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Tilson Thomas' "Copland the Populist"
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Lawrence Kart
2021-11-17 04:34:35 UTC
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"Aaron Copland the Populist" -- Tilson Thomas conduct Applachian Spring, Billy the Kid , and Rodeo. Anyone heard this?

I ask mostly because I have a question about Applachian Spring. Annotator Micheal Steinberg points out that in the full ballet the "Simple Gifts" variations are "broken by an amazing episode. A revivalist appears, accompanied by four women followers, and warns the couple of what Copland called ' the strange and terrible of aspects of human fate.... For a time, the music for this moment existed only in the original scoring for thirteen players, but in 1954 Copland set it for full orchestra at the request of Eugene Ormandy. It is still not in print and exists only in manuscript score but is included in this performance. To most listeners it will reveal a new and remarkable Copland, dark and possessed...."

Ok, but where on the Tilson Thomas disc does this music appear? Steinberg writes: "a series of variation on 'Simple Gifts' symbolizes the strength and serenity with which the bride and her farmer-husband face their future (that seem to be in episode No.3, "the Bride and Her Intended"). "In the popular concert suite, MS continues, that Copland prepared in 1945, those variations make an uninterrupted sequence, but in the full ballet score that are interrupted ("broken") by (so MS clearly states, e.g "the music for this moment") the [aforementioned] amazing episode."

I now I have three recordings of AS, the new TT recording of the complete ballet with the "amazing" episode Steinberg mentions, and two recordings of the AS Suite -- the much (and IMO rightly) celebrated 1961 Bernstein recording with the NYPO and a quite good one from 1984 by Dorati and the Detroit Symphony. Listening to the TT I have little doubt where the "amazing" passage begins -- at about the 22-minute mark, and it lasts (with some startling bass-drum violence and some dark rather Stravinsky-like ebbs and flows of mood) a little less than nine minutes by my reckoning (the total time of the TT performance is 35.81, versus about 25 minutes for the Bernstein Suite).

First, the "amazing" passage is a must listen if you like Copland and don't have a recording of the original 13-player version of AS; the only one I recall was on an RCA LP conducted by Copland, and don't ask me why I no longer have a copy; there may be other recordings of the original score). Second, if I'm right about where that "amazing" passage is on the TT recording, Steinberg's account doesn't track for me. He implies (I think all but says) that in AS the "Simple Gifts" variations emerge from "The Bride and Her Intended" episode and are then interrupted by the appearance of the revivalist and his female followers, after which we have the "amazing" episode. Now maybe I'm deaf or just dense, but I hear no trace of variations on "Simple Gifts" right after "the Bride and Her Intended" episode that are then interrupted by (see Steinberg above) the appearance of the revivalist and his female followers and their music. In any case,"The Revivalist and his Flock" episode, (No. 4 in AS) on the Dorati recording comes in at about at the 8.15 mark, which is 14 so minutes short of where I think the "amazing" passage begins. Also the mood of "The Revivalist" episode is rather jolly and hoedown-like, not at all dark and possessed, while the episode that begins at the 22-minute mark on the TT recording is both of those things.

Finally, apart from the location and nature of the "amazing" episode, what of TT's interpretation of AS? I've read complaints that it's too languid and impressionistic, Copland by way of Debussy, and lacks the edge and vigor of Bernstein's celebrated recording. One reviewer said that TT clearly loves the score, but he loves it to death. OTOH, without loosening my grip on the Bernstein recording, I find the TT to be a better recording per se than the Bernstein, where things get a bit clotted at times; and once TT's interpretation gets rolling (I'd recommend playing his recording at an ample volume level) it does get rolling, at least for me. And there is that "amazing" episode, wherever the hell it is.

BTW, none of this would be a problem if the TT recording gave any information about which episode of AS is which or what the timing of the episodes are (AS is all one track on the TT CD and there is no such information). The Bernstein gives the timing of each episode (they're on separate tracks) but no names; the Dorati has them on separate tracks and gives timings and names.
number_six
2021-11-17 22:39:27 UTC
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Post by Lawrence Kart
"Aaron Copland the Populist" -- Tilson Thomas conduct Applachian Spring, Billy the Kid , and Rodeo. Anyone heard this?
I ask mostly because I have a question about Applachian Spring. Annotator Micheal Steinberg points out that in the full ballet the "Simple Gifts" variations are "broken by an amazing episode. A revivalist appears, accompanied by four women followers, and warns the couple of what Copland called ' the strange and terrible of aspects of human fate.... For a time, the music for this moment existed only in the original scoring for thirteen players, but in 1954 Copland set it for full orchestra at the request of Eugene Ormandy. It is still not in print and exists only in manuscript score but is included in this performance. To most listeners it will reveal a new and remarkable Copland, dark and possessed...."
Ok, but where on the Tilson Thomas disc does this music appear? >snip<
Wonder if MTT talks about this episode in the Copland entry in the Keeping Score series.

I have that dvd, did not see it yet. Might be worth a look, though.
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