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.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


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Who would have guessed that Aaron Copland's last film score would receive its first commercial release 42 years after it was recorded?

Something Wild, a 1961 film starring Carroll Baker, was a box-office flop, so distributor United Artists nixed a proposed soundtrack album despite its composer's fame.

New York film-music buff Mark Leneker, doing research into Copland's music four years ago, discovered that Copland had assembled a 35-minute album mockup and that a handful of copies were privately pressed and given to friends.

Leneker contacted the film's director, Jack Garfein, who now lives in Paris (and who, at the time of the film, was Carroll Baker's husband). It turned out that Garfein's current wife had discovered a mint, sealed copy of the LP in the family attic.

Copland conducted a 55-piece orchestra in the music, which is stylistically different from his earlier, more familiar Americana scores like Of Mice and Men (1939) and The Red Pony (1949). Because the film's subject matter is grim and violent (Baker plays a suicidal rape victim in New York City), the composer's idiom is more contemporary, incorporating jazz influences, serialism and occasional dissonance.

Copland adapted the score into a concert work, Music for a Great City, which was premiered in 1964. For those who prefer this suite, Music for a Great City is available in two recorded versions: Copland's own, with the London Symphony Orchestra (Sony 47236), and Leonard Slatkin's, with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (RCA 60149).

Something Wild is a welcome addition to the recent resurgence of interest in Copland's film music. Jonathan Sheffer's 2000 collection (Telarc 80583) of obscure Copland includes suites from The City (a documentary presented at the 1939 World's Fair), The Cummington Story (documentary short, 1945) and The North Star (1943).

More familiar to many listeners will be the Americana classics – Of Mice and Men, Our Town (1940) and The Red Pony – which are regularly performed in concert and have been the subject of multiple recordings over the years. Slatkin's Music for Films collection (RCA 61699) is comprised of a seven-movement suite from The Red Pony, nine minutes from Our Town and the five-movement Music for Movies, which includes two pieces from The City, two from Of Mice and Men – the barley-wagon and threshing sequences – and one from Our Town.

What caps the Slatkin CD is an eight-minute suite from The Heiress, Copland's Oscar-winning 1949 score – including the composer’s Prelude that director William Wyler dropped in post-production in favor of an orchestral arrangement of the plot-specific chanson, "Plaisir d'Amour." Jon Burlingame

Track listing

1. New York Profile (02:48)
2. Park At Night (01:27)
3. Subway Jam (02:16)
4. Mary Ann Resigned (02:01)
5. Incarceration and Nightmares (07:06)
6. Escape Through The City (07:23)
7. Love Music (01:57)
8. Walk Downtown (03:11)
9. Episode On The Bridge (04:51)
10. Mother Alone (00:57)
11. Reunion (01:05)

Total Duration: 00:35:02

Saturday, July 5, 2014


The name of conductor Joseph Levine hasn't survived, nor that of Ballet Theatre, the most important and innovative dance company in NY (along with Martha Graham) particularly in the Forties. This CD is a memorial to both, and it turns out to be delightful. Three classics of American ballet are included: Copland's Billy the Kid, Bernstein's Facsimile, and a lesser work, Morton Gould's Fall River Legend.

The recordings date from 1953 and 1955; all are in good mono (originally billed by Capitol Records as "full dimensional sound"), although noticeably thin and wiry at full volume. The important thing is how lively and imaginative the interpretations are. The Ballet Theatre orchestra wasn't ful of virtuosos, but they and Levine knew how to play for dancers. These aren't symphonic readings of the kind Leonard Bernstein gave when he did Copland or his own music with hte NY Phil. Great as those performances are, Levine is much lighter and more rhythmic, also more casually swaggering and folksy when need be. This deleted CD from EMI may be hard to find outside the used market, but it's a gem. Amazon reviewer

1-10 Aaron Copland: Billy The Kid (Complete Ballet 1938)

11-15 Leonard Bernstein: Facsimile (A Choreographic Essay 1946)

16-24 Morton Gould: Fall River Legend (Complete Ballet 1947)

Ballet Theatre Orchestra conducted by Joseph Levine
Recorded April, 1953 and April, 1955 at the Riverside Plaza Hote, New York City