Composers Datebook®

with host John Zech

Wednesday, May 9

Copland at the movies

Synopsis

Some classical music snobs look down their nose at film scores, considering them less “serious” and more “commercial” 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 himself 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 Thorton Wilder’s popular stage play “Our Town.” Europe was already at war, and Copland wrote his friend Benjamin Britten: “I find it hard as hell to go on putting notes down on paper as if nothing were happening.”

To match Thorton Wilder’s nostalgic play about American life in Grover’s Corner, New Hampshire, Copland’s score employed harmonies suggestive of old New England church hymns.

For once, audiences and the critics were impressed, and Copland saw to it that his film score would also have an extended life in the concert hall. Copland quickly arranged an “Our Town” concert suite, which premiered on a CBS Radio broadcast in June of 1940, and reworked this suite for its first public performance by the Boston Pops and Leonard Bernstein in May of 1944.

Music Played in Today's Program

Aaron Copland (1900 – 1990) Our Town Suite Saint Louis Symphony; Leonard Slatkin, cond. BMG 61699

Additional Information

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