Aaron Copland Composed The Score For A 1939 Suburbia Propaganda Film. Who Knew?

The 5/9/2015 e-newsletter from Curbed.com included an article by Marni Epstein-Mervis about the ongoing propaganda war between proponents for suburban and urban lifestyles. One of the focal points in the article is a YouTube video of a 1939 film they assert “launched America’s debate about the suburbs” and although fascinating in its own right for a host of reasons, the item which came across like a ton of unexpected bricks is the opening credits that list Aaron Copland as the film’s composer.

copland propaganda film score

Adaptistration People 154The half hour long film is sparsely narrated, instead, it delivers a highly polished cinematographic experience that relies on a music score tightly coordinated with the imagery. Granted, there’s no mistaking the message here; Copland punctuates the intentionally gritty urban scenes with music designed to project anxiety and dismay. It isn’t difficult to get the ham-handed message that cities are bad, suburbs are good; even though that didn’t turn out to be the case.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the sound track is what you would expect from a 1939 production and it would be interesting to know if the score is still around and if so, has it ever been performed outside of the studio recording.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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5 thoughts on “Aaron Copland Composed The Score For A 1939 Suburbia Propaganda Film. Who Knew?

  1. I believe the Eos Orchestra recorded this for the Telarc label for an album called “Celluloid Copland.” It’s billed as a “world premiere recording.”

  2. Though not credited on the opening crawl, composer Henry Brant assisted with this project and is believed to have done orchestrations as well. Mr. Brant won a music Pulitzer and several Guggenheim grants and taught at Julliard, Columbia and elsewhere. He worked some with Alex North too.

  3. The Pacific Symphony played the score live with the film in 2000, part of a festival celebrating the Copland centenary. These were apparently the first live performances of The City.

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