Kai Wright: What I want you to tell me is whether you recognize it, if you can identify it, and then what does it make you think.
[MUSIC - Aaron Copland: Fanfare for the Common Man]
Speaker 2: I've heard it, it sounds like either Star Wars or the beginning of a movie.
Speaker 3: I'm not sure if it's Jurassic Park or Star Wars. One of the two. I don't know.
Speaker 4: The last time I heard it was from a movie, He Got Game with Denzel Washington.
Speaker 5: It just sounds very intense, that something big is about to happen.
Speaker 6: Sounds very regal. The drums just came in.
Kai Wright: Here we go.
Speaker 8: This is from Aaron Copland. [laughs] Are you kidding? Isn't that pa pa pa--? I do not remember.
Kai Wright: It's Notes from America. I'm Kai Wright. Welcome to the show and happy 4th of July. Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man. When you heard that music just now, were you able to identify it? Even if you couldn't identify it, I suspect it evoked something for you. It always does for me because the music that Aaron Copland composed decades ago, [simulates music].
At some point, this sound became ubiquitous in our culture [music] as the sound of heroism, of triumph. From blockbuster action movies to Monday Night Football, Copland's Fanfare echoes through Americana, but this was not its origin. As the title of the original score suggests, it was a fanfare for the common man. Aaron Copland, a gay Jewish man from Brooklyn, composed this fanfare at a time when a particular set of ideas about this nation were ascendant, ideas about what it means to be a patriot in the United States.
A few years ago, producer Sarah Fishko told the story of Copland's iconic fanfare in our podcast. For this July 4th weekend, we thought, let's revisit that history and consider one artist's take on what it means to be American. Sarah Fishko begins the story in the early 20th century.
Sarah Fishko: The Aaron Copland story is filled with ironies. For one thing, Copland reached the height of his artistry and fame during the most desperate times in 20th Century America, the era of the Great Depression and the years of World War II. For another, he first thought about creating music that sounded uniquely American only after he had left America, Brooklyn to be exact, for Europe in 1921. He recalled later, he had read about an American music school being formed that very year, post World War I, outside Paris.
Aaron Copland: The incident I read about and I thought, "Oh, gee, I don't know a soul in France, this would be a way of going and at least having some friends around and getting a start."
Sarah Fishko: Off he went. Once there, Copland began to search for a compositional style, "In his own way," says Judith Tick, who co-wrote Aaron Copland's America.
Judith Tick: He graduated high school and did not go to college. Instead, he became an apprentice.
Sarah Fishko: His mentor in Paris was the famed Nadia Boulanger, who would go on to train everyone, from Quincy Jones to Philip Glass.
Judith Tick: He absolutely adored the milieu that Nadia Boulanger created around her, which was premised on the notion that a composer had to find his own voice.
Sarah Fishko: For a while looking for his own voice, he lived the Paris life, that lost generation life we know a little bit about from Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, artists and thinkers looking for new forms, new ideas. Copland used to wander over to Sylvia Beach's Shakespeare and Company Bookshop on the Rue de l'Odéon.
Aaron Copland: One would see Joyce there every evening and André Gide go across the street for French books. I really lived through this whole sense of getting rid of the past and developing something new of our own time.
Sarah Fishko: As it turned out, Copland's teacher pushed him toward the New American jazz, and for the first time, it excited him.
Aaron Copland: The great charm of jazz hit me from 3,000 miles away, you might say. In Paris, it seemed much more American.
Sarah Fishko: He wrote this piece, Jazzy, around that time.
Sarah Fishko: For him, jazz was the catalyst. It forced him to ask what would be a way to write concert music that sounded American. "After all, pretty much every other country had its own distinctive classical music," said Copland, later to a group of college students.
Aaron Copland: The '20s was a period of Bartók writing specifically Hungarian music. Stravinsky was very Russian. He couldn't possibly have been anything else. Debussy was terribly French, and so that it's--
Sarah Fishko: He came back to New York, determined to write American music. Back in the US, he hadn't solved it yet. Author Paula Musegades says he was still writing as a post-World War I modernist in a very individualistic style.
