Part of the Rest Is Noise Audio Guide
Copland in 1946. From the Library of Congress.
Note: The first page number is for the hardback edition, the second number is for the paperback.
In the nineteen-thirties and forties, classical music reached extraordinary levels of popularity in the United States, thanks in large measure to forceful support from major media entities such as NBC radio and Time magazine. Classical music lost its "elite" aura and became a mass phenomenon — most notably when millions of radio listeners tuned in to hear Arturo Toscanini conduct the NBC Symphony (see p. 264 / p. 288 of The Rest is Noise). The Pristine Classical site has streaming audio of many Toscanini performances. Here the Maestro leads an all-Wagner concert at the height of World War II, showing a determination not to let Hitler appropriate the German classics.
Aaron Copland was a young American composer determined to advance the cause of contemporary music in the new cultural climate. He began as something of a modernist, unloosing stark dissonances in his Piano Variations of 1930 (p. 268 / p. 293):
Leo Smit, piano, Sony 66345.
But he also cocked an ear for jazz, as in the "Burlesque" movement of Music for the Theatre:
Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic, Sony 60177.
NEW DEAL AND POPULAR FRONT
From the Library of Congress.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal brought about a brief but astonishing surge of federal support for the arts. Orchestras, opera companies, and other musical organizations affiliated with the Works Progress Administration sprang across the country; composers benefited from a program called Composers' Forum-Laboratory, in which they explained their work to audiences. The archives of the Federal Music Project are held at the National Archives, which has little online pertaining to this period, but the Library of Congress has digitized selections from the Federal Theater Project, to which such composers as Virgil Thomson and Marc Blitzstein contributed music. View here Hallie Flanagan's speech "Is This the Time and Place?" in which she set out the radical goals of the Theater Project (pp. 280-81 / pp. 306-7).
Charles Seeger and Ruth Crawford Seeger (pp. 271-72 / pp.296-97) were heavily involved in the New Deal Music culture and left-leaning musical organizations associated with the Popular Front. Samples of Ruth Crawford Seeger's early modernist music can be heard at Art of the States; more about this remarkable composer can be found at the website of her daughter Peggy Seeger. Here is the beginning of the remarkable slow movement of Seeger's String Quartet 1931:
Schoenberg Ensemble, DG 449925, available as a reissue from ArkivMusic.
One composer featured in the Composers' Forum-Laboratory was Johanna Beyer, whose music was neglected for decades and has only recently begun to see the light of day. She was greatly influenced by Ruth Crawford Seeger, yet pursued her own expressive ends. In 1936 she commemorated the idealistic spirit of the age with a piece for chorus entitled Federal Music Project, whose text says in part: "I know of an active bee-hive, / it buzzes and bubbles all day, / is full of creative ideas, / a nucleus of a future so gay!"
Copland's popular breakthrough in the New Deal era came in 1938 with El Salón México, a score inspired by several trips south of the border earlier in the decade:
Bernstein conducting the Columbia Symphony, Sony 60177.
Copland took a close interest in younger Mexican composers such as Carlos Chávez, who made disciplined use of native folk material, and Silvestre Revueltas, whose later masterpiece La noche de los Mayas has a neo-primitivist energy to equal the Rite of Spring:
Fernando Lozano conducting the Mexican Philharmonic Orchestra, Forlane 16614.
But there is also a straight line of development from Copland's earlier "modernist" scores, as you can hear by comparing the beginning of El Salón with this passage from the Piano Variations:
Leo Smit, piano, Sony 66345.
The beginning of the first section of Aaron Copland's ballet Billy the Kid, "The Open Prairie," one of the signature sounds of the populist 1930s (pp. 275-76 / pp. 300-1 ):
The final section, "The Open Prairie Again":
Michael Tilson Thomas conducting the San Francisco Symphony, RCA Victor 63511. By kind permission of Boosey & Hawkes and Sony BMG.
The Boosey site has more samples of Copland's music (RealPlayer required). The website of the Library of Congress has extensive selections from Copland's papers. You can read here a letter that Copland wrote to Citkowitz in September 1934, describing the experience of delivering a Communistic speech to farmers in Minnesota (p. 273 / p. 298).
The Library of Congress has similar pages for Leonard Bernstein; here is the telegram that Serge Koussevitzky sent to Bernstein when the young conductor made his career-making debut conducting the New York Philharmonic in 1943. See also Copland House, the official Bernstein site, the Marc Blitzstein site, and Andrea Olmstead's site for Copland's more modernistically inclined colleague Roger Sessions, with complete versions of her out-of-print Sessions books.
Roy Harris's Symphony No. 3 (p. 280 / pp. 305-6):
Blitzstein was a more politically pointed composer than Copland and Harris ever were; his pro-union, anti-capitalist musical The Cradle Will Rock was one of the great sensations of the leftist thirties. In "Art's for Art Sake," two unenlightened artists announce their credo of obliviousness to contemporary conditions, while Beethoven's Egmont Overture is ironically honked out on the car horn of their patron, Mrs. Mister:
From the 1938 original-cast recording, with Edward Fuller as Yasha the violinist and Jules Schmidt as Dauber the painter, with Blitzstein at the piano; Pearl GEMS 0009.
At this University of Virginia site you can view the complete 1938 Resettlement Administration film The River, with music by Virgil Thomson (pp. 283-84 / pp. 309-10). Here is a YouTube excerpt from the film:
LOS ANGELES AND HOLLYWOOD
In the 1930s and 40s, a huge array of Central and Eastern European artists and intellectuals, among them Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Bertolt Brecht, and Thomas Mann, settled in Southern California, having sought refuge from fascism. The émigré scene is well documented at the Feuchtwanger Memorial Library at USC. On their site you can see pictures of Mann's house in Pacific Palisades, Franz Werfel and Alma Mahler-Werfel's house in Beverly Hills, and Brecht's house in Santa Monica. The picture above, from the image archive of the Mahler-Werfel Papers at the University of Pennsylvania, shows Stravinsky and Alma in Beverly Hills.
A YouTube video from the Arnold Schoenberg Center gives a sense of LA culture in the thirties and forties. Visible in this silent home-movie footage are, among others, Schoenberg, Thomas Mann, Ira Gershwin, Bertrand Russell, and Aldous Huxley:
Among exiled composers who worked in Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s, the most successful was Erich Wolfgang Korngold (pp. 291-92 / p. 316), who had been a child prodigy in Vienna. Scores such as Kings Row (1942) established an orchestral Hollywood style that is still commonplace today:
Korngold conducting the Warner Bros. Studio Orchestra, Rhino 72243.
A different side of Korngold emerged in his postwar Symphony in F-sharp (p. 293 / p. 320), whose slow movement is a masterpiece of lyric despair. After the fashion of Mahler's later symphonies, it seems to have joy within its grasp before collapsing back into anguish:
Rudolf Kempe conducting the Munich Philharmonic, Varese Sarabande (out of print).
There is a comprehensive website for Bernard Herrmann, perhaps the greatest of Hollywood film composers. His first score was for Orson Welles's Citizen Kane (p. 292-93 / p. 319-20), whose motto theme is inscribed with the dark fate of the title character:
In flashbacks, the falling intervals of the theme are transposed into a merry, major-key ditty, denoting Kane's youthful exuberance:
Joel McNeely conducting the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Varese Sarabande 5806.
Arnold Schoenberg, formerly of Vienna and Berlin, lived on North Rockingham Avenue in Brentwood from 1936 until his death in 1951. The Schoenberg Center has a digital scan of a letter that Schoenberg wrote to Irving Thalberg, head of production at the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio, following up on a meeting at which the composer discussed with Thalberg the possibility of writing music for the film The Good Earth. Nothing came of the plan. There's also a charming letter in which Schoenberg quizzes a car mechanic about problems with the cooling system in his brand-new Ford sedan. Schoenberg is seen playing tennis with a man who may or may not be Gershwin at around 5:50 in this video, placed on YouTube by the Schoenberg Center.
Stravinsky's major wartime work was the Symphony in Three Movements, finished just as the war was ending in 1945 (pp. 298-99 / p. 326):
Bartók was one of many émigré composers irritated by the enormous popularity of Shostakovich. He parodied the Leningrad in the fourth movement of his Concerto for Orchestra (p. 300 / pp. 327-28):
For comparison, here is Shostakovich's "invasion theme" again:
COMMON MAN, APPALACHIAN SPRING
Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man, inspired by Henry Wallace's 1942 speech "Century of the Common Man," has become a universally recognizable icon of the "American" sound in music (p. 301 / p. 329). The rock group Queen quoted it in their hit song "We Will Rock You":
Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic, Sony 63082.
Copland's sketches for Appalachian Spring (pp. 300-304 / pp. 328-32) can be seen at the Library of Congress site. On the page above (click to enlarge) you can see him beginning to work out the ballet's spacious opening; here is the passage in the coda marked "like a prayer." The corresponding music is below.
Michael Tilson Thomas conducting the San Francisco Symphony, RCA Victor 63511.
The beginning of Martha Graham's dance of Appalachian Spring: