MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Aaron Copland: American Populist

This new film from PostClassical Ensemble’s More than Music Project explores Aaron Copland’s far left activism — including a rare performance of his prize-winning workers’ song “Into the Streets, May First,” with its call “Up with the sickle and the hammer!”

Notes Joseph Horowitz of PCE, “It’s all eerily pertinent today, this saga of an iconic American composer jostled by Populist currents on the far left, then the far right – and finally retreating from the fray.”

Among the film’s participants are the American historians: Michael Kazin (on populism) and Joseph McCartin (on the Red Scare). The soundtrack includes excerpts from PCE’s Naxos DVD of The City (1939), which Horowitz regards as “Copland’s highest achievement as a film composer, and the least-known consequential music that he composed.”

Aaron Copland, he concludes, “somewhat resembles ‘a cork in a stream,’ buffeted by political and social currents — a saga that raises many questions, including: What is the fate of the arts in the United States?”

An index to the 75-minute film:

10:14 – Copland on that Communist picnic

11:48 – Copland on workers’ songs

12:34 – “Into the Streets, May First” sung by Lisa Vroman and William Sharp

16:37 – Copland on Hollywood film music (with some Korngold to listen to)

20:00 – Excerpts from The City

39:20 – Joseph McCartin on the Red Scare

44:34 – Joe McCarthy and Roy Cohn grill Copland

58:25 – Music historian Beth Levy on Copland’s quest for musical identity

1:04:32 – Michael Kazin on Copland and the Popular Front

1:06:30 – Horowitz’s summing up — a “cork in a stream” – with comparisons to Charles Ives and George Gershwin: composers with deeper roots

1:12:54 – The last word goes to pianist Benjamin Pasternack, recalling an illuminating meeting with Aaron Copland at Tanglewood. 

Filed under: Aaron Copland, American music, PostClassical Ensemble

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

RSS Arts & Culture Stories from NPR