Cover for BICK: Unsettled Scores: Politics, Hollywood, and the Film Music of Aaron Copland and Hanns Eisler. Click for larger image

Unsettled Scores

Politics, Hollywood, and the Film Music of Aaron Copland and Hanns Eisler

Two legendary composers and high art's uneasy partnership with Hollywood

The Hollywood careers of Aaron Copland and Hanns Eisler brought the composers and their high art sensibility into direct conflict with the premier producer of America's potent mass culture. Drawn by Hollywood's potential to reach—and edify—the public, Copland and Eisler expertly wove sophisticated musical ideas into Hollywood and, each in their own distinctive way, left an indelible mark on movie history.

Sally Bick's dual study of Copland and Eisler pairs interpretations of their writings on film composing with a close examination of their first Hollywood projects: Copland's music for Of Mice and Men and Eisler's score for Hangmen Also Die! Bick illuminates the different ways the composers treated a film score as means of expressing their political ideas on society, capitalism, and the human condition. She also delves into Copland's and Eisler's 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.

"Sally Bick has given us a thoughtful, fair-minded, and unfailingly engaging study of radical undercurrents in 1930s and 1940s Hollywood, with an emphasis on two very different composers, Aaron Copland and Hanns Eisler. Bick has the rare ability to write about abstract and technical aspects of music in a manner that will enlighten both scholar and general listener."--Tim Page, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for criticism

"Engaging and informative study of film scores by Aaron Copland and Hanns Eisler within the larger artistic, intellectual, musical, and political climate of midcentury America. Bick's work offers a significant contribution to the new wave of film music studies, which place equal emphasis on insightful and detailed music discussion."--Gayle Sherwood Magee, author of Robert Altman's Soundtracks: Film, Music, and Sound from M*