Paula Musegades: The music is more atonal, it's a stark difference from the more Americana sound that you tend to associate with Copland.
Sarah Fishko: It wasn't very popular. He and the world kissed modernism goodbye in the next decade.
Paula Musegades: When the 1930s hit, modernism crashed as sharply as the stock market did in 1929.
President Franklin Roosevelt: My friends, I want to talk for a few minutes with the people of the United States about banking.
Sarah Fishko: Copland, along with millions of Americans, heard President Franklin Roosevelt broadcast his first fireside chat during the Great Depression.
President Franklin Roosevelt: We have provided the machinery to restore our financial system, and it is up to you to support and make it work.
Sarah Fishko: It was in these years that FDR created the New Deal and said to the American people, "We are all in this."
President Franklin Roosevelt: Together, we cannot fail.
Sarah Fishko: The spirit of liberalism rose in the country. Americans trying to recover from the crash united around progressive ideas.
Sam Tanenhaus: Roosevelt's victories in 1932, and especially in 1936, were gigantic.
Sarah Fishko: Writer and historian, Sam Tanenhaus.
Sam Tanenhaus: Democrats had majorities of a kind that are almost inconceivable today. This was not an era like our own of divided government. This was the Democratic party forming coalitions with liberal Republicans.
Sarah Fishko: There was not only room for artists in this society, it actually presented them with a new civic identity and responsibility.
Judith Tick: The federal government was funding programs for artists, including writers, poets, performers, and composers.
Sarah Fishko: Copland jumped right in. He was active in various composers' organizations, the Young Composers Group, the Composers Collective, and in 1937, he co-founded the American Composers Alliance.
Paula Musegades: If you think of these words, league, group, collective, alliance, what are they? They're synonyms for union. It doesn't mean you have to write or compose or think in one way. It's somehow finding a language that you can share.
Sarah Fishko: This was growing into the broadest left-wing culture America has ever known. It even had its own name.
Jon Wiener: They called it the Popular Front. The idea was that all working people, all ordinary Americans should join together to fight the big evil forces in the world.
Sarah Fishko: Jon Wiener teaches history at UC Irvine. He says it was a movement, anti-fascist, pro-union, civil libertarian.
Jon Wiener: I think it's an ideal that was held by millions of immigrants who had come to the United States before World War I, and now, were growing up and wanted very much to be Americans. In a lot of ways, this was their idea of the America they wanted to be part of.
Sarah Fishko: Believe it or not, for a time, the slogan of the Popular Ffront was "Communism is 20th Century Americanism."
Jon Wiener: It resonated deeply with the American left. They wanted to be good Americans. They believed in American ideals. For them, there was no conflict between being a leftist and being a good American, believing in equality and freedom of speech.
Sarah Fishko: Artists like Copland were captivated by the sense that things could change for the better and that they could build nothing short of a new kind of United States. Social Security was created, unions gained the right to strike, and the idea emerged that the common man, a key phrase of the moment, could take hold of government, gain power, and achieve just about anything.
Sarah Fishko: There was an explosion of creativity around these ideas.
?Sam Tanenhaus: Culturally, a new idea of America was being formed in two places in particular, through jazz, which was multiracial. It was dominated by African-American musicians with some great white musicians and even some integrated bands like Benny Goodmans and Hollywood. Hollywood was the creation of immigrant Jews for the most part who came up with this idea of an ideal America. The notion of what the utopian American culture could be was coming from a much wider stream of sources than it ever had before. That's the beginning of mass culture in America. Movies, music, comic strips, the radio.
Sarah Fishko: To see the merging of traditional American patriotism with the spirit of the New Deal and with a little of the common man thrown in, you had only to go to a Frank Capra film. Thomas Doherty, author of Projections of War, prefers Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
Thomas Doherty: Which really comes at a time in which America is looking at what will probably be a Second World War.
Movie Excerpt: What do you think Daniel Boone's lost?
Thomas Doherty: That montage of Jimmy Stewart as Jefferson Smith.
Movie Excerpt: Locked in the world of Washington.
Thomas Doherty: Taking the tour of Washington when he first comes to town can still bring tears to even a cynical American eye when he goes through all the great secular cathedrals of American life ending at the Lincoln Memorial.
Sarah Fishko: Which brings us back to Aaron Copland, who was as swept up as anyone in the urgent collective spirit of the moment in the 1930s. It was thrilling and the culture demanded exactly the kind of distinctly national music he'd been trying to write for the concert hall.
Speaker 9: He wanted his music to be part of how Americans saw themselves.
Sarah Fishko: He traveled to Mexico and heard Mexican folk tunes and used them in El Salón México in 1936. Emboldened by the success of that piece, he looked toward a similar approach to the music of his own country, just as the culture of America was being rediscovered and reinvented in a hundred different ways.
Speaker 9: I think you can look at the 1930s as the beginning of a renaissance of awareness about American folk music.
Speaker 9: Alan Lomax is a key figure in any understanding of what Copland is about. He was such a radical collector of Anglo-American and African-American folk music at a time when people really didn't understand what this was.
Speaker 9: Copland knew Lomax. He used to go over to his house and listen to music.
Sarah Fishko: Copland soaked up the tunes.
Speaker 9: Lomax lived his life in the field, he lived his life in a truck, waited down with tape recorders and tape machines and he went to prisons and flood islands and remote places and recorded people. Copland took what he needed wherever he could get. It found its way to his musical consciousness because it was so much in the environment.
Kai Wright: After the break, Aaron Copland arrives at his signature sound celebrating the Common Man. Stay with us.
Billie Estrine: Hey everyone, this is Billie Estrine, I'm the new Notes from America intern. I'm so excited to be here this summer. One of my favorite parts of the show is hearing from you. I love talking to you when screening calls during our live broadcast because you have such amazing takes. If you haven't called in and want to, I'm waiting on the other line. We're live Sunday at 6:00 PM Eastern Time. Give me a call. You can also talk to us on social media, our Instagram and Twitter or @noteswithkai. Again that's notes with K-A-I. Finally, you can send a voicemail and tell us what's on your mind. To send a voicemail, visit our website. It's notesfromamerica.org. Scroll a little down the page and click on the green button that says 'Record'. Thanks for hanging out with me, we're all really excited to hear from you.
Kai Wright: Welcome back, it's Notes from America. I'm Kai Wright. This holiday weekend we're considering the story of composer Aaron Copland and his iconic work Fanfare for the Common Man. Copland, a gay Jewish man from Brooklyn wanted to find the sound of America, one that echoed his ideas about this nation. Producer Sarah Fishko continues the story.
Sarah Fishko: By the late '30s, Aaron Copland's piece Billy the Kid was filled with spare open chords and folk-inspired melodies. The composer had arrived at what turned out to be a signature sound. Where do you place him in the use of this sound with these relatively unusual intervals for that time?
John Corigliano: I place him at the top of that.
Sarah Fishko: I'm sitting opposite composer John Corigliano who's at the piano.
John Corigliano: He may not have been the very first, but he was certainly the one that is most recognized when that sound comes, and it's called Americana, by the way.
Sarah Fishko: What was he using to create that sound?
John Corigliano: Well, Aaron Copland wanted to preserve the sense of tonality, the sense of being in a key. The chords that came out of those scales were chords that had been used for 200 years. He wanted to make fresh chords that still could be in a key.
Sarah Fishko: Tonal composers had for the most part made chords built around conventional thirds, that is, built around every other note in the basic scale.
John Corigliano: We have a chord. Chords harmonize. What Copland did was he decided that you didn't have to build chords on every other note. You could do other ways of combining notes to make a sound like a chord. For example, you can use just one note above the-- and you can get a beautiful sound if you play that.
