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Ricardo Meets Aaron
July 24, 2010 9:57 PM   Subscribe

Aaron Copland. If you think you've never heard his music, you're wrong (here's the same piece played on the organ). You can hear an interview with the composer here. And, though it's really hard to see a live performance of his opera, "The Tender Land," you can watch it on YouTube: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12. If you want to know more about Copland, watch this documentary. Then there's this analysis of "Billy The Kid." Oh, I could go on and on. I could even post this link to a cool animation set to Copland's "Hoedown." (Yeah, yeah: "Beef. It's what's for dinner.") But the real reason I made this post was to talk about my favorite Copland piece, "El Salon Mexico." I found this clip of Ricardo Montalban playing it. Yes, THAT Ricardo Montalban. And he's RIPPING UP THE PIANO.

I'll say it so you don't have to: "Khaaaaaaaan!"

Ok, now that we're past that, the clip is from a 1947 movie called Fiesta. On the imdb page, someone writes, "I've viewed this film over and over and my piano training says there's no trick photography in the scenes where Montalban plays Green's adaptation of El Salon Mexico. I'm sure the beat-up old piano is not the actual sound source, but Montalban is hitting all the right keys at the right time! His technique is well above average, and anyone who could even fake that well would have to be able to play well too. Yet there's no mention of musical skill or training in any of his bios, nor does he play in any later films. Can anyone shed some light on this mysterious aspect of the multi-talented Senor Montalban?"
posted by grumblebee (29 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite

 
Trailer for a cartoon set to "El Salon Mexico."

BBC interviews.

home.
posted by grumblebee at 10:07 PM on July 24, 2010


And here's (a bit of) the same piece played entirely on guitar.
posted by cribcage at 10:19 PM on July 24, 2010


The Glimmerglass Festival (formerly Glimmerglass Opera) is presenting "The Tender Land" as part of their season this year. I'm only about 25 minutes away from Glimmerglass (and Cooperstown) and getting there to see it is high on my to-do list.

I have no affiliation with Glimmerglass, and in fact they rejected me for an internship for this summer so this is simply me being super generous.
posted by cvp at 10:27 PM on July 24, 2010


I was looking up clips of Copland's "Hoe-Down" a few days ago and was equal parts amused and depressed to see it referred to over and over again as "The Beef Song." Six decades of orchestral fame wiped out by a five-year ad campaign.
posted by Rhaomi at 11:03 PM on July 24, 2010


In the Chicago Tribune of Apr. 6, 1947, it says that André Previn, "boy wonder of the piano," performed "a 10 minute piano spot of Fantasia Mejicana doubling for Ricardo Montalban" in the movie Fiesta.
posted by Knappster at 11:07 PM on July 24, 2010


Ah Copland, definitely an under-appreciated composer. He's well regarded when it comes to his music written for popular consumption but much less known for his avant-garde efforts. When I was in school I had to write a paper on him and as I working my way through his recordings I came across his Piano Variations which I found completely mesmerizing and thoroughly modern (heavily atonal with some kind of serial techniques involved, I believe). But really the man went all over the place incorporating the entirety of the musical experiences available to him into his writing. An openness that's pretty rare.
posted by bfootdav at 11:20 PM on July 24, 2010


In the Chicago Tribune of Apr. 6, 1947, it says that André Previn, "boy wonder of the piano," performed "a 10 minute piano spot of Fantasia Mejicana doubling for Ricardo Montalban" in the movie Fiesta.

