These four scores written for films had been inaccessible
for many years and are now newly exhumed from the Library of Congress.
Two trace their origins to films for the modernistic
New York World Fair. The Fair was held in a fateful year: 1939. The
same event also drew two British concert commissions premiered by Boult
in New York. These were Arnold Bax's Seventh and final symphony and
Arthur Bliss's grandiloquent though flawed Piano Concerto played by
Solomon though, to my knowledge, only John Ogdon, playing it as if it
were the Mennin concerto, has made something remarkable out of it.
These Copland scores were written to keep the wolf
from the door. The studios paid well and Copland was still struggling
for security though the years 1939-45 saw many of his most enduringly
popular scores produced.
From Sorcery to Science is a sequence
of miniatures ranging from airy chinoiserie (à la Li Tai Po as
set by Mahler, Bliss and Lambert), to a jazzy coven, to the eerie nocturnal
chimes of alchemy (like the witchery in de Falla's El Amor Brujo),
Voodoo filtered through Chabrier's España to the prairie
clink and swing of March of the Americas. This is frankly the
most ingenious 'post-carderie'. The scale and treatment recalled for
me the Arthur Bliss Conversations which predated the Copland
pieces. Bliss, with strong US connections, spent the late 1930s and
early 1940s in the USA until his return to wartime England a BBC post
effectively as one of Boult's assistants.
After seven ultra-brevities the suite from the music
for The City permitted Copland a more generous canvas
on which to develop his ideas. Most of the movements last more than
two minutes and two more than four minutes. This permits a Liadov-scaled
vignette and avoids boredom. The music resonates with snatches of works
to come and works just written. I must single out the smooth poetry
of Lino Gomez's bass saxophone which weaves a way through the New
England Countryside and The Steel Mill the latter
of which I expected to be more like Mossolov's Iron Foundry.
The music has something of Appalachian Spring (for years in the
future) but there is also angst. I wonder if Copland, with his Socialist
agenda, was also trying to portray the oppression of city life as well
fighting as a subversive against the sub- and supra- text of the World
Fair which was meant to be positive towards the industrial society.
The boogie of Fire engines at lunch hour reminded me very strongly
of Nyman's Where the Bee Sucks with its buzzing surging strings
which reappear as a motif in Taxi Jam with its whistles and yet
more boogie. The New City is a lovely pastoral movement - if
this is a city it is a garden city.
The Cummington Story was also a documentary.
This took as its theme the settlement of refugees in a rural Masachussets
town. This is the cue for the most pastoral music which inhabits the
same dells and pastures as The Tender Land and Appalachian
Spring. The Eos violins seem a little hard-edged here though otherwise
Only one 'traditional' feature film is represented
on this collection and Copland wrote music for only a couple. The
North Star, an action story of Russian partisans and guerilla
warfare with the Nazis, starred Walter Houston, Farley Grainger, Anne
Baxter and, as the villainous Nazi, Erich von Stroheim, playing an accustomed
role. The music is busy, clear, Russian-inflected and somewhat poster-ish.
It was written at the brief peak of Soviet-American alliance when the
Khachaturyan Violin Concerto did the rounds of the US orchestras, when
celebrity conductors bid for the honour of the US premiere of Shostakovich's
Leningrad Symphony (whose remorseless acidic march can be discerned
in some of the music). After the moment had passed history was rewritten
and crass exercises such as the re-editing of the film and re-release
as Armored Attack with a less favourable take on the Russian
The movements are: From Sorcery to Science:
Opening Fanfare, Chinese Medicine Man, The Witch's Cauldron, The Alchemist,
African Voodoo, The Modern Pharmacy, March of the Americas. The
City: Main title, The Steel Mill, The Sorrow of the City, Fire
Engines at Lunch Hour, Taxi Jam, Sunday Traffic, The New City, End Title.
The North Star: Main title, Death of the Little Boy, Going
to School, Damian is Blind, Song of the Guerillas (to words by Ira Gershwin
sung here with feeling by the Collegiate Chorale/Roger Bass), North
Star Battle, The Children's Return, Guerillas Return, Leaving the Village.
This is a rather special project carried off with stylish
engagement by Sheffer (who contributes the notes) and his collaborators
in the Eos and at Telarc. A worthwhile addition to the Copland discography.
The undiluted dedication to filling gaps in the Copland discography
has to be admired.