Western Classics

August 8, 2011


Western music has been a part of American culture for 200 years from the early days of the pioneer crossings to cowboys sitting around a campfire playing a harmonica or guitar and singing a song about life in the west. Hollywood seeing the $$$ offered all sorts of films ranging from ‘B’ movie productions, serials, television, to the Cinerama production of How The West Was Won. All of this got the attention of the American classical composers and some wonderful music was created. In particular Aaron Copland created his “Americana Sound” with his wonderful works Rodeo and Billy the Kid which further influenced composers such as Tiomkin, Bernstein, Williams, Goldsmith, and Moross with his music that created their own sound for the silver screen.

Delos, as part of a series which also includes Mystery classics (DE 1601) and Romance classics (DE 1602), has put together 60+ minutes of western material from Copland, Grofe, Hanson, and Hovhaness. Each piece carefully selected is a representation of the western way of life. The first cue is “Hoe Down” from the ballet Rodeo and if the theme sounds familiar it should. The beef council has been using it for years as their theme song. This very lively dance begins at a frantic pace and after a brief rest with the piano getting the spotlight in a gallop rhythm the main theme is presented. A second theme is presented and the orchestra slows to a crawl before the main theme is once again presented. Listen carefully to how well Copland makes use of his percussion, very important to this track. The second cue is one of the most popular melodies of all time “On The Trail” from Ferde Grofe’s Grand Canyon Suite. It begins with a statement from a solo violin offering the main melody without orchestra. What follows is a second melody, a swaggering tune of a burro slowly making his way on the trail and then Grofe uses counterpoint playing both themes. He returns to the main theme this time in majestic fashion. Imagine the beauty and splendor. The all too brief movement ends in a frantic fashion. If you picture yourself around a campfire with guitars playing a dreamy romantic piece you’ve got Copland’s “Corral Nocturne” from Rodeo. I’ve included an audio clip if you click on the following link . Copland Corral Nocturne

In An Outdoor Overture, also Copland rhythm plays a major part in this work with his usual element of surprise, bright trumpets, booming timpani, and quiet melody from the flute and clarinet. Not ever stopping to think that part of a Hanson Symphony No. 3 could have anything to do with the west proved me wrong. The melody is gorgeous in the second movement an andante very uplifting. Picture the plains after a hard rain with the sun coming out and you have this mostly serene piece. A tense yearning part but this quickly passes building to a wonderful crescendo and ends on a quiet note. The complete symphony, can be found on Delos (DE 3092) which also includes his Symphony #6 and Fantasy Variations on a Theme of Youth.

The third movement of the symphony, a scherzo, with its rhythm could also conjure up thoughts of the west. Billy the Kid was a 1938 ballet and is a prime example of the brilliance of Copland at work. The eight part ballet was combined into one concert suite by Copland in 1940 with about 2/3 of the material being included. It is fun to see how many different tunes you can name which Copland uses in the suite. “The Gun Battle” with the timpani and simulated gunfire is classic. The “Open Prairie” which opens and closes the suite is beautiful beyond words. Listed below are the eight parts of the ballet.

1…. Open Prairie

2…. Corral Nocturne

3…. Saturday Night Waltz

4…. Prairie Night

5…. Gun Battle

6…. Celebration

7…. Billy’s Death

8…. Open Prairie Again

The concluding selection is the first movement of Hovhaness Symphony No. 50 “Mount St. Helens” specifically written about the eruption that took place in 1980. The andante is melodic, quiet, and conveys the beauty of the mountain. It is somewhat religious inspired and note the key use of the harp. The complete work can be found on DE 3711 which includes a nice selection of Hovhaness material.

This is a nice introduction to some wonderful material or just a one hour escape into the world of classic western material. As is usually the case with Delos the material is well recorded with good balance, bass, and treble. I approve of the fact that the highs are not too bright and there is a nice crispness in the percussion.

Track Listing:

1…. Hoe-Down (Copland) (3:14)

2…. On the Trail (Grofe) (7:22)

3…. Corral Nocturne (Copland) (3:20)

4…. An Outdoor Overture (Copland) (9:19)

5…. Andante (Hanson) (8:49)

6…. Billy the Kid (Copland) (20:46)

7…. Andante (Hovhaness) (10:10)

Total Time is 63:02


One Response to “Western Classics”

  1. […] blog Film Music: The Neglected Art has published another grand review of a “Delos Recording of the Month.” This […]

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