I'm not sure what "Fantasia Mejicana" is (the song in the movie is definitely an abridgment of Copland's "El Salon Mexico"), but it's possible that Previn played what we hear in the movie. But clearly, Montalban was playing in the visuals.
posted by grumblebee at 11:27 PM on July 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Fantasia Mexicana" is the "bastardized" arrangement, based on El Salon Mexico, used in the movie.
[Johnny] Green dramatically watered down the score by compressing it into five minutes, eliminating some of its complexities, and retouching the orchestration, actually turning it into something of a piano concertino as the inspired Morales plays along with the broadcast in a dusty honky-tonk way, adding Listzian arpeggios and Gershwinesque trills along the way.
And yes, Montalban was clearly playing in the wide shots.
posted by Knappster at 11:37 PM on July 24, 2010


Ah Copland, definitely an under-appreciated composer

Now, refresh my memory... Ah was Aaron's Vietnamese half-brother?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 12:35 AM on July 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


On college exams we would often have to identify composers based upon copies of score passages. Copland was one I always nailed--I think parallel 6ths were usually the giveaway.

Other easy ones were Holst (flutes and piccs), Debussy (too easy with the whole tones and the fixed intervals), and Berlioz (dynamics and articulation). The classical cats were tough--they all looked the same. In order to tell Haydn from Mozart you would gave to look for subtle clues: Bass/cello doubling, chromatics in the woodwinds or French horns (Haydn though, later lived, was a bit of a Luddite).

Uh, sorry, yeah. Copland's way cool. I guess he was easy to spot because out of the lexicon of orchestral music, his work was the most American.
posted by sourwookie at 1:06 AM on July 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


A generation of kids was introduced to Copland through Emerson, Lake and Palmer's Fanfare for the Common Man.
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:00 AM on July 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's weird, Montalban is playing a crazy ton of wrong notes (visually), but he clearly knows what he's doing or he wouldn't make it look that good (or get that close to playing it right). It's like he a was a pretty good pianist who was given an hour to learn the piece or something.
posted by dfan at 5:46 AM on July 25, 2010


Underappreciated? He's the one American 20th c composer besides Cage everyone knows!


Never dug his shit myself, but this is a well done FPP.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:40 AM on July 25, 2010


When I went through a painful divorce, listening to Appalachian Sprint was one of the few things that comforted me. I'm a big fan.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 8:04 AM on July 25, 2010


Copland also wrote a great little book, What to Listen for in Music.

Very readable, with some exceedingly pertinent writing on film scores.
posted by Wolof at 8:09 AM on July 25, 2010


listening to Appalachian Sprint...

My relatives in Tennessee tell me that AT&T still sounds better, though...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:50 AM on July 25, 2010


Underappreciated? He's the one American 20th c composer besides Cage everyone knows!

Well-known doesn't necessarily equal appreciated. The sense I get is that if someone connects his name to his music the conclusion is that he was a composer of "pop" orchestral tunes. Taking the time to explore the diversity of his work is what I mean by appreciated or perhaps better, fully appreciated.

Copland also wrote a great little book, What to Listen for in Music.

I think it was in this book that he made a statement (though I doubt he was the first to say it) along the lines that the highest level of musicianship is composition and that's what all musicians should strive for. If you can't compose then become the best performer you can be. If you can't perform then learn how to listen. Simple as it is that's what changed me from a performance major to a composition major.
posted by bfootdav at 8:57 AM on July 25, 2010


Copland had a rough time.

His 'populist' music (Appalachian Spring, El Salon Mexico, etc...) was wildly popular, but only served to discredit him in the eyes of the avant garde elite that he very much wished he could be a part of, or at least get some respect from (Pierre Boulez, John Cage, etc.).

He wrote a lot of very modern, atonalish stuff that is worth listening to, even if it didn't totally legitimize him in the eyes of the vanguard of modern composition.
posted by Darth Fedor at 9:16 AM on July 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Copland has long been one of my favorite composers, and I've been lucky enough to perform several of his more famous and accessible works, including Appalachian Spring, Billy the Kid, Fanfare for the Common Man, El Salon Mexico, and the Hoedown from Rodeo.

