In this latest release, Intrada presents two scores by the quintessential Americana composer Aaron Copland, featuring the original tracks from The Red Pony and The Heiress in part of Paramount’s ongoing restoration series. In 1948, while composing his clarinet concerto for Benny Goodman, Copland was asked if he’d be interesting in scoring John Steinbeck’s adaptation of his 1938 novelette The Red Pony, about a young boy and his family on their ranch in the San Fernando Valley.
“I admired Steinbeck and after reading the book, I knew this was a film for me. The principal restriction of most movie scores is having to write in small two- or three-minute forms. The Red Pony offered larger opportunities. … Much of the story called for simple harmonies and clear melodies and, of course, some of the inevitable steady rhythmic accompaniment to simulate cowboys on horseback,” noted Copland. One critic called out the score for being “excitingly fresh and stirring.”
The second title featured on this release, The Heiress, was based on Augustus and Ruth Goetz’s 1947 Broadway play, which in turn was an adaptation of an 1880 Henry James novel about a dull but sweet spinster, her brilliant and cold father, and a handsome yet mercenary young suitor. Copland explained his approach in a memo to director William Wyler:
“The picture will not call for a great deal of music, but what music it does have ought to really count. I can see that the music would be a valuable ally in underlining psychological subtleties. My fear is that a conventionally written score would bathe the work in the usual romantic atmosphere. What I would try for would be the recreation in musical terms of the special atmosphere inherent in the James original.”
The source elements for both scores were 78-rpm acetate reference discs made at the time of their respective 1949 recording sessions. In addition, the discovery of the original mono music scoring stems for The Red Pony allowed for the inclusion of previously unreleased music, including the main and end titles all in superb sound. The acetate discs for The Heiress —unlike for The Red Pony —were, sadly, in very poor condition. Even with Chris Malone’s expert sonic restoration ability, the sound remains marginal at best, but still a significant, historic item to make commercially available.