Soundtracks are a lot more than movie music...
...or so I'm ready to argue as a 30 year devotee of this sorely under appreciated genre. So, in an effort to do my part, each week
I'll be making recommendations of soundtracks current and vintage, make a fuss over long awaited soundtrack scores finally getting
a well deserved release, and in general, make some noise about this often overlooked category. Beyond my long experience as a
listener and as a pianist and songwriter, both of which I've put to use in writing a quarterly soundtrack column for the Chicago
Tribune, I can only offer my recommendations. You'll discern my taste soon enough and upfront I'd like to make it clear that I'll
focus most heavily on SCORE soundtracks. In the end, all criticism is subjective but if I can point a listener toward a little heard
soundtrack or strongly advise you to either ORDER IMMEDIATELY or SKIP ALTOGETHER, all the better.
Aaron Copland is justly revered as the dean of 20th Century American composers. This
assessment is based not just on his popular works like "Fanfare for the Common Man,"
"Appalachian Spring," "Lincoln Portrait," and "Rodeo" that have become standard repertoire
for symphony orchestras large and small, but also on his more challenging works, his
"Orchestral Variations," (a symphonic version of his "Piano Variations"), "Dance Symphony,"
"Symphonic Ode," and "Connotations."
Director Spike Lee used many of Copland's symphonic works to excellent effect in his under
appreciated film about college basketball, He Got Game and Copland himself (he died in
1990 at the age of 90) wrote music for movies himself. But sadly, though the esteemed
composer was nominated several times for the Oscar and won it for The Heiress in 1949,
there are no soundtracks for any of his film scores.
The closet approximation of a Copland score comes with "Copland: Music for Films," a
compilation of many of his scores newly recorded by the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra under
the direction of Leonard Slatkin in 1994. The disc contains the world premiere recording of
music from The Heiress -- an eight minute suite -- and that inclusion alone makes this disc
an absolute MUST for fans of classic cinema soundtracks and Copland alike. Music from The
Red Pony, Our Town and other lesser known Copland scores are also included (though his
superb North Star score is not. That's available on a disc released in 2001 called "Celluloid
After listening to "The Heiress Suite" on the Slatkin disc you'll be scratching your head over
what took so long (45 years after being released) for the music to be recorded -- even in
this truncated form -- and where an official release is. This is less surprising when one
considers the poor treatment of the film itself which has yet to see a DVD release and has
gone out of print in its vhs edition. Olivia de Havilland won a richly deserved second Oscar
for her portrayal of old maid Catherine Sloper who is wooed by a fortune hunter, the
ravishingly handsome Morris (Montgomery Clift), much to the disdain of Catherine's hard
hearted snobbish father, played by Ralph Richardson, and the delight of her silly aunt,
played by Miriam Hopkins. Based on the Henry James novel "Washington Square," Wyler
gets amazing performances out of his leads and the film's deep emotionalism is enhanced
by Copland's superb score.
Ironically, Wyler and the studio asked Copland to compose a song for the character of the
ardent suitor Morris Townsend to perform for his beloved. When Copland refused, another
composer was brought in to write it and the finished result, a simplistic tune totally at odds
with Copland's music, was added throughout the movie and most jarringly to the opening
credits. (Irony upon irony: the song became a huge hit for Elvis Presley years later). Sadly,
Copland practically disowned his work and never wrote another film score -- even after
winning the Oscar.
UPDATE: THE DVD IS HERE! MAYBE THE SOUNDTRACK WILL FOLLOW!
Don't forget to check out previous soundtrack recommendations by visiting the ARCHIVES
Next Week: Just in time for the remake, a review of John Williams score for The Poseidon
The CD cover that contains the
only release of music from The
Heiress (above), the film's
original 1949 poster and an Al
Hirschfeld caricature of composer
Aaron Copland who won the Oscar
for his brilliant score.