from Sibelius's Seventh. E.G.

The Copland exploration — often a rewarding one—extends now back to the earlier days of the 1920s. In 1925 Music for the Theatre made friends and enemies, in 1927 the Piano Concerto. Both friends and enemies seized on the jazz inflections shared by both works : these made the concerto "music of impressive austerity, of true character" on the one hand, and the product of "a jazz dance hall next door to a poultry yard" on the other. Perhaps indeed it is both at once: the jazz inflections have not, history has since decided, become part of standard symphonic language, and they do seem now a period excrescence on what could otherwise he heard as a serious, if not exactly as a solemn work. There are some lyrical passages of great beauty (the soloist's first entry, for example) ; but these passages do tend to be interrupted by jazzy excursions seemingly intruding not so much from a different work as from a different world: one from which we are remoter now than we were then. The Music for the Theatre, too: this is smallerscale music, yet also has many very happy lyrical passages indeed, along with those borrowed from the other side of the fence.

Both works have at times been rated the pinnacles of symphonic jazz. This is a view I cannot quite share; but listeners who do hold that view, or who do wish to give it a chance, will find that this record expounds the music as convincingly as could ever be hoped. It is well recorded, in both mono and stereo, and the pieces are played in excellent style, whether in their symphonic strength or in the ease and fluency with which the orchestral soloists concerned (especially the clarinet) play those passages stemming most clearly from the dance hall. Copland obviously plays his own piano part definitively (and very well), and it seems reasonable to suppose that his special authority was also available for making the Music for the Theatre as well into something like a definitive version. Copland collectors must obviously not miss this record. M.M.

Disc: 1
Dance Symphony (1922-1925)
1. I. Introduction: Lento; Molto allegro; Adagio molto 7:02
2. II. Andante moderato 6:03
3. III. Allegro vivo 4:56
London Symphony Orchestra Conducted by Aaron Copland
Recorded at Walthamstow Town Hall, London UK on October 2&3, 1967

Two Pieces For String Orchestra (1923, 1928)
4. Lento molto 5:42
5. Rondino 4:23
London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Aaron Copland
Recorded at Walthamstow Town Hall, London UK on November 6, 1965

Symphony For Organ & Orchestra (1924)
6.: I. Prelude: Andante 6/8 5:54
7. II. Scherzo: Allegro molto 3/4; Moderato 4- 7:30
8. III. Finale: Lento; Allegro moderato 4/4 11:00
New York Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein
E. Power Biggs, organ
Recorded at Philharmonic Hall (Avery Fisher Hall), New York City, NY USA on January 3, 1967

Music For The Theatre (1925)
9.: I. Prologue 5:46
10. II. Dance 3:13
11. III. Interlude 5:19
12. IV. Burlesque 3:13
13. V. Epilogue 3:51
New York Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein
Recorded at the St. George Hotel, Brooklyn, New York USA on December 15, 1958

Disc: 2
Concerto For Piano & Orchestra (1926)
1. I. Andante sostenuto 6:50
2. II. Molto moderato (molto rubato) 9:18
New York Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein
Aaron Copland, piano
Recorded at Philharmonic Hall (Avery Fisher Hall), New York City, NY USA on January 13, 1964

Symphonic Ode (1927-1929)
3. Symphonic Ode 19:47
London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Aaron Copland
Recorded at Walthamstow Town Hall, London UK on October 2&3, 1967

Short Symphony (Symphony No. 2) (1931-1933)
4. Short Symphony (Symphony No. 2) 15:30

Statements (1934-1935)
5 I. Militant 2:44
6. II. Cryptic 3:21
7. III. Dogmatic 1:47
8. IV. Subjective 3:31
9. V. Jingo 2:33
10. VI. Prophetic 3:34
London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Aaron Copland
Recorded at Walthamstow Town Hall, London UK on November 5, 1965

Thursday, March 26, 2009


This is not my rip. It appears on these pages courtesy of my good friend, Buster, host of one of my favorite spots in blogosphere, BIG 10-INCH RECORD, where this rip was originally posted (the text below also comes from Buster's original posting of this title.) I highly recommend visiting his wonderful and unusual collection. Scoredaddy

Benny Goodman commissioned Aaron Copland's Clarinet Concerto in 1948, and although Goodman's stereo recording is well known, this earlier edition, from 1950, is not.

Columbia took Goodman and Copland to its 30th Street studio in New York for the November 1950 session. Benny sounds cautious but does no serious harm to this gorgeous composition.

