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)


Scoredaddy said...


If you download this DVD and appreciate my efforts sharing it with you, please make a comment below.

If you want to bring this upload to the attention of people on another website, please link to this blog and not to the actual download links.

Thank you! :-)

Pippo said...

Thank you Scoredaddy for this rare opportunity.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this documentary.

Anonymous said...

Merci beaucoup, scoredaddy!

snevellicci said...

hello Scoredaddy,

Thank you for the excellent site!
I would be grateful if you could repost the links for "The City" documentary.

all best,

Nicola P said...

Hi, great idea posting it! Could you reupload, please?

@nturij@ said...

hi! i was delighted when i saw the links, but they are all offline by now :( could you PLEASE share it again?
thanks in advance!

Scoredaddy said...

doing a reup on this will be problematic. I am not sure if I can get this done in the next month or so. i will get back to you on this.

@nturij@ said...

thank you for the quick answer. I actually found the film "The City" from 1939. I would like to ask you whether you maybe have found the serial from 1963. "Mumford on the city" Christopher Chapman(six episodes: Heaven and Hell, Cars or People, The City and Its Religion, The Heart of The City, The City as Man's Home, The City and The Future).
Thank you very much in advance!