Aaron Copland: Music in the 20's

By Hung, Eric | Notes, September 2012 | Go to article overview

Aaron Copland: Music in the 20's


Hung, Eric, Notes


Aaron Copland: Music in the 20's. DVD. Directed by David M. Davis. West Long Branch, NJ: Kultur, 2011, 1964. D4760. $69.99.

In 1965, National Educational Television-a precursor of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS)-produced a 12-part series entitled Aaron Copland: Music in the 20's. It is essentially a music appreciation course taught by the so-called "Dean of American Composers" on Western art music of the 1920s. The 3 DVD release of this six-hour program was made possible by a grant from the Aaron Copland Fund for Music, but the retail price remains quite high ($69.99).

In the introductory episode, Copland argues that the 1920s was a significant decade for Western art music because: (1) there was an extraordinary desire to be groundbreaking and original, and (2) recent developments in Western art music can be traced to innovations that originated in the '20s. In the next seven episodes, Copland argues that most major composers of the 1920s responded to the Stravinsky/ Schoenberg (tonal/atonal, non-German/ German) dichotomy that had emerged in the early 1910s. In these lectures, he proceeds geographically from Paris (Poulenc, Honegger, Milhaud, Stravinsky, de Falla) to Germany/Austria (Berg, Webern, Weill, Hindemith), and from Eastern Europe (Bartók) to the Americas (Villa-Lobos, Copland). The last four episodes examine composers who seem less affected by this dichotomy, with an emphasis on those associated with the American maverick tradition (Hindemith, Prokofiev, Harris, Thomson, Ives, Ruggles, Ornstein, Cowell, Varèse).

The most valuable feature of this series is the performances on every episode. High - lights include Bethany Beardslee's rendition of Schoenberg's Pierrot lunaire, Paul Jacobs's performance of Honegger's Piano Concertino, the Juilliard String Quartet's interpretation of Berg's Lyric Suite, David Tudor's presentation of Cowell piano works, and a full production of Hinde - mith's Hin und Zurück starring Beverly Sills. Also worth noting is the fact that each performance occurs on a set that is specifically designed to match the work that is being played. Copland's commentary about the music is geared towards the general public, and does not assume the ability to read music or knowledge of technical terms. He generally begins each episode by providing an overview of a geographic area or concept, and goes to discuss a composer's background and then deliver a brief program note before the work is played. …

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