Composers Datebook®

Copland at the movies

Composers Datebook - May 9, 2024


Some classical music snobs look down their nose at film scores, considering them less “serious” than “art” music written for the concert hall.

Aaron Copland, for one, deplored this attitude. He admired the work of composers like Bernard Herrmann, Alex North, David Raksin and Elmer Bernstein, whose successful Hollywood careers earned them financial rewards on the West Coast, if not the respect of the snootier East Coast music critics. Copland had spent some time in Hollywood, and knew what was involved in completing a film score on time and on budget.

On today’s date in 1940, at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood, the press was invited to a special preview showing of a new film version of Our Town. To match Thornton Wilder’s nostalgic stage play about American life in Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, Copland’s score employed harmonies suggestive of old New England church hymns.

For once, audiences and critics were impressed, and Copland quickly arranged an Our Town concert suite, which premiered on a CBS Radio broadcast in June 1940. He reworked this suite for its first public performance by the Boston Pops and Leonard Bernstein in May 1944.

Music Played in Today's Program

Aaron Copland (1900-1990): Our Town Suite; Saint Louis Symphony; Leonard Slatkin, conductor; BMG 61699

On This Day


  • 1740 - Italian composer Giovanni Paisiello, in Roccaforzata, near Taranto

  • 1814 - German pianist and composer Adolph von Henselt, in Schwabach, Bavaria


  • 1707 - German organist and composer Dietrich Buxtehunde, 70, in Lübeck

  • 1770 - (May 9 or 10) English composer, conductor and writer on music Charles Avison, 61, in Newcastle upon Tyne

  • 1791 - American statesman and songwriter Francis Hopkinson, 53, in Philadelphia. He was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and dedicated a book of his songs to George Washington.

  • 1799 - French composer Claude Balbastre, 72, in Paris


  • 1812 - Rossini's opera La Scala di Seta (The Silken Ladder), in Venice

  • 1868 - Bruckner: Symphony No. 1, in Linz, with the composer conducting

  • 1893 - Rachmaninoff: opera Aleko, in Moscow at the Bolshoi Theater (Julian date: April 27)

  • 1924 - R. Strauss: ballet Schlagobers (Whipped Cream), in Vienna

  • 1940 - The film Our Town opens in Hollywood at Grauman’s Chinese Theater. The film was based on the play of the same name by Thorton Wilder, and featured a film score by Aaron Copland. Copland arranged a suite of music from his film score, which premiered on CBS Radio on June 9, 1940. A revised version of the suite was given its first public performance by the Boston Pops conducted by Leonard Bernstein on May 7, 1944.

  • 1981 - Christopher Rouse: The Infernal Machine for orchestra (Movement II of Rouse’s Phantasmata), at the Evian Festival, France, by the University of Michigan Symphony Orchestra, Gustav Meier conducting

  • 1986 - Ellen Taaffe Zwilich: Concerto Grosso (after Handel’s Sonata in D), by the Handel Festival Orchestra of Washington, Stephen Simon conducting

  • 1988 - Bernstein: Arias and Barcarolles, at Equitable Center Auditorium in New York City, by vocalists Louise Edeiken, Joyce Castle, John Brandstetter, and Mordechai Kaston, with the composer and Michael Tilson Thomas at the piano. An orchestrated version of this work prepared by Bright Sheng premiered on September 22, 1989, at the Tilles Center of Long Island University with the New York Chamber Symphony conducted by Gerard Schwarz and featuring vocalists Susan Graham and Kurt Ollmann.

  • 1990 - John Harbison: Words from Patterson (to texts by William Carlos Williams), at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., with baritone William Sharp and the members of the New Jersey Chamber Music Society

  • 1998 - John Tavener: Wake Up and Die, for solo cello and orchestral cello section, at the Beauvais Cello Festival in Beavais, France

  • 1999 - Zwillich: Upbeat! by National Symphony, Anthony Aibel conducting


  • 1863 - American premiere of Berlioz's Harold in Italy, by the Theodore Thomas Orchestra in New York

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®