Sunday, May 20, 2018

Hear the Most Complete Version of Aaron Copland’s Score to the Movie Version of Thornton Wilder’s Play, Our Town (1940)



Re-posted by Nicholas Stix

About 30 years ago, I heard that Our Town, then 50 years old, was the most often produced play by American schools.

Thornton Wilder won one of this three Pulitzer Prizes for Our Town, back when the Pulitzer was the gold standard, rather than the dross it is today.

Our Town was so popular, because it cost virtually nothing to produce, with the “set” consisting of a bunch of folding chairs, and because of the elemental power of its story, which is anchored in the narrator and the heroine, Emily.

It’s set in Grovers Corners, a New Hampshire town in a story in which the drama derives from quotidian matters of life: Birth, childhood, courtship, marriage and death.

To enjoy the story, one must identify with, or fall in love with Emily.

All over America, there were surely thousands of tear-stained copies of Our Town.

Terms of Endearment (1983) works in a similar fashion. One must identify with, or fall in love with the heroine, Emma (Debra Winger), for the picture to work. If you take Emma into your heart, the picture’s a masterpiece. If not, it’s a waste of two hours.

Wilder supposedly wrote the play as a Valentine of thanks to the town of Peterborough, where he had spent a year as a visiting writer, and which served as the model for Grovers Corners.

Today, most schoolchildren have probably never even heard of this masterpiece, and God only knows what plays the schools are producing. Race propaganda? Sex propaganda?

Aaron Copland was one of the men who revolutionized movie music in the 1930s and ‘40s.

During the silent era, my understanding is that while some pictures (e.g., Birth of a Nation in 1915, or Metropolis, in 1927) had a dedicated musical score, others had music done quickly by orchestra conductors or organists for different movie theaters, such as Page Cook recounted the young Ken Darby (1909-1992) doing, in her introduction to Darby’s Hollywood Holyland: The Filming and Scoring of The Greatest Story Ever Told.

After his graduation from Santa Monica High (for which he wrote the alma mater still in use today), Ken took a postgraduate course in advanced composition with Doris Moon, together with classes in Junior College. He worked at a job in a gas station from 2 to 8 a.m., slept from 8:30 until 2 p.m., attended classes until 5, practiced till 9, played the pipe organ at the Forum Theater from 9:40 till closing, and on Sunday evenings, scored the silent flicks at the swank Uplifters Club on an outdated Skinner organ. Ken recalls: “I’m not a little appalled by the effrontery of that skinny youth who dared match his improvisations to the films shown there. Such is the naïve confidence of the young. It was heady stuff to be tolerated by those celebrities. They never complained, but they never increased my salary: $10.00 per film, no questions asked.”
The talkie era immediately brought musicals with it, but somehow there was a problem with movie music for non-musicals. Many of the early pictures had little or no music (e.g., It Happened One Night, in 1934).

That changed radically, with Max Steiner’s ambitious score for King Kong, in 1933. Steiner was joined, in short order, by fellow émigré Erich Wolfgang Korngold (e.g., Captain Blood (1935)), and by the late 1930s, music for non-musicals was a major part of every big studio, with its own Oscar categories.

Copland scored his first feature, Of Mice and Men, in 1939, for which he was nominated for two Oscars. He was up for another two Oscars for Our Town, the following year, one for The North Star (1943), a communist propaganda flick made as a good will gesture to our Soviet allies, and won his first and only Oscar for The Heiress (1949).

(For my money, Copland’s composed his greatest movie score for The Red Pony (1949), for which he was not nominated.)

However, Heiress director Willi Wyler butchered Copland’s score. Copland responded by refusing the Oscar, and fleeing Hollywood for 13 years.

Marxists took advantage of the situation by weaving one of their blacklisting myths around Copland’s departure from Hollywood.



Published on Jan 25, 2018

1. Main Title
2. Story of Our Town
3. Off to School
4. Introducing the Professor
5. Grover's Corners
6. Emily in Love
7. The Town at Night
8. The Letter
9. Grover's Corners Again
10. George and Emily
11. The Drugstore Scene
12. The Hill Top
13. The Crisis
14. Scene in the Cemetery
15. Emily's Dream
16. The Epilogue
17. Cast of Characters

Performed by the Bohuslav Martinu Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Andrew Mogrelia.


Previously, at WEJB/NSU:

“American Anthems: The Music of Aaron Copland”;

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

“Hear Aaron Copland’s Intense, Academy Award-Winning Score to The Heiress (1949)”;

“Video: Appalachian Spring, as Conceived, Choreographed, and Performed by Martha Graham; Music by Aaron Copland: Part I of IV”;

“Aaron and Martha: Appalachian Spring, Part II of IV, Ballet and Music (Video)”;

“Part III of IV of Aaron Copland and Martha Graham’s Appalachian Spring (Video)”; and

“The Fourth and Concluding Section of Aaron Copland and Martha Graham’s Appalachian Spring (Video).”

No comments: