17 April 2007

Copland: Various

Some more of the ongoing Copland listening. We've gotten into the late, strange stuff. Copland was coming down with Alzheimer's I believe and found composing to be quite difficult.

Down a Country Lane (1962): Beautiful, gentle piano miniature in the Fast-Slow-Fast ABA that is typical. The orchestratd version shows Copland's genius for orchestration. I get a sense that there is something restrained in the emotions, very New England throughout - the title is a bit precious.

Emblems for Wind Ensemble (1964): Copland was asked to write a work for wind ensemble and created somedthing that sounds as if it were the beginnings of the Midwest Wind Ensemble sound. The work is enjoyable, particularly in the slow pastoral opening, if not the jazzy middle section. However it is problematic. At about the middle of the opening section, he quotes Amazing Grace - which he claims just "fit" with the harmonies that he had already written - the hamronization is lovely, but the choice and the justification is not believable. Appearing as it does again at the end, after the jazzy section it almost seems to make a curious symbolic justification that I'm not sure if Copland meant - the jazzy sound associated as it has been in twentieth-century classical music with transgression redeemed by the hymn music - could this reflect on Copland post-McCarthy? Hard to say. I think we need to conceive of Copland's music, especially his non-Proclamatory music, as programmatic, consider the ballets, the film music.

In Evening Air (1967): A gentle short piano piece that makes no demands of the listener or really the performer's interpretive abilities. Simple, elegant, with repetitions of materials in shifted harmonies. Apparently the music derives from Copland's score to "The Cummington Story"

Inscape (1967): Frankly a ponderous affair filled with tension filled contrapuntal phrases that alternate with each other each seeming like it will ead to somewhere else, but never really going anywhere it seems. It's not an unpleasant piece, it just seems to feel like it is trying to say something rather important but never really does, like a bad lecturer. There are some tensions I think between Copland and the twelve tone language you can see the escape routes - the chords over which a disjointed violin line runs as if to use up the remainder of the pitches, the big twelve note chords - the first (at the opening) of which is impressive. Copland also claims to have used 2 rows, which in mjy opinion pretty much negates the aestheticism of row use. Said to be the glory of Copland's later years, I would disagree, though I don't have a suitable candidtate to take the mantle.

Ceremonial Fanfare (1969): There's not much to say about this brief fanfare. As a fanfare goes it works well, the harmonies are clean as per Copland, the melodies clear and speaking well through the instruments, probably also fun to play. In three sections of which the last is a culmination of the first - the first is simply canonic presentation of the melody. This is melody driven music.

Inaugural Fanfare (1969): This fanfare on the other hand is really quite strange - again ABA, but the B section is a dialogue of two trumpets marked "from afar" The main theme makes use of a Lydian fourth and the overall feel of the work is not all that triumphant, it’s a begrudging vidtory, ambivalent almost. The opening is striking with the percussion trading to the brass and then a lovely sound of two glockenspiels and flutes, But we never get full integration and the fanfare never really takes off. However compare this with an earlier fanfare like the Jubilee Variations or the Fanfare for the Common Man and we see a real decline in quality.

Happy Anniversary (1969): For Ormandy's Seventieth - relatively straightforward arrangement of Happy Birthday - tune is not modified - accompaniment builds up pandiatonic cluster chords as the song progresses. Lively and probably sounds good with the orchestra (no recording) but not as interesting as Stravinsky's "Greeting Prelude"

Duo for Flute and Piano (1971): Copland returns to his classic style in this piece for flute and piano. Opening is beautifuly diatonic, fast section seems very dry after a lamenting off-kilter second movement with minor and major thirds (more like the proclamotroy Copland).

Three Latin-American Sketches (1959-1972): Three movments based on various Mexican styles: Estribillo, and Danza de Jalisco bookend a slow evocative Mexican siesta scene. Makes extensive use of the trumpet as soloist. The second movement has a languid beauty in which almost everything can easily have the tendency to lounge on the beat, though that could be the recording, I think though playing it more straight would really dullen its effect. The final Danza is sparingly orchestrated at times, effectively, I think. Perhaps this next comment is informed by my knowledge of Copland's biography at this point, but these seem to be orchestrated in a spare manner, as if extra notes were too much trouble, or else there is an influence of the late twentieth century solo insturment sound present. Begun in 1959 and assembled and completed in 1972.

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