John Corigliano: Copland used very often two note chords. When he had more than two notes, they were very far apart or very close together, but they didn't have this chain of thirds, so they sounded very sparse and yet sounded very beautiful.
Sarah Fishko: There it was, a non-European, somewhat radical, very accessible American style. Tender and yet triumphant, simplified to go along with the progressive populist politics that had led Copland in this direction in the first place. It was patriotic, in keeping with the moment that celebrated the so-called common man. Copland had found an accessible identifiably American sound for his music. In that spirit, he had a strong desire to join in that most popular art, movies. Unlike some other ambitious composers of concert music, he didn't think of it as beneath him at all.
Speaker 10: He saw it as really this great opportunity to be able to share his music with many people and to perfect his accessible yet sophisticated sound.
Speaker 11: Smoke makes prosperity they tell you here, smoke makes prosperity no matter if you choke on it.
Sarah Fishko: His first film score was for the documentary The City, a social film about city planning shown at the 1939 World's Fair in New York. That was the score that grabbed the attention of director Lewis Milestone who asked him to come to Hollywood in 1939 to score the film of Mice and Men. Aaron Copland was now a celebrity and he was a gay Jewish celebrity at that. He was greatly admired by other American composers and had public acceptance as well. By the time of World War II, he was one of a group of leading American composers asked to contribute an orchestral fanfare to the war effort.
It was the conductor Eugene Goossens of the Cincinnati Symphony who put out the call and Copland set to work on a short piece, something that might rally support and spirit. "As the fanfare began to take shape, the war was on the minds of the country's leaders and citizens", says Harvey J. Kaye, author of The Fight for the Four Freedoms. It was hard, if not impossible, to think of anything else, and that had been true for the last few years.
Speaker 12: The debate at the time was so extensive in that whole period of say '38 to our own entry into the war. It's really a question of not just, should the United States enter the war or not?, but in many ways the question is posed, "What does America stand for? What's the meaning of America?"
Sarah Fishko: At some point during that period it's likely Aaron Copland had his radio on.
Radio Excerpt: Columbia presents another of its programs in which prominent speakers talk about current topics of vital national interest.
Sarah Fishko: As the debate about America played out on the air, a Henry Wallace speech of 1942 had a clear common man message.
Henry Wallace: Everywhere the common people are on the march, by the millions they're learning to read and write, learning to think together, learning to use tools.
Sarah Fishko: Wallace was vice president under FDR. His widely heard speech called for what he termed 'the century of the common man'. He warns citizens that they must learn to self-govern and to fear the demagogue.
Henry Wallace: It is easy for demagogues to arise and prostitute the mind of the common man to their own base end. Such a demagogue may get financial help from some person of wealth who is unaware of what the end result will be.
Sarah Fishko: The Common Man idea was picked up instantly by NBC. Not much more than a month later, the network ran a star-studded radio spectacular called Toward the Century of The Common Man.
Radio Excerpt: And to the Republic for which it stands.
Sarah Fishko: Next, it appeared in theaters as a US propaganda film with patriotic music and images added to Wallace's stirring words.
Henry Wallace: No Nazi counter-revolution will stop it. The Common Man will smoke the Hitler stooges out into the open in the United States.
Sarah Fishko: It was a real popular culture moment.
Henry Wallace: He will destroy their influence.
Sarah Fishko: The Common Man's speech, Sam Tanenhaus reminds us, was a direct response to the views of Time Life magnate Henry Luce whose famous essay in Life Magazine heralded what Luce had called 'the American century'.
Speaker 13: The idea was America would be his term, his word, "The powerhouse that would lead the Western democratic alliance and bring its industrial and democratic might to the world."
Sarah Fishko: A more imperialist idea of where America would wind up after the war. When the Luce essay appeared in Life, Orson Welles wrote, "If Mr. Luce's prediction of the American century will come true, God help us all." [music] Aaron Copland writing his Fanfare in 1942, commented with his music. The Common Man moment was dominating the discourse.
