Friday, October 30, 2015

Aaron Copland - Canticle of Freedom

Seattle Symphony and Chroale
Gerard Schwarz, conductor

Since I mentioned the 1955 piece, Canticle of Freedom in my piece yesterday, it seemed like a good thing to post, today.   I will admit it isn't my favorite Copland though it is interesting in that it is so blatant and brash, a kind of expression you don't usually associate with him unless he's cribbing Bonaparte's Retreat from a mountain fiddler.  There are interesting things to hear in all of that percussion.

The piece was commissioned by MIT for the dedication of the great Kresge auditorium and Chapel.

Even if Copland escaped largely unharmed from getting called before the McCarthy hearings, he did get some negative fallout and consequences from the experience.  He was named  one of the "Dupes and Fellow Travelers Dress Up Communist Fronts"  by that magazine for people who can't read, Life. Was mentioned in other venues of blacklisting and, I've read, had the affront of having his most blatantly patriotic piece, A Lincoln Portrait removed from the list of works performed at Eisenhower's inaugural concert.   Lord help us, you wonder which celebrity they'd have found acceptable to do the narration.  I have, by the way, never heard it done well except by an experienced musician and singer.  The results are generally unfortunate, cloying and embarrassing, even when a good actor does it.   I think the best one I remember was a radio performance, I believe it was the great baritone Tod Duncan who did the narration.  I remember he was the only one I've heard who gave the correct emphasis to "of the PEOPLE, by the PEOPLE ....

Anyway,  the poem is a modern English version of the poem "Freedom" by the 14th century Scot poet  John Barbour, which was set rather simply for the student chorus which would be singing it.  The words are about as clear as could be as was the message that Aaron Copland was sending.  The extent to which he was defying the folks at Red Channels and the House Unamerican Activities Committee is clear, though I think, especially considering his devotion to the belated enemy of communism,  Andre Gide, he might have been saying as much to the Marxists.   He must have read those late writings, since he read just about everything else that Gide wrote.

It has always been so odd whenever Communists complained about the violations of their First Amendment, Fifth Amendment and other rights because the government they championed violated those and so many other rights with no recourse.  I remember thinking that during one of my readings of the great book Naming Names by Victor Navasky.  I think it was something about Lester Cole but it was a long time ago.   The next year would contain Khrushchev's first indication that it was all right for Communists to stop lying about Stalin, as the mountain of those he'd murdered and who were murdered by his lackeys were being exposed.  It's a lot like the Republican-fascists of today doing much the same thing even as they support doing that to other people, here.  They've got a lot more in common with the Stalinists than they'd ever want people to know.

As an aside, one of those other names named by Life magazine as the denounced Copland was Leonard Bernstein who, like Copland, doesn't seem to have suffered much damage to his subsequent career.   It makes the fact of his very late career that, as he conducted Beethoven's Ninth Symphony on the occasion of the fall of the Berlin Wall,  he changed the word Freude (joy) of Schiller's Ode to Joy, to Freiheit ( freedom) and made a big thing of it on that occasion. It makes you wonder what the 1949 milieu in which he lived would have made of that.   I don't see that the folks in many of the former Communist states are eager to repeat the experiment, the romance of communism seems to be most alive in the intellectual circles which never experienced it or were in danger of experiencing it.

Some people, learning that they've been duped, that they've been lied to, change their ideas to take that into account.  As critical as I've of Bernstein this week, I'll give him that. Other people prefer to stick with the lies.

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