To crown the celebration of Copland's centenary, the pioneering Eos Orchestra has recorded four of his film scores—newly recovered from the Library of Congress—that give insight into his later works and reflect a joyous time for the composer in a rapidly changing America.
Long before he achieved wide recognition, Copland sought and received commissions for music in every conceivable medium: concert music, ballet, theater music and film. The previously unrecorded works on this disc capture Copland at his creative peak, the time of Appalachian Spring (1943-44), and describe him as a composer who was at once ambitious and eminently practical.
Copland's impetus for composing music for both the documentary film The City and the brief From Sorcery to Science came from the 1939 World's Fair, which commissioned him to write the scores. The Fair's planners needed films and live shows to promote their exhibits for progress in industry and in social science, and they commissioned outstanding composers of the day—Copland, Kurt Weill, Hans Eisler, George Antheil, Robert Russell Bennett, Oscar Levant and Arthur Schwartz among them—to write the soundtracks. Copland took the job seriously.
The documentary film The City extolled the virtues of social engineering in utopian cities as the cure for the ills of the industrial society. Copland's soundtrack evokes both the simplicity of rural America and a spirited, driving urban landscape. This was the composer's first experience putting music to image, and it became his entree to Hollywood, as it eventually led to his selection by director Lewis Milestone to write the soundtrack for the wartime film The North Star.
Copland's other World's Fair project was to create music for the puppet show at the Hall of Pharmacy, entitled From Sorcery to Science, essentially a grand infomercial for drug companies (including the makers of Ex-Lax). Recorded on a 78-rpm record to accompany enormous marionettes, the show told the history of medicines from ancient China to the wonders of modern pharmacy.
Although Copland was too old to serve in World War II, he felt the surge of patriotism and responded accordingly in his music. It was during this time that he collaborated with Martha Graham to produce his sublime score, Appalachian Spring. He also took a small commission from the Office of War Information to score a brief documentary about the resettlement of European refugees in a rural Massachusetts town, titled The Cummington Story. Copland used the central part of this score in the opening slow movement of the Clarinet Concerto, written for Benny Goodman six years later.
The North Star, written in 1943 by Lillian Hellman and produced by Samuel Goldwyn, depicts the brutal ravaging of a Russian village by the Nazis. When Goldwyn became nervous about the film's downbeat message, he hired Ira Gershwin to musicalize large chunks of the film using Copland's music to convey a more cheerful mood. Despite such an unsuccessful mixing of diverse elements in the film, Copland's score stands on its own merits, with heroic Russian-flavored choruses and battle scenes on a par with Prokofiev's music for Alexander Nevsky.
Eos, founded in 1995 by conductor Jonathan Sheffer, is focused on innovative programming, rediscovery of important neglected composers and works, and collaborations with other artistic disciplines to produce new and exciting performances. The Orchestra is composed of up to seventy of New York City's top freelance musicians, and will be the featured musical ensemble in a Great Performances special on WNET-TV (to air on January 21 and 26, 2001), titled Copland's America. This is the first recording by Eos to be released on the Telarc label.