Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] Hartford, Kassandra. “A Common Man for the Cold War: Aaron Copland’s Old American Songs.” The Musical Quarterly 98 (Winter 2015): 313-49.

Aaron Copland’s Old American Songs are a window into his career-spanning struggle with the nature of American music in the evolving Cold War political landscape. The earliest sketches for Old American Songs are dated to 1941, during a period in Copland’s career largely defined by his political engagement with the leftist Popular Front, but the two sets were not published until 1950 and 1954 respectively. The ten songs Copland selected for Old American Songs come from somewhat diverse origins: three Protestant hymns, three minstrel songs, two children’s songs, a campaign song, and an Anglo-American ballad. However, the songs are considerably more focused on white Anglo-Saxon traditions than the pluralist aesthetic of the Popular Front. In sketches, Copland also included John Henry, a ballad about the African American folk (and labor) hero that was widely performed by Popular Front-affiliated musicians. Copland removed John Henry from Old American Songs prior to publication, apparently for political reasons. The two late additions to Old American Songs, Zion’s Walls and The Little Horses, also support the idea that Copland was distancing himself from the Popular Front by the 1950s; Zion’s Walls in particular was drawn from a collection published by George Pullen Jackson, a major figure in the reactionary White Top Folk Festival. Copland also made numerous musical and textual changes throughout the set, softening any (left leaning) political lyrics and removing the dialect and references to African American traditions from the reworked minstrel songs. Through the presentation of a white, Anglo-Saxon American past and the omission of class and racial tensions from the source material, Old American Songs represents Copland’s retreat from populist causes in the face of Cold War politics and the threat of McCarthyism.

Works: Aaron Copland: Old American Songs (318-39)

Sources: Dan D. Emmett: The Boatman’s Dance (319-23, 337-39); Traditional, John A. Lomax and Alan Lomax (editors): The Dodger (319-23, 328-30, 335-37), The Little Horses (319-23, 325-27, 334-35); George Pope Morris (lyricist) and Charles Edward Horn (arranger): Long Time Ago (319-23, 331); Elder Joseph Brackett, Edward D. Andrews (editor): Simple Gifts (319-23); Traditional: I Bought Me A Cat (319-23), The Golden Willow Tree (319-23), Ching-a-Ring Chaw (319-23, 331-33, 338); John G. McCurry: Zion’s Walls (319-23, 325-27); Rev. Robert Lowry: At The River (319-23)

Index Classifications: 1900s

Contributed by: Matthew Van Vleet

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