The Film Music Society FMS FEATURE ARTICLE...

September 12, 2003
Something Wild
A recent trend of Copland film scores on CD
by Jon Burlingame

Who would have guessed that Aaron Copland's last film score would receive its first commercial release 42 years after it was recorded?

Something Wild, a 1961 film starring Carroll Baker, was a box-office flop, so distributor United Artists nixed a proposed soundtrack album despite its composer's fame.

New York film-music buff Mark Leneker, doing research into Copland's music four years ago, discovered that Copland had assembled a 35-minute album mockup and that a handful of copies were privately pressed and given to friends.

Leneker contacted the film's director, Jack Garfein, who now lives in Paris (and who, at the time of the film, was Carroll Baker's husband). It turned out that Garfein's current wife had discovered a mint, sealed copy of the LP in the family attic.

This music, digitally transferred, has become one of the year's most talked-about releases from soundtrack label Varese Sarabande. "This is the album that Copland had envisioned and hoped for," says Varese producer Robert Townson, right down to its sequencing and previously unpublished liner notes by the composer.

Copland conducted a 55-piece orchestra in the music, which is stylistically different from his earlier, more familiar Americana scores like Of Mice and Men (1939) and The Red Pony (1949). Because the film's subject matter is grim and violent (Baker plays a suicidal rape victim in New York City), the composer's idiom is more contemporary, incorporating jazz influences, serialism and occasional dissonance.

Copland adapted the score into a concert work, Music for a Great City, which was premiered in 1964. For those who prefer this suite, Music for a Great City is available in two recorded versions: Copland's own, with the London Symphony Orchestra (Sony 47236), and Leonard Slatkin's, with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (RCA 60149).

Something Wild is a welcome addition to the recent resurgence of interest in Copland's film music. Jonathan Sheffer's 2000 collection (Telarc 80583) of obscure Copland includes suites from The City (a documentary presented at the 1939 World's Fair), The Cummington Story (documentary short, 1945) and The North Star (1943).

More familiar to many listeners will be the Americana classics – Of Mice and Men, Our Town (1940) and The Red Pony – which are regularly performed in concert and have been the subject of multiple recordings over the years. Slatkin's Music for Films collection (RCA 61699) is comprised of a seven-movement suite from The Red Pony, nine minutes from Our Town and the five-movement Music for Movies, which includes two pieces from The City, two from Of Mice and Men – the barley-wagon and threshing sequences – and one from Our Town.

What caps the Slatkin CD is an eight-minute suite from The Heiress, Copland's Oscar-winning 1949 score – including the composer’s Prelude that director William Wyler dropped in post-production in favor of an orchestral arrangement of the plot-specific chanson, "Plaisir d'Amour."

© 2003 Jon Burlingame