Tuesday, January 27, 2009


I wish to thank Schulhoff, who ripped this wonderful DVD and generously gave me permission to repost it here at FANFARE FOR AARON COPLAND. His original links can be found in the 'comments' section. Scoredaddy

This is the latest in the San Francisco Symphony productions which have also been aired on PBS. With the initial production on Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony plus the two mentioned above, the series now totals four "Revolutions in Music."

It would usually be best to start with the documentary portion of each DVD in the series. These productions lift the presentation above most of the concert music DVDs which simply record a performance by the orchestra in question. Conductor Tilson Thomas goes to Europe and investigates aspects of the story of the particular composer being profiled. In this case it means going to Paris and talking about Nadia Boulanger and her effect upon not only Copland but many other American composers.

The videography is top rate, with sweeping views and trenchant but brief commentary by MTT. Not just music-oriented, the commentary delves into the social and political developments around Copland's capturing of that special American sound in concert music. Talking about the diversity of music in early 20th century America and how the different musical styles were transformed in Copland's unique sound brings in references to the Yiddish theater and closeups of sheet music from productions done by Tilson Thomas' ancestors, the Thomashevskys. Discussion of the quintessential Copland Americana, Appalachian Spring, involves fascinating clips from the original Martha Graham dance film which featured Copland's score. I only wish the documentary portions could have been presented in 5.1-channel surround, not just the concert portions.

The concert video portion is a bit different from the other three in that it involves only a small chamber group for a performance of the complete Appalachian Spring ballet. Various instrumental soloists comment on the music and their parts in it. The players are arranged in a semi-horseshoe around MTT with the piano front and center, replicating the layout of the larger orchestra seen in the other DVDs. The shots often feature super closeups of the players and their instruments.

The images are more striking and involving than most symphonic videos, and the 5.1 surround is a superb accompaniment to the widescreen images. The influence of AIX Records' Mark Waldrep as DVD producer is seen in this series being one of the only ones to offer a choice of both "Stage" and "Audience" mixes - the former puts the listener right on the podium with MTT. I found it more exciting listening than the tenth-row Audience acoustic.

All in all, a wonderful treatment - sonically, visually and intellectually, of an important American composer. John Sunier

DVD Details:

Performers: San Francisco Symphony/Michael Tilson Thomas
Studio: San Francisco Symphony Production
Video: 16:9 widescreen color
Subtitles: English on documentary; also German, French, Spanish
Audio: DD 5.1 on concert, with "Audience" or "Stage" acoustics; DD Stereo on documentary; PCM Stereo
Extras: About Keeping Score, About MTT, About the San Francisco Symphony, Trailers for Beethoven's Eroica & Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, Net links

Monday, January 26, 2009


Aaron Copland is best remembered for creating a truly American style of music which is full of folk influences, and melodic and harmonic simplicity. The Old American Songs incorporate folk melodies ranging from minstrel songs (The Boatmen's Dance) to hymns (Simple Gifts) to political satire (The Dodger). Originating as songs for voice and piano, these arrangements by Irving Fine for chorus were authorized by the composer, who himself further expanded the songs for voice and orchestra. 'The House on the Hill' and 'An Immortality' were both arranged by the recently departed Daniel Pinkham, who was a student of Copland's at Harvard.

For a composer whose reputation is so closely connected with the idea of Americanness, Aaron Copland's output of choral music, the central genre of American community music-making, is remarkably sparse. To make an album's worth it's basically necessary to employ the solution chosen here by the Camerata Singers and director Timothy Mount: to perform the two sets of Old American Songs, as arranged for chorus by Irving Fine.

These are delightfully done by Long Island's youthful Camerata Singers, with the words clearly articulated (a good thing, since no texts are given), all the jokes intact (sample I Bought Me a Cat if you're in the mood for a laugh), and a restrained attitude that puts across the cleanness of Copland's lines. That cleanness was a legacy of Copland's French neo-classic training, on view in the Four Motets composed in 1921, during his years as a student of the Paris pedagogue Nadia Boulanger. It is striking how much of Copland's personality comes through in these little works, even as they reflect various French models; they're little crowd-pleasers that deserve to be better known than they are. Indeed, it is the smaller works that provide the real attractions for the potential buyer of this album. Try track 16, Las Agachadas (The Shakedown), a fascinatingly compact slice of Copland's Mexican idiom (it is in Spanish, with an English translation provided).

Two choral songs from 1925, on texts by Ezra Pound and Edwin Arlington Robinson, are also worthy and neglected early Copland works. The sound has a high-school-gymnasium quality, but it doesn't detract from the listener's enjoyment — it's appropriate, somehow, and the texts aren't obscured. The only major negative is the booklet, which needed editorial oversight; among the numerous problems is the appearance of Robinson's name as Edwin Arlington in the track list. James Manheim

Old American Songs, for voice & piano, Book 1 Set 1 (1950)
1. The Boatmen's Dance 03:01
2. The Dodger 02:16
3. Long Time Ago 02:59
4. Simple Gifts 01:31
5. I Bought Me a Cat 02:21

Four Motets (4), for chorus (1921)
6. Help Us O Lord 02:49
7. Thou O Jehovah Abideth Forever 02:14
8. Have Mercy On Us 03:38
9. Sing Ye Praises To Our King 02:10

Old American Songs, for voice & piano, Book 2 Set 2 (1952)
10. The Little Horses 03:12
11. Zion's Walls 02:22
12. The Golden Willow Tree 03:57
13. At the River 02:54
14. Ching-a-Ring Chaw 01:56

15. Choruses (2) An Immorality (1925) 04:36
16. Las Agachadas (The Shake-down Song), for soprano, alto, tenor, bass & chorus (1942) 03:32
17. The House on the Hill (1925) 05:10
18. Lark, for baritone & chorus (1938) 04:44

Camerata Singers, Timothy Mount, conductor
Recorded March & October, 2006 at the State University of New York, Stoney Brook Recital Hall, Stoney Brook, NY

Thursday, January 15, 2009


This is a valuable and distinctive collection, presenting as it does one of Copland’s toughest orchestral works. The Orchestral Variations of 1957 are in fact an orchestration of the Piano Variations of 1930, for long counted Copland's most astringent piece, uncompromising in idiom, pithy and epigrammatic in argument. They represent an ultimate in Copland's early development, after which he felt free to release his more open inspirations. You might argue on principle that 27 years later the composer had no business to play about with them, but in fact, as this fine performance makes very clear, the orchestral version may be a radically different work, but it is a deeply impressive one, quite individual in Copland's oeuvre.

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.

Disc 1:
The Red Pony, Film Suite For Orchestra (1948)
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

Disc: 2
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