Music From Movies/Aaron Copland

December 1, 2007


copland-image.jpgIn 1943 Copland arranged 5 pieces from 3 films making a 15+ minute concert suite called Music For Movies. Copland very early on was quite focused on the nature of film music. “I learned the most basic rule: A film is not a concert; the music is meant to help the picture.” Realizing that his music written for films would have little or no life away from the film he created this suite from the films Of Mice And Men, Our Town, and The City. Little did Aaron know how true his statement would be as only two tracks Of Mice And Men have survived, at least at the time of this writing.

Copland’s first film assignment came in the form of a documentary about the development of urban life for the 1939 New York World Fair. It is interesting to note that Pare Lorentz who gave us The Plow That Broke The Plain and The River with music by another famous American composer Virgil Thomson also had a hand in this film about the urban landscape. Two of 8 scenes are included in the concert suite: “New England Countryside” and “Sunday Traffic”. “Barley Wagons” and “Threshing Machines” are included from Of Mice And Men and “Grovers Corner” from Our Town. Both Our Town and Of Mice And Men were nominated for Oscars.

“New England Countryside” is certainly aptly named in the overall tranquil mood that it sets for the listener. Beginning with a brass statement from the trombones with two timpani answers followed by the trumpets and reeds as the strings answer each response. Trills from the clarinet follow with an answer from a saxophone. The entire track is extremely well orchestrated and thought out. It is a time of reflection and thought.

“Barley Wagons” with the tinkling of the triangle begins a folk melody depicting the moving of the crop to harvest again a time of reflection.

“Sunday Traffic” is a musical representation of the hustle and bustle of traffic in the busy urban life with the trumpet leading the way introducing the theme to us. The pace gets quicker and finally ends with the brass displaying dissonant sounds as the work all comes to a crashing halt!

“Grovers Corner”, recently used in the Ken Burns documentary War, is a perfect example of depicting life in a small town. One can just imagine the peace and tranquility as the theme is revealed and expanded upon. I’m confident that this was a work that other composers listened to and studied as the Americana West music was formed from the “Copland sound”.

“Thrashing Machines” is another excellent example of creative orchestration being used to enhance a movie scene in an effective manner justifying his statement “it makes sense only if it helps the film”.

After reading this far in the article, the decision is now what recording to get, along with what else do you get on the CD. There are three recordings that this reviewer listened to carefully and all have merit. My primary choice if I had to select one CD would be the Slatkin recording because of the other material offered. Also included is the Red Pony Suite, The Heiress, Our Town, and Prairie Journal (Music for Radio). To my knowledge, it is the only recording of The Heiress, a reconstruction by Arnold Freed and thus something to have in your collection. The Celluloid Copland on Telarc by far has the best recording of the “New England Countryside” track. It has much stronger brass and a superior sax solo and an excellent trumpet solo in “Sunday Traffic”. In the Copland collection from Sony, “New England Countryside” is played quite nicely at a more leisurely pace and actually reflects a whole different style which is quite pleasant. The 3 CD set offers a wide range of Copland material but of course carries a much larger price tag and doesn’t include The Red Pony or The Heiress, thus my choice of the Slatkin.

Golden Scores Rating ****

Produced by Jay David Saks

CD# is 09026-61699-2

Track Listing:

New England Countryside…5:11

Barley Wagons…2;13

Sunday Traffic…2:28

Grovers Corner…2:20

Threshing Machines…3:01


2 Responses to “Music From Movies/Aaron Copland”

  1. Will Finch Says:

    Dear Sir,
    This is one of the few bits of writing I am yet to find on these works, I don’t suppose you could tell me where you sourced Copland’s quote “I learned the most basic…”

    I would be very grateful.
    Music Student UK

  2. Fantastic points altogether, you just won a new reader. What might you recommend in regards to your submit that you made some days ago? Any certain?

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