Friday, June 2, 2017

Leonard Slatkin Records Copland’s Third in its Original Version

One week from today Naxos will release the third recording of music by Aaron Copland made by Leonard Slatkin and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra as part of the American Classics series:

courtesy of Naxos of America

Slatkin has approached this project with a sense of completeness that is likely to appeal to those wishing to take a thorough approach to the Copland canon. His first recording presented a complete account of the score Copland had composed for Agnes de Mille’s ballet “Rodeo;” and this was followed by a recording of the complete score for Martha Graham’s “Appalachian Spring.” (As was previously discussed, there are some grounds for argument over just what constitutes “completeness” in the latter case.) The new volume, which is now available for pre-order from, turns its attention to Copland’s third symphony.

This symphony has received a fair amount of attention, both on recordings and in concert programming. This is primarily because Copland took his “Fanfare for the Common Man,” which he had composed in 1943 for Eugene Goossens and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and repurposed it to introduce the symphony’s fourth and final movement. (The symphony was completed in 1946.) That fanfare was probably inspired by a speech given by Henry Wallace, which argued that “making America great” (not Wallace’s phrase, lest anyone get the wrong idea) would involve more than just defeating the Nazis; it would arise from the broader goal of making sure that those who did “the dirty work” (Copland’s choice of words) would enjoy the same social benefits as the rich. It would thus not be out of the question to approach the third symphony as a broader portrait of those championed by Wallace, written after the Nazis had been defeated with an eye to Wallace’s agenda for the “home front.”

However, if the portrait is a broader one, it clearly has a single subject, even if that subject is more of a prototype than an individual. Copland approached the four movements of his symphony with an almost uncanny sense of economy in the thematic materials he deployed. Because those themes would emerge in different contexts, there was never any risk that he would be perceived as repeating himself; but those who have become familiar with the score can easily appreciate the spirit of unity that binds those four movements.

Nevertheless, for those who did not readily “get the message,” Copland composed a coda for the final movement in which all of those themes were superposed. The impact is similar to that of the crowd scenes that Igor Stravinsky evoked in his score for the ballet “Petrushka;” but Copland’s music was as American as the “Petrushka” score was Russian. Nevertheless, Leonard Bernstein decided that this coda was a bit too much; and he proposed that the eight measures of that superposition be cut. This became the only version to be recorded, including the one that Copland himself made conducting the London Symphony Orchestra.

Thus, the significance of Slatkin’s new recording is that he has restored the material that Bernstein chose to cut. His note for the accompanying booklet claims, “Only recently has the original version been made available to musicians.” Depending on what you mean by “availability,” this is not quite true. The score published by Boosey & Hawkes in their Hawkes Pocket Scores series has that original version. While it may be that the only parts available for rental are of the Bernstein version, the full score has been available ever since Boosey & Hawkes lithographed it for printing in 1947!

Does any of this matter to the attentive listener? I tried to choose my words above to suggest that my own answer is affirmative. Indeed, there is so much heart-on-sleeve tub-thumping in the “social agenda” behind this music that, while the coda may strike some as silly, it still stands as evidence that Copland had skills in working with multi-voice counterpoint that he did not exercise very often. Bernstein may have imposed his cuts on rhetorical grounds; but, where nuts-and-bolts technique is concerned, those cuts take a particularly informative light away from Copland himself.

The new album also includes three short pieces that Copland called “Latin American Sketches.” This music makes a delightful complement to the recordings of “El Salón México” (1936) and “Danzón Cubano” (composed for two pianos in 1942 and arranged for orchestra in 1946) from Slatkin’s first album in this series. Copland had a long-standing interest in music “south of the border;” and those three short sketches made it clear that his interest was still going strong in 1971. Slatkin takes a high-spirited approach to all of them; and they constitute a refreshing “dessert course” to the social seriousness served up by the third symphony.

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