Saturday, March 24, 2018

Aaron Copland’s Complete Masterpiece Score Album to The Red Pony (1949)

Re-posted by Nicholas Stix

When I was a university student in West Germany, this music helped sustain me. I often borrowed it from the Deutsch-Amerikanisches Institut (German-American Institute). Did I ever suffer from homesickness!

When I was a boy, I read only the first few pages of the opening story in the collection (of five?) that constituted the book, The Red Pony. Steinbeck described the mountains of the part of California he grew up in.

When my chief of research was ten, I bought the DVD of the picture. It’s uneven. There are some wonderful performances, especially the boy, Robert Mitchum as Billy Buck, the macho ranch hand who steals the boy’s heart, and Louis Calhern, whom I didn’t even recognize as the pioneer maternal grandfather of the heroic settler age, whose stories humiliate his tenderfoot, lawyer son-in-law.

What makes the movie hold together and work is Copland’s brilliant music. The picture had been slated for a 1948 release. If it had been released on time, this score ought to have been nominated for an Oscar, and would have deserved to win. But ‘twas not to be.

Meanwhile, Copland scored The Heiress, which was released on time in 1949. And he gave the picture a stunning score—what survived of it.

However, The Heiress was directed, for better or worse, by Willi Wyler (The Best Years of Our Lives). While Wyler made brilliant pictures, he liked to ruin the lives of independent-minded composers. He butchered Copland’s score, which led to the latter refusing his Oscar the following year, when the Academy bestowed one on him for the brilliant ruins of his score to The Heiress.

Copland’s score to The Red Pony was not nominated, even though it was superior to his score that won.

Copland responded to Wyler’s abuse by saying to hell with Hollywood, and leaving at his peak as a movie composer. He returned for a brutal, New York City-set movie called Something Wild in 1961, but by then, the magic was gone.

Reds took advantage of Copland’s long absence and its timing, to concoct one of their constant hoaxes, whereby Copland (who was a communist, but who had never joined The Party) had been “blacklisted.”

At the end of the spectacular opening musical sequence to The Red Pony, “Morning on the Ranch,” as the natural world awakens, the name “Aaron Copland” flashed across the screen. My ten-year-old responded, “Thank you, Aaron.”


Morning on the Ranch
The Gift
Dream March
Circus Music
Walk to the Bunkhouse
Grandfather's Story
Happy Ending

Performed by the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin.

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