Aaron Copland: Our Town Suite
Aaron Copland was asked to write the score for the 1940 film Our Town. The film centres around the small life in the town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire. Copland explained the style and approach he took with this score:
“For the film version, they were counting on the music to translate the transcendental aspects of the story. I tried for clean and clear sounds and in general used straight-forward harmonies and rhythms that would project the serenity and sense of security of the story.”
Some four years later Copland decided to revise the score from the film into a 10-minute orchestral suite. This was premiered in May 1944 by the Boston Pops, conducted by Leonard Bernstein, to whom the suite is dedicated.
The music that was used in the suite comes mainly from the title music, the churchyard scene and the passages showing daily life in Grover’s Corners. The suite is set in one continuous movement, and for the most part is quite, serene and plays on the pastoral theme. Described as an evocation of New England hymn tunes, the suite showcases Copland’s evocative scoring.
The calm opening presents the title theme from the film. Led by the flutes and violins, the sparse accompaniment creates that transcendental feel that Copland wrote about. Throughout the suite this theme is reprised a number of times. The serene atmosphere is fairly consistent throughout, with only one ‘break-out’ moment, which soon dissolves back into calmness.
Copland writes solo lines for flute, warm brass chorales and ethereal string accompaniments, which all amalgamate into this really effective orchestral suite. There may not be lots of changes, but that is really the point of the score. The music represents the simple lives of ordinary people, and that it does fantastically. Copland’s rich orchestrations and creative flair for melodic writing sits front and centre of this heartwarming suite.