A few months later, the illustrious New York Quartet went to the same studio to tape a thornier composition, Copland's Piano Quartet, for the Clarinet Concerto's coupling. These days, works in Copland's populist style are generally packaged together. Not so back then.

The New York Quartet had presented the first performance of the Piano Quartet a few months before this recording, which must have been all that Copland could have wished for. The quartet's members were Mieczyslaw Horszowski, piano, Alexander Schneider, violin, Milton Katims, viola, and Frank Miller, cello.

Perhaps Columbia sensed that they were creating historic recordings, because the sound is better than much of the sludge that came out of its 30th Street site. And these are historic recordings indeed. It's curious that they are not better known. Buster

1. Clarinet Concerto (1948) 17:33
The Columbia String Orchestra conducted by Aaron Copland
Benny Goodman, clarinet

Piano Quartet (1950)
2. I. Adagio serioso 6:26
3. II. Allegro giusto; III. Non troppo lento 14:11

New York Quartet: Mieczyslaw Horszowski, piano, Alexander Schneider, violin, Milton Katims, viola, and Frank Miller, cello.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


This CD was provided to us via the kindness and friendship of Horacio. Please check out his essential blog, LA DISCOTECA CLASICA, featuring the finest collection of lesser-known, "neglected" composers you will ever find. It is a magical place to discover great music you may not even know existed. It is my FAVORITE place on the web and I visit it EVERY day. Thank you Horacio! Scoredaddy

Hugh Wolff's reputation precedes him. On this evidence, I can't say I am surprised. His Appalachian Spring, pristine in its original version for 13 instruments, is exceptionally good—keen, personable, honest. This is surely the best way (indeed I am beginning to think the only way) to hear Copland's most durable score—pared down to the barest essentials, pure and simple, unadorned. The intimacy of the sound alone lends the proceedings a more personal, homespun quality. Solo voices stand out in rustic relief, when the first allegro (marked vigoroso) bursts upon the scene, the gutsy immediacy of solo strings (a mere nonet) and dancing piano pays enormous dividends, especially in the hands of players as accomplished as these. So too the burgeoning of Simple Gifts, tentatively, mysteriously from a single sustained B in the bassoon (track 19). And of course there are the eight or so minutes of extra music (extra to the Suite, that is) reflecting the hopes and fears of the early settlers—again tensely chronicled here by the St Paul players. It's a lovely performance, lucidly recorded: as the solo flute brings blissful reassurance on the final page of all, the flowering of one last arpeggio from deep in the string bass is the kind of sound you can reach out and touch.

I should like to have 'heard' more of the breathless nocturnal atmosphere of Quiet City: the lower dynamics here (especially in the backwash of strings) are nowhere near quiet enough, the moodiness never quite takes hold, for all that Wolff has two wonderfully expressive voices in Gary Bordner (trumpet) and Thomas Tempel (cor anglais) to while away the small hours. I've no misgivings about the Latin American Sketches, though: the "Estribillo" strikes just the right attitudes, "Paisaje mexicana" is cool and sexy, and the familiar "Danza de Jalisco" with its clicking heels and hand-claps is, to use Copland's word, "bouncy". And there's plenty more where that came from in the piquant 'latino' jazz of the Music for the Theatre Prologue. Again style and detail couldn't be snappier: be it the roaring 1920s charleston-ja77 of the foot-tapping "Dance" with its 'blue' trumpet and clarinet breaks or the bumps and grinds of the "Burlesque" floorshow. Roy Harris called this "whorehouse music"—a description I rather like. Best of all, though, is the limpid blues ("Interlude") where every solo line emerges as if from a trance and those fragile piano interjections sound properly disembodied. Happily, this marks the start of a Teldec contract for Wolff—clearly good news. E.S.