Speaker 12: "Am I going to call this the fanfare for democracy?" That was his first thought.
Sarah Fishko: Just as the composer was searching for a title for his piece.
Speaker 12: Second thought is, "Will I call it The Fanfare For the Four Freedoms because that's the key words of the day?"
Sarah Fishko: By then, it seemed right to call it Fanfare For The Common Man. The title and the piece captured the public imagination. Copland had searched for an imposed simplicity in his music. This was one of the most celebrated examples.
John Corigliano: If you take Fanfare for The Common Man, he starts on that piece by having a melody that jumps without scales. Jump, jump, the next note.
Sarah Fishko: John Corigliano says, in this case, the simplicity comes from the distance between the notes.
John Corigliano: When he first harmonizes this, he harmonizes it only with five notes apart and four notes apart. We get a very bare sound instead of the full rich chord.
Sarah Fishko: Copland also knew how to orchestrate to great effect. It sounded simple, but it also sounded rich.
John Corigliano: I think Copland was searching for a language that was simple enough to be recognized, but it wasn't simple-minded. It was the opposite of simple-minded. I think a lot of his ideology comes into his music-making.
Sarah Fishko: Later, the fanfare was added by Copland to his third symphony and it took off to become the epitome of musical patriotism. This was early in Copland's spectacular run in the 1940s. One Americana-style hit after another. The Lincoln portrait, Danzon Cubano music for movies, rodeo.
Speaker 15: Culminating in a masterpiece, which is Appalachian Spring. There, he uses shaker tunes, which of course are the essence of simplicity.
Sarah Fishko: Appalachian Spring won the Pulitzer Prize for Copland in 1945. By the end of the '40s, he was back in Hollywood to do more music for films, including William Wyler's, The Heiress.
Speaker 16: The envelope, please.
Sarah Fishko: That earned him Hollywood's highest honor.
Speaker 16: The winner is Aaron Copland for The Heiress.
Speaker 17: Now ladies and gentlemen--
Sarah Fishko: He fired off a note to his friend and fellow composer, Leonard Bernstein. "Did you hear? I want an Oscar for The Heiress." Price goes up, he'd climbed to a great height, but the world was changing.
Speaker 18: Calling the House Un-American Activities Committee to Order, Chairman J. Parnell Thomas of New Jersey opens an inquiry into possible communist penetration of the Hollywood film.
Sarah Fishko: The House Committee on Un-American activities had already begun its work in 1947, the same year as the start of the Cold War.
Speaker 19: Are you a member of the Communist Party or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?
Sarah Fishko: They went right for Hollywood and the headlines. [crosstalk] American politics was taking a radical right turn after decades of liberal victories and progressive programs.
Speaker 20: That whole world suddenly once the Cold War started. Once the Soviet Union emerged as our leading enemy, everybody associated with the left was in trouble, lost their jobs, or ran into problems elsewhere.
Sarah Fishko: Senator Joseph McCarthy had been voted in during the 1946 elections, and soon he broadened the targeted attacks.
Senator Joseph McCarthy: One communist in a faculty of one university is one communist too many.
Speaker 21: When we talk about McCarthyism, we always associate it with a kind of particular boorishness of the man.
Senator Joseph McCarthy: One communist among the American advisors at Yorker was one communist too many.
Speaker 22: Frankly, there is a class prejudice in this. McCarthy's accusations against these Ivy Leaguers is one of the cultural undertones of this entire era where you have people like McCarthy, a working-class, Irish-German, and Roy Cohn, a pushy New York Jewish guy up against the aristocrats of the State Department, Yale-, Harvard-educated fellows who were always configured in the McCarthy vision as a feat, pinkos alien people, both ideologically and not too far under the surface, sexually as well.
Sarah Fishko: Something familiar but turned upside down.
Speaker 23: He's the common man with the doubled-up fists, who's going to chase the effete, sissy, sellout Harvard types away from government. Don't think that's gone away or ever will because it won't. That hits a division right inside the American character.
