Monday, July 4, 2011

The Third Symphonies of Copland & Harris

Happy 4th! Here's a good time to write about American music - the third symphonies of Aaron Copland and Roy Harris, two very different works, but both I admire. I've been reading The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, in which Alex Ross writes how the Copland symphony premiered at a time when twelve-tone music was more the "in" thing. Consequently, it didn't make a splash. I think Copland's symphony is a good contender for the title of Great American Symphony, even if it isn't exactly a perfect composition. I recommend listening to the whole thing, but if you must jump ahead, make sure to listen to the finale. It includes Fanfare for the Common Man. The music builds to one of my favorite conclusions, especially in this recording by Bernstein:

This is one of my favorite recordings that Lenny made. I never got into his Mahler as much, but he shines in this recording, which you can learn more about or download here at Amazon. In addition to the symphony, there is some fantastic trumpet work in Quiet City.

While I'm posting album covers, let me post the Harris recording:

This recording can also be found on Amazon here. I only downloaded the Third Symphony from this recording, since I only wanted to spend 89 cents at the time. That's the good news: you can get all eighteen minutes of this single-movement work for cheap, and it's a great recording. The work requires a good listener; it is far more cerebral and less gushing with emotion than Copland. But it is loaded with musical surprises. I have listened to it a couple of times already and find new things to appreciate each time. I've been meaning to listen to it for years, and when I finally heard it, I thought "This sounds completely different than I thought it would." Maybe that will be your experience too. I recommend it highly, not only because it is famous, but because it's quite an original work. Maybe I'll listen to the Fourth Symphony next.


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