Music 061: Creating Music for Video

Clip of the Week #4: Aaron Copland

Use the side menu to view previous Clips of the Week.

I. Three scenes from "Of Mice and Men" [B/H DVD#338]

"Of Mice and Men" (1939) is a landmark in the history Hollywood scoring. Aaron Copland's score for his first Hollywood film is sparse, using little music overall and often not bringing in a cue until late in a scene.

The music itself is also sparse, using generally leaner textures than the prevailing Steiner/Korngold-style late Romantic scores of the time. The melodic style is more fragmentary, with lines built of short, modular motives. The harmonic style is self-consciously "American"; Copland was concerned to establish a language distinct from 19th-C European Romanticism.

All of these elements were enormously influential, paving the way for the "second practice" Hollywood style exemplified by Bernard Herrmann.

Here is a good overview article on Copland's score by Sally Bick, appearing in the journal American Music. If you cannot access it, log in to the UVM library with your NetID first and then click the link.
"Of Mice and Men": Copland, Hollywood, and American Musical Modernism

Scene with "The Wood At Night" cue


Scene with "The Death of Candy's Dog" cue


Scene with "The Fight" cue

II. "He Got Game" [B/H DVD #1230]

"He Got Game" is a 1998 film by Spike Lee. In addition to new music by Public Enemy, Lee used a wide variety of pre-existing Copland orchestral pieces for the underscore. Many viewers and critics found the use of music by Copland - a white, Jewish, gay, first-generation composer whose music has come to signify a mainstream, mid-century, Americana - a striking choice for a movie about an African-American city kid trying to pull himself up from the underclass through basketball.

Title sequence and Scene 1

The title music is "John Henry" (1940), a concert work (i.e. not for stage or film) based on the folksong about the African-American folk legend who dies in his heroic contest against a railroad pile-driver.

The cue for scene 1 is the beginning of "Appalachian Spring" (1944), Copland's most famous work, originally written as a ballet for the Martha Graham Dance Company.

Appalachian Spring

Here is the music of scene 1 accompanying the original Martha Graham choreography

Here is an article by Krin Gabbard on Lee's use of Copland's music, also from the journal American Music. If you cannot access it, log in to the UVM library with your NetID first and then click the link.
Race and Reappropriation: Spike Lee Meets Aaron Copland