Senator Joseph McCarthy: We've got to dig and root out the communists and the crooks and those who are bad for America.
Sarah Fishko: As FDR used radio, so McCarthy used media in a different era.
Senator Joseph McCarthy: If we have a Republican president, we would be able to get those records. I'm sure.
Speaker 24: McCarthy realizes that you could get power simply by being a media superstar in the age of radio and then especially TV, which starts coming into many American homes by 1953, 1954. McCarthy can use his live television news conferences, his telecast senate investigations to promulgate his vision of America and not incidentally to gain a political power that would've taken decades to get if he had done it the old-fashioned way of slogging in the US Senate.
Sarah Fishko: Our hero, Mr. Copland, was caught in all this. He found himself in the publication Red Channels, along with 150 other cultural figures and journalists who are now officially on a list of the unemployable due to their political beliefs and affiliations, a blacklist. There were a lot of lists then, which created an atmosphere of finger-pointing, innuendo, and fear. The Attorney General had a list of groups considered subversive. That is, all of the leagues and collectives and alliances artists and activists had joined during The Common Man era.
If you'd ever belonged to one, you were a suspicious character. Not only artists, but also teachers, civil service workers, everyone was suspect. People in unions and other organizations were being asked to sign loyalty oaths. Later, Copland was questioned by Senator McCarthy and Councilor Roy Cohn in a special executive session of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Government Operations. During the two-hour grilling, Copland was courteously evasive, not refusing to answer, but rather cannily dodging every verbal bullet that came his way.
What changed for America's most distinctively American composer? Well, for a while, Hollywood was not an option. He was on the blacklist. Senator McCarthy, of all people, knew the power of cultural communicators. He influenced the State Department to create obstacles for their work. Copland's scores and recordings were banned in hundreds of US overseas libraries. Access officially denied. What changed most dramatically was his music. The creator of this widely-loved and accepted American sound adopted a more atonal internationalist approach, much more popular after the war. Some of his supporters were mystified by the change. His best known piece in the 1960s was Connotations for Orchestra, a much darker work for a darker, more individualistic era. He said in 1968,
Aaron Copland: The idea of writing specifically American-sounding music is definitely out at the present time. Nobody knows when it might come back again.
Sarah Fishko: Copland's Americana style of writing music was out because the ideas and collective spirit Copland helped to create were out. He'd been an idealist, an optimist, a patriot, and his music had captured that. Perhaps he remained all those things, but he more or less abandoned his signature sound, and he was no longer quite the shining star of music he once was. It's just very difficult to be a creative person who lives for many decades and establishes an identity.
Speaker 25: It's hard to ride the waves of indifference when you've been used to so much prominence. I think for Copland, it was very painful.
Sarah Fishko: He still hoped to reach people with his work, he said on The Today's Show in 1970.
Interviewer: How does a man-- I heard you asked at one time, how does a man go on writing when nobody listens to what he writes?
Aaron Copland: I've never understood that. It seems to me an impossible situation to find yourself in. I don't know, the urge to write is the main thing that moves you.
Sarah Fishko: A story of the search by a composer and a country for a national identity with profoundly divided results.
Kai Wright: That was producer Sara Fishko reporting for our show back in 2017. Special thanks to Olivia Briley, who helped produce the story, and Bill Moss for mixing and sound design. Notes from America is a production of WNYC Studios. Before we go, last week, we kicked off our second annual Notes From America Summer playlist. It's our effort to crowdsource with your help a soundtrack for the long, sunny days of summer, and we want to hear from you. What's a song that represents your personal diaspora story? Go to notesfromamerica.org and leave us a voice message right there on the site with your song and your story.
Theme music and mixing by Jared Paul. Reporting, producing and editing by Billie Estrine, Karen Frillman, Regina de Heer, Rahima Nasa, Kousha Navidar, and Lindsay Foster Thomas. André Robert Lee is our executive producer, and I am Kai Wright. Happy 4th of July.
New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of New York Public Radio’s programming is the audio record.