Episode 4: Music, McCarthy, and the Sound of Americana

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How can music — even music without lyrics — be political? We explore that question in episode 4 of "Culture Wars."

In the 1920s, composer Aaron Copland took off for Paris. His search for a distinctive American sound in classical music resulted in some of the most familiar and patriotic music written in the 20th Century — including the famous 1942 piece "Fanfare for the Common Man."

WNYC's Sara Fishko ("Fishko Files") follows Copland’s story through the 1930s and '40s in America, when the wealth-obsessed ethos of the '20s had given way to a more collective, activist spirit. The Great Depression, the rise of Fascism and the unprecedented collective effort during World War II united Americans against a common enemy.

Copland's art was transformed during that "Popular Front" period. He "simplified" his concert music, as well as his scores for ballets, plays and films, into a more accessible style that appealed to that era's common man philosophy.

Fishko sits down with the distinguished contemporary composer John Corigliano ("The Red Violin") to deconstruct the sound of the "Americana style." The departure from European traditions created a new and remarkable connection between music and the American politics of the time. Artists of all kinds were more involved in world events than ever before.

But Copland's activism and creative output — and that of many artists and intellectuals — would be threatened and dramatically altered by the swing to the right in American politics in the 1950s.

The idea of America changed — and so did its music and culture.

Episode Contributors:

Kai Wright

Sara Fishko

Karen Frillmann

Olivia Briley

Bill Moss

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