Music For The Theatre (1925)
1. Prolouge
2. Dance
3. Interlude
4. Burlesque
5. Epilogue

Three Latin American Sketches (1959, 1971)
6. Estribillo
7. Paisaje Mexicano
8. Danza de Jalisco

9. Quiet City (1940)

Appalachian Spring (1945)
10. Very slowly
11. Allegro, vigoroso
12. Moderato
13. Much slower, poco rubato
14. Fast
15. Malto moderato
16. Allegro
17. Presto
18. Meno mosso
19. As at first (Slowly)
20. Thema and variations ('The Gift to be Simple')
21. Rather Slow
22. Very deliberate
23. Poco piu mosso (Twice as Fast)
24. Molto allegro ed agitato
25. Broadly
26. Moderato
27. Andante

Recorded at Ordway Music Theater, Saint Paul, Minnesota USA in September, 1990

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


This brilliant new issue—Leonard Slatkin's first St Louis recording for EMI—is particularly valuable for bringing us, not just the ballet Suite from Billy the Kid, which has been recorded many times, but the complete ballet. [Some sleeves state that this is the first complete Billy the Kid, which is incorrect, it is however the first complete Rodeo featuring some seven or eight minutes of extra music and including the piano interlude in "Saturday night waltz" which has seldom previously been heard—EMI are correcting this on subsequent reprinting—Ed.) Billy receives roughly ten minutes more of music, much of it illustrative in Copland's colourful and distinctive way but also including two complete numbers. One is a quick waltz based on the Old Smokey theme used a moment previously in the passage following the Mexican Dance. The other is much more substantial, a slow romantic waltz based on the Mexican Dance theme, which represents Billy finding refuge with his Mexican sweetheart. When the total time of the ballet at about 32 minutes makes a good concert length (and here a generous LP side-length), I hope we shall hear this full version more often now.

With this performance Slatkin confirms the impressions one had from his RCA recordings and from last year's European tour by the St Louis Orchestra, that it is a refined as well as a brilliant band. As recorded in the Powell Hall, St Louis, the sound at first gives the impression of being on the dry side, but in fact it has plenty of bloom along with clean directional effects. It gains substantially over both Bernstein's (CBS 60114,5/82) and the composer's own couplings of Billy the Kid suite and Rodeo (CBS 72888, 2/71), when the definition of the digital recording and its range bring out much of the detail in Copland's colourful orchestration. Unlike them it avoids any aggressiveness but conveys plenty of bite as in the spectacular and highly atmospheric account of the gunbattle in Billy the Kid. Some of the woodwind solos are not quite so distinguished as those from the LSO principals on Copland's version but the result is every bit as authentic. E.G.

Leonard Slatkin, who has done such outstanding service for American music, upholds the Copland tradition with potent, sympathetically argued accounts of the big ballets. The performances by the Saint Louis Symphony could hardly be bettered, and the recordings stand out for their solid sound as well. Slatkin does both Billy the Kid and Rodeo in full, restoring some delightful music in both scores that is missed when only the suites are presented. In Rodeo, for example, it comes as a delicious surprise to hear the Saloon-piano interlude before the "Saturday Night Waltz"--and Slatkin insists on an out-of-tune upright--just the right touch. These are idiomatic, persuasive accounts, thrilling in their buildups and potent in their climaxes. Even Appalachian Spring is done in full, though in its version for full orchestra. The treatment here is gentle, and while Slatkin generates less voltage than Bernstein, his reading has nobility and an engaging warmth. The recordings were made at a rather low level, but have a wonderful ambience and extraordinary dynamic range. Unfortunately, the individual scenes of Billy the Kid are not separately banded. Ted Libbey

1 Billy The Kid (Complete Ballet) 1938 (32:26)

Rodeo (Complete Ballet) 1942 (22:52)
2 Buckaroo Holiday (7:07)
3 Corral Nocturne (3:34)
4 Piano Interlude & Saturday Night Waltz (7:57)
5 Hoe-Down (4:14)

Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra; Conductor - Leonard Slatkin
Recorded October 8 & 9, 1985, in Powell Symphony Hall, St. Louis, Missouri

Sunday, March 15, 2009


Here is a very well played collection of Copland pieces composed in his more tonal and consonant style. Gerard Schwarz has proven himself a very capable Copland interpreter over the years and Schifrin's clarinet is more than up to the challenging Concerto for Clarinet & String Orchestra, which was commissioned in 1947 by jazz star Benny Goodman. Copland incorporated many jazz elements into his concerto, who once told Phillip Ramey that his decision to use jazz materials was "inspired by Goodman's playing" but that, "contrary to certain commentators, the jazz elements in the Clarinet Concerto have nothing to do with the 'hot jazz' improvisation for which Benny Goodman and his sextet were noted". The piece is written in a very unusual form. The two movements are played back-to-back, linked by a clarinet cadenza. The first movement is written in A-B-A form and is slow and expressive, full of bittersweet lyricism. The cadenza not only gives the soloist an opportunity to display his virtuosity, but also introduces many of the melodic Latin American jazz themes that dominate the second movement. The overall form of the final movement is a free rondo with several developing side issues that resolve in the end with an elaborate coda in C major. Copland noted that his playful finale is born of "an unconscious fusion of elements obviously related to North and South American popular music (for example, a phrase from a currently popular Brazilian tune, heard by me in Rio, became embedded in the secondary material)." This section was written specially for Benny Goodman's jazz talents; however, many of the technical challenges were above Goodman's confidence level (but probably not his skill level), and the original score shows several alterations to bring down higher notes, making it easier to play.

