Four Works About The Prairie/Copland

October 30, 2006

 

Naxos has released a new recording (their is no title on the CD) of Aaron Copland works featuring JoAnn Falletta conducting the Buffalo Philharmonic with the common thread being the American prairie as seen by Aaron Copland who created a style of Americana music that Hollywood composers such as John Williams, Elmer Bernstein, Jerome Moross, and Bruce Broughton used for many of their own soundtracks such as “The Reivers”, “The Magnificent Seven”, “The Big Country”, and “Tombstone”. His far reaching influence on Hollywood cannot be emphasized enough and it is for this reason that The Red Pony-Film Music (Suite) from (1948) has a very special place in the top 100 soundtracks of all time! In addition, there is also the Rodeo (Four Dance Episodes) (1942), Prairie Journal (1937), and Letter from Home (1944). While these are not soundtracks they are included on the CD and are excellent additional interpretations about the early western life in America. The probability that we will ever see a complete original soundtrack release for The Red Pony is about as likely as television being deemed illegal! Neither will ever happen!

Prairie Journal, being the earliest time frame (1937), is the first example of the ‘folklike’ style that Copland formed in this 11 minute piece about life and times on the western range from the wakeup call, breakfast, sunrise, cattle herding, and watching the wonderful sunset after a long hard day. If you listen carefully short chords later used in Rodeo are already evident in this work. This work was part of a series of works that were part of the American Commission Series from CBS and Copland was only included because Gershwin refused to participate!

Rodeo (Four Dance Episodes) dates from (1942) and was a ballet commissioned by Agnes de Mille. It’s style is not unlike that of a soundtrack as one could easily see a corral/roping scene with cowhands around the fence laughing and watching the happenings to the music of “Hoe Down”, which was used in an ad campaign put on by the beef industry in America in the 90’s. This could just be where you heard the theme if you’re not familiar with the works of Copland as it was as widespread as the use of his shaker melody by United Airlines. While both the “Buckaroo Holiday” and “Hoe Down” are quite bouncy and upbeat even a bit raucous the “Corral Nocturne” shows a quiet tame like Copland. And while one could certainly not categorize “Saturday Night Waltz” as one similar to Strauss it brings up a vison of a peaceful romantic time in the west.

Letter Home From Home, written in (1944) was a wartime piece written about a soldier receiving a letter from home. This one was commissioned by the new network ABC and performed by Paul “Rhapsody and Blue” Whiteman and his orchestra. This piece is about as sentimental as Copland will ever get as his music just wasn’t that style.

The Red Pony-Film Music (Suite) (1948) is one of the finest examples of what film music is all about! This is one of those occasions where seeing the film is going to take the great music and make it even better. The main title or “Morning on the Ranch” gets the whole thing started and is the beginning of a day on the ranch. “The Gift” is the introduction of the young pony to the wide eyed young boy Tom. “Dream Music” is daydreaming on the way to school about being a knight. “Circus Music” is a cool little suite about the circus which Copland managed to give us the whole story in about two minutes. “Grandfather’s Story” is all about how life and times use to be and were no longer, in otherwords the “good old days”. “Happy Ending”, which is used as the end titles, restates the main theme with a little more gusto than the beginning.

“Buckaroo Holiday” is a difficult piece to play and can easily be made to sound rather choppy with chunks of music stuck together. This is not the case with Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic who give it a nice feel while maintaining the difficult tempo. They have an excellent feel for Copland and additional recordings of his material would be most welcome. This recording is a nice introduction to some of Copland’s music at an excellent price. Highly recommended.

Golden Score Rating is (****)

Engineered and Produced by Tim Handley

CD# is Naxos 8.559240

Track Listing:

1. Prairie Journal (1937) (10:55)

Rodeo (Four Dance Episodes) (1942) (18:54)

2. Buckaroo Holiday (7:20)

3. Corral Nocturne (3:41)

4. Saturday Night Waltz (4:26)

5. Hoe Down (3:26)

6. Letter From Home (1944) (6:23)

The Red Pony-Film Music (Suite) (1948) (23:48)

7. Morning on the Ranch (4:27)

8. The Gift (4:35)

9. Dream Music (2:29)

10. Circus Music (1:48)

11. Walk to the Bunkhouse (2:58)

12. Grandfather’s Story (4:15)

13. Happy Ending (3:11)

Total Time is 59:55

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