One of the essays I had to do for my masters was a discussion on Steinbeck, but doing my usual poking around, discovered he was almost the exact contemporary of Aaron Copland. I had read an article that criticised Steinbeck for changing his subjects all the time, but that is what I think makes him, and Copland so great.
They were both born at the dawn of the rise of America to a major power and they both died just as the problems of the sixties were breaking. They lived through immense changes, and their respective arts are the best documents of that change. Whether the struggling dustbowl farmers or drunken Mexicans, Steinbeck recorded voices that were often ignored, and he did so with great passion and humour. To most people his books are depressing, but that is because schools seem to love the depressing titles. I love the rest, such as Cannery Row and Pastures of Heaven, for their descriptions of nature, their understanding of humanity, and their immense humour. Travels with Charley is a brilliant summation of a man’s life, and the frailties of growing old,
Copland is probably best known for his ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’, and his many soundtracks to Westerns. When I think of the wide open spaces of his country, I think of it with his soundtrack. He also wrote ballets, folk tunes, he covered it all.
As the storms sweep the eastern seaboard, and we hear of New York and Washington being deserted, here is his Copland’s ‘Quiet City’ by Wynton Marsalis, with wishes that the storm will get the hell out of there as soon as possible and everyone can start the biggest cleanup in history.