Music for the Theater (1925), is a suite in five parts for small orchestra, which makes use of syncopated and polymetric rhythms, and "blue" intervals. Copland had no particular play in mind for his work; rather, his music was intended to evoke the variety of moods found in many plays of the day, the romantic or contemplative interlude, the dance-like burst of excited activity, even a parody of burlesque. Brightened with trumpets, trombone, and clarinet, the music evokes jazz and popular song while remaining distinctively Copland's: listen for the sudden changes in metre, the irregular time signatures, the way the spaces inside the music can fill up or empty out in a heartbeat. And the relaxed lyricism of the Prologue, Interlude, and Epilogue is already uniquely his own; what's more, it's uniquely American. Not bad for a 24-year-old.

Quiet City (1940) is a well-known composition for trumpet, cor anglais, and string orchestra by Aaron Copland. In 1940, Copland knitted together the ten-minute piece from the incidental music he had written the previous year to accompany Irwin Shaw's play of the same name. The play had been commissioned for the Group Theatre by Harold Clurman and was directed by Elia Kazan. Although the play was dropped after only two Sunday performances, most likely due to internal dissension (see Richard Shickel's discussion in his 2005 biography of Elia Kazan, pp. 75-78), the music endured thanks to Copland's distilled version. Copland's decision to replace the original instrumentation, a chamber quartet of clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, and piano, with a larger ensemble of strings, trumpet, and cor anglais, has tended to deepen rather than sacrifice the intimacy and poignancy of the music. The piece was premiered on January 28, 1941, by conductor Daniel Saidenberg and his Saidenberg Little Symphony in New York City. Quiet City evokes the nocturnal introspections of the dwellers of a great city, beginning in stillness before slowly building up to a climax and then receding into silence again. The voice of the lone trumpeter, joined by that of the dark-toned cor anglais, rises and falls against the clear sound of the strings, in a cathartic release of the nostalgia, melancholy, regrets, and anxieties that distressed individuals in an urban society feel most acutely at night. According to Copland, the piece was "an attempt to mirror the troubled main character of Irwin Shaw's play," who had abandoned his Jewishness and his poetic aspirations in order to pursue material success by Anglicizing his name, marrying a rich socialite, and becoming the president of a department store. The man, however, was continually recalled to his conscience by the haunting sound of his brother's trumpet playing. Continuing the assessment in his own autobiography, Copland observed that "Quiet City seems to have become a musical entity, superseding the original reasons for its composition," owing much of its success to its escape from the details of its dramatic context.

Dance Panels (1959, revised 1962): In seven "movements". Copland at his most Copland-esque. Long pastroal melodies, bouncy tunes, a snare drum here or there. This is film music without a film, the "dawn" opening on a single pitch with offstage horns, ending with a return of the opening material after a deus ex machina trumpet solo that brings the becoming dissonant festivities to a jarring halt and the dawn rises again. Underplayed and enjoyable. The panel technique allows him to experiment with several different moods, which I'm coming more and more to realize is the essence of Copland's language. Consider even his first piece, the piano work: The Cat and the Mouse, in a way this is similar and stands rather separeate from the more "abstract" proclamatory works like the Piano/Orchestral Variations. The orchestration is consistently lovely and here is an interesting point to be aware of - in Copland's music we are hearing a sound orchestrated for the instruments, instead of the instruments playing the music - its a subtle difference. There is the blending of sounds that is so French - back to the Impressionists and forward to the Spectralists - that differs in so many ways from a contrapuntal style as in, say Carter or Ruggles.