I've played the Hoedown enough times now that I've played each of the percussion parts at least once. The most fun I ever had was the very first time I played it, as a member of the Portland Youth Philharmonic. Once a year, the orchestra put on several Youth Concerts during the school day for local elementary schools at the Schnitzer Concert Hall. For those performances, we performed a mix of recognizable pieces with heavier orchestral works. It was 1994, and I doubt our director was aware of the recent surge in popularity of the Hoedown thanks that damnable beef campaign. It was obvious that the kids recognized the piece as soon as we began, and we picked up on that energy. The performance went very well until we reached the very end. The xylophone and the strings played those famous final sixteenth notes before the end, and in the rest, where the announcer on tv always told us exactly what was for dinner, we heard a high, excited voice scream, "BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEF!"

Those last three eighth notes were the hardest thing to play in time with a straight face that I have ever had to do.
posted by sleepinglion at 10:46 AM on July 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


When I was planning music for my wedding, I told the pianist that I wanted walk down the aisle to a section from Appalachian Spring. I played it for him and then learned that it was also a traditional Shaker hymn. duh
posted by jeoc at 12:05 PM on July 25, 2010


I never liked anything of Copland until I sang "In the Beginning" in college - I think it manages to convey Copland's style beautifully (especially his open, yet approachable, sense of tonality) without conjuring the almost jingoistic imagery of Billy the Kid, App. Spring, or *shudder* Fanfare for the Common Man. (I know, I know....just not my cup of tea) But, then again, perhaps I'm just a sucker for unaccompanied choral music.

Depressingly, there is no really convincing performance on youtube to share....it's a worthwhile buy on emusic or itunes and the like because it's typically parsed into one seventeen-minute track.
posted by Thomas Tallis is my Homeboy at 2:02 PM on July 25, 2010


The Fanfare is my ringtone. It's unobtrusive.
posted by neuron at 3:14 PM on July 25, 2010


I was looking up clips of Copland's "Hoe-Down" a few days ago and was equal parts amused and depressed to see it referred to over and over again as "The Beef Song." Six decades of orchestral fame wiped out by a five-year ad campaign.

They did start to poke fun at themselves towards the end, though - I saw one (tried to find it, and can't) which looked like your typical "beef ad" at first; a guy standing outside at a grill tending to steaks, while "Hoedown" played over the scene. Suddenly he turns to look off camera and says, "no, sorry, not ready yet."

And that's when the camera cut to show a whole orchestra sitting there buy the guy's garage, all of them stopping playing, putting their instruments aside to patiently wait.

After a few seconds, the guy at the grill checked the steaks again, then turned to the orchestra. "Okay, we're good," he said, and then he started transferring the steaks from grill to platter as the orchestra picked their instruments back up and fired up "Hoedown" again.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:04 PM on July 25, 2010


My parents had less than a dozen records when I was growing up. Grand Canyon Suite was one of them, and we listened to it over and over and over. I recognize Copland instinctively, it's like his rhythms and melodic figures are in my genes.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 8:21 PM on July 25, 2010


Grand Canyon Suite is by Ferde Grofé.
posted by sleepinglion at 8:43 PM on July 25, 2010


I've always been a great lover of Copland's work. There are few things more pure and beautiful than his "Letter From Home" and "Grover's Corners". (wasn't that from "Our Town"?) His scores to "Of Mice and Men" as well as "The Heiress" are spectacular and, subsequently very influential as well. Great post, and thank you.
posted by Seekerofsplendor at 10:00 PM on July 25, 2010


I know they're a really minor work, but I really like Copland's sets of Old American Songs arranged for voice and orchestra.
posted by straight at 12:01 AM on July 26, 2010


Grand Canyon Suite is by Ferde Grofé.

My. I don't know why I thought it was Copland. But whenever I hear Copland on the radio, I always think "Sounds like GCS, must be Copland" and I'm always right.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 1:01 PM on July 26, 2010


Ah Copland, definitely an under-appreciated composer

I think he's over-appreciated and over-exposed. Then again, I went to eight years worth of marching band competitions with my kids.
posted by Doohickie at 3:45 PM on July 26, 2010


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