West of Eden

Beth E. Levy

in Frontier Figures

Published by University of California Press

Published in print April 2012 | ISBN: 9780520267763
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520952027 | DOI:
West of Eden

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This chapter explores the pastoral soundtracks of two distinctly midwestern works: one by Leo Sowerby and one by Lukas Foss, both inspired by Carl Sandburg's poem “The Prairie.” Like Virgil Thomson's soundtrack for The Plow That Broke the Plains, each departs from Arcadian pastorals by making conflict a central theme. And taken together, they can be seen to chronicle the impact of technological “progress” on western land that was, despite all previous mythmaking, not very well suited to the family farm. The tensions which shatter the operatic households of Aaron Copland's The Tender Land, Douglas Moore's Giants in the Earth, and Ernst Bacon's Tree on the Plains suggest that even a healthy crop of folk song cannot sustain domestic harmony in the face of personal and national maturation. No matter how pastoral, these prairie landscapes were not idyllic and never timeless.

Keywords: American music; pastorals; Leo Sowerby; Lukas Foss; prairie; technological progress

Chapter.  8847 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: American Music

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