1. Concerto for Clarinet & Orchestra (1948) 15:47
David Schifrin (clarinet)

Music For The Theater (1925)
2. Prologue 5:45
3. Dance 3:12
4. Interlude 5:07
5. Burlesque 3:07
6. Epilogue 3:43
David Schifrin (clarinet)
Mark Hill (English horn)
Neil Baum (trumpet)

7. Quiet City (1940) 8:57
Mark Hill (English horn)
Neil Baum (trumpet)

Dance Panels (1959, rev 1962)
8. Introduction: Moderato 3:35
9. Allegretto con tenerezza 4:11
10. Scherzando 4:06
11. Pas de trois: Lento 4:25
12. Con brio 3:28
13. Con moto 1:29
14. Molto ritmico 4:49

New York Chamber Symphony conducted by Gerard Schwarz

Thursday, March 12, 2009


Volume 3 of Sony's "A Copland Celebration," the CD continues to explore the byways of Copland's output, with rarities like In the Beginning, Lark, the Dickinson poems, and The Tender Land.

William Warfield turns in a classic performance with both sets of the Old American Songs. He and Copland made a mono recording of the original piano version. Don't miss that one either (on Sony SM2K89326), one of the great vocal recitals. For the remake, Warfield's in slightly rougher voice, but damn, does he sing well, with lines that go on forever and a real flair for singing American English. This is also one of Copland's best outings as a conductor. I've tended to regard most of his recorded readings as "authentic," rather than blood-stirring, especially with Bernstein competing. But Copland the conductor seems to catch fire from Warfield. He gets the power, the lyricism, and even the fun from the score. For me, a landmark stereo recording.

Adele Addison was usually one of my favorite singers. In fact, when I first heard this listless recording from her and Copland, I blamed the work. A subsequent recording with Jan DeGaetani, in not particularly good vocal shape, set me in my ways. However, this view shattered when I heard Copland's mono account with mezzo Martha Lipton (also on SM2K89326), which confirmed the judgment I had usually read: this cycle stands among the very best American songs. But the songs share a similarity of mood and a spareness in the piano writing that can, with insufficient attention from the performers, wear on you. Addison's tone, though higher in timbre than Lipton's, takes on a dull edge. Lipton seems to understand the poems better and finds more emotional and phrasing variety. Pianist Copland catches the dolefuls from Addison. His beautifully lyric playing for Lipton is nowhere in sight here.

Lark, an a cappella piece, comes from the late Thirties. Copland didn't particularly care for the sound of an unaccompanied choir, preferring to mix choral singers with orchestra. Outside of student work for Nadia Boulanger, he wrote, as far as I know, only three a cappella works. Lark suffers from its text – a soupy, knock-off Whitman text by Genevieve Taggard, in an idiom familiar to anyone who's heard the non-Lincoln text to the composer's Lincoln Portrait. Copland in later years was slightly embarrassed that he had set the poem at all. Lark also sets the problem of a choir that can master Copland's Thirties Modernism. The work tends to come at you in short pieces, as if the composer had written it a line at a time. My own college choir performed this work, and we got to sing it for the composer (after he had already recorded it). We knocked him out. He told me he regretted that hadn't waited for us. The NEC choir doesn't nearly come up to our level. They have intonation and blend problems up the wazoo. One doesn't hear the part-writing, but sort of a wad o' sound, especially detrimental to the virtuosically contrapuntal section which make the piece for me. Furthermore, Copland can't overcome the plods. The account stops and starts. One doesn't sense a continuing thread to the work. I admit a conductor must work hard for it, but it can be found.

Similar problems bedevil In the Beginning, a choral counterpart to something like Appalachian Spring. This is, first of all, a masterpiece of modern choral music and of text setting – Genesis complete from chaos to day 7. Copland may not have liked the a cappella choir, but you'd never know it from this. He comes up with new, beautiful choral textures, based perhaps on his "pastoral" orchestral vein, but thoroughly suited to the chorus. The New England Conservatory Chorus does much better in this more demanding work but suffer still from a certain dullness of tone. Again, Copland's tempi tend to lumber rather than dance, which predictably weaken the quick passages. Soloist Margaret Miller, however, stands out – the best performance of this demanding role I've heard. Overall, however, the composer's result aren't a patch on Gregg Smith's, who recorded the work long, long ago for an Everest LP.

