A new book by University of Windsor musicology professor Sally Bick takes a fascinating look at the work of two 20th century film composers, both of whom treated film scores as means of expressing political ideas on society, capitalism, and the human condition.
In Unsettled Scores: Politics, Hollywood, and the Film Music of Aaron Copland and Hanns Eisler, Dr. Bick delves into both composers’ often conflicted attempts to adapt their music to fit Hollywood’s commercial demands — an enterprise that took place even as they wrote hostile critiques of the film industry.
Unsettled Scores, published by University of Illinois Press, brings the Hollywood careers of Aaron Copland and Hanns Eisler into direct conflict with the movie industry, the premier producer of America’s potent mass culture. Drawn by its potential to reach and edify the public, Bick says, Copland and Eisler challenged the industry by expertly weaving sophisticated musical and political ideas into their film scores.
Bick writes that Copland’s emblematic Appalachian Spring, Fanfare for the Common Man, and the ballet score for Rodeo, remain central to his popular sound of the American spirit and became the musical model for other Hollywood composers.
She says Eisler’s musical notoriety and investments within communist circles distinguished him during the 1930s and ’40s as an important artistic political musical figure. He became a vital part of New York’s modernist community until 1942, when he left to work in Hollywood. As a communist working in the most capitalist of enterprises, he wrote sophisticated scores coded with political messages, including two Oscar-nominated films, Hangmen Also Die (1944) and None but the Lonely Heart (1945).