Click the icons below to access author handouts.

Studio B • Sunday morning, 9:00–10:30

Screening the Sounds of Copland

Matthew McDonald (Northeastern University), Chair

Stanley V. Kleppinger (University of Nebraska, Lincoln) 

“The Copland Sound” as Object of Appropriation

Scott Murphy (University of Kansas) 

James Horner, Aaron Copland, and Three Fields of Inquiry

Abstracts

“The Copland Sound” as Object of Appropriation

Stanley V. Kleppinger (University of Nebraska, Lincoln)

Neil Lerner and others have explored the indelible impact of a musical approach, often casually called the “Copland Sound,” upon a significant cross-section of American films. Following Lerner’s suggestion that this approach is more properly described as a multiplicity of “Copland sounds,” this paper explores and catalogs constellations of particular musical parameters that were welded by Copland to specific extra-musical contexts (whether provided by ballet or filmic settings, texts of vocal works, or contemporaneous historical associations such as World War II). This thinner slicing of the Copland Sound into specific topics (labeled here as, e.g., idyllic nature, protagonistic introspection, triumphalism, and exuberant country dance) first opens the way to exploring the composer’s manipulation and combination of his own topics (à la Hatten 1994, 2004), thus allowing for the tracing of narratives in his other music. In addition, by prying these styles loose from their original dramatic settings, Copland also foreshadows their appropriation by subsequent composers for novel programmatic purposes since the 1950s. The Copland Sound is so closely bound to Americana because the extra-musical subjects with which it was first associated were unequivocally American: the virgin frontier, the wild west, New York City, rural New England, Abraham Lincoln, John Henry. But I will show that later troping on this package of styles can point alternatively to a broad sense of Americanness, to the specific topics each style represents, or to both.

James Horner, Aaron Copland, and Three Fields of Inquiry

Scott Murphy (University of Kansas)

As Neil Lerner has shown, the late film composer James Horner appropriated some “wide open” music of Aaron Copland. In particular, he finds in Horner’s scores for Apollo 13 and The Perfect Storm undisguised instances of a three-harmony wedge progression lifted from Copland’s Appalachian Spring that I call the “Copland” schema. In three parts, this presentation both scrutinizes Horner’s “Copland” and serves as apologia by proxy. First, aficionados and critics repeatedly single out Horner as the most notorious of borrowers of preexisting music, yet the field of films with the “Copland” in their soundtracks is wider than those scored only by Horner. Second, the “Copland’s” field of associations in film music has grown beyond both its affiliation with religious sentiment in the original ballet, and Lerner’s connection of its initial consecutive rising fourths with the vastness of Apollo 13’s outer-space frontier. While some cinematic uses of the “Copland” accompany wide-open scenes, particularly rugged American wilds, they are also conjoined to scenes of determination and self-determination as much as they accompany some sense of spaciousness. A thorough analysis of the “Copland’s” structure suggests homologies with all three of these signifieds. Third, Horner’s multivalent allusions to the “Copland” in his score for Field of Dreams reach a level of nuanced sophistication, as demonstrated through the employment of a two-dimensional “modal-transpositional field.” As the film’s narrative conveys the viewer among redesigned aspirational and topographical norms, Horner’s music conveys the listener among transformations of a musical emblem for the conventionalized American Dream.