Copland called opera, famously, the "forme fatale," indicating the simultaneous attraction and wariness he felt toward the genre. He began with an American equivalent of a Brechtian Lehrstück, The Second Hurricane, a school opera similar in function to Weill and Brecht's Der Jasager. He had few American operas to use as models. He didn't particularly care for either Gershwin or Thomson's examples, and something like Hanson's Merry Mount or Taylor's The King's Henchman probably struck him as, at best, quaint. On the other hand, the opening of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! seemed to promise something: an American subject treated in a genuine American way. He began working on a musical based, I believe, on Erskine Caldwell's Tragic Ground, but gave it up after a while. Nevertheless, the pot started to bubble, and in 1954, he completed The Tender Land. This was, by the way, B. H. Haggin's candidate for the Great American Opera. The music in it is gorgeous, Copland at his most radiant. Yet, it's not really all that good an opera. Copland may sing but doesn't characterize people all that well, and the plot – basically, Is There Life after High School? – comes over as a bit feckless. You don't care enough about most of the characters – with the exception of the ingénue – to worry about the outcome. The initial reviews were mixed, and Copland decided to revise and abridge, cutting out the only plot line that seemed remotely interesting – two drifters falsely accused of rape and murder, a reflection of the McCarthyism of the time. In its abridged form (which we get here), the opera reminds me of a Whitman sampler. Better you should hear it complete (Brunelle on Virgin Classics or Sidlin on Koch). Even so, it doesn't really suit opera stages. Both the dramaturgy and the sensibility are a bit amateurish, frankly. The opera seems locked into the opera-workshop circuit.

A shame, really. The music itself soars. Copland gets a first-rate cast – with Joy Clements, Richard Cassilly, and Norman Treigle both ardent and as believable as Copland's music allows – and a New York Philharmonic playing as well as it ever did for Bernstein. The New York Choral Arts Society raises the emotional roof in the glorious choral parts, for me the best passages of the opera. Don't worry about the plot. Enjoy the tunes. Steve Schwartz

Disc: 1
Old American Songs, Sets 1&2 (1950/1952)
1. No. 1, The Boatmen's Dance
2. No. 2, The Dodger
3. No. 3, Long Time Ago
4. No. 4, Simple Gifts
5. No. 5, I Bought Me a Cat
6. No. 1, The Little Horses
7. No. 2, Zion's Walls
8. No. 3, The Golden Willow Tree
9. No. 4, At the River
10. No. 5, Ching-a-ring Chaw
William Warfield, baritone
Columbia Symphony Orchestra/Aaron Copland
Recorded at the Manhattan Center, New York City on May 3&4, 1962

Twelve Poems of Emily Dickenson (1949/1950)
11. No. 1, Nature, the Gentlest Mother
12. No. 2, There Came a Wind Like a Bugle
13. No. 3, Why Do They Shut Me Out of Heaven?
14. No. 4, The World Feels Dusty
15. No. 5, Heart, We Will Forget Him
16. No. 6, Dear March, Come In!
17. No. 7, Sleep Is Supposed to Be
18. No. 8, When They Come Back
19. No. 9, I Felt a Funeral in My Brain
20. No. 10, I've Heard an Organ Talk Sometimes
21. No. 11, Going to Heaven!
22. No. 12, The Chariot
Adele Addison, soprano and Aaron Copland, piano
Recorded at Columbia’s 30th Street Studio, New York City on November 16, 1964

23. In the Beginning (text from Genesis) 1947
Mildred Miller, mezzo-soprano and New England Conservatory Chorus cond.. Aaron Copland
Recorded at Columbia’s 30th Street Studio on March 29, 1965

24. Lark (text by Genevieve Taggard) 1938
Robert Hale, baritone and New England Conservatory Chorus cond. Aaron Copland
Recorded at Columbia’s 30th Street Studio on March 29, 1965

Disc: 2
The Tender Land (Opera in Three Acts, Abridged Version) 1953
1. Gently flowing
2. Once I thought I'd never grow tall as this fence
3. Do you suppose they're makin' food in there?
4. We've been north
5. Halloo, halloo
6. If you boys work as smooth as you talk, we'll make good time in the fi
7. The Promise of living with hope and thanksgiving
8. Not enough for me, Mrs. Moss
9. Thank you, thank you all
10. Ah, Laurie, you are a puzzle
11. Stomp your foot upon the floor
12. The World seems still tonight
13. Introduction (Act III)
14. Daybreak will come in such a short time
15. That's crazy!
16. The sun is coming up as though I'd never seen it rise before
17. You are strange to me

Joy Clements, soprano
Claramae Turner, mezzo-soprano
Richard Cassilly, tenor
Norman Treigle, bass-baritone
Richard Fredericks, baritone
Choral Art Society (William Jonson, Chorus Director)
New York Philharmonic Orchestra/Aaron Copland
Recorded at the Manhattan Center, New York City on July 31, 1965

Total time: 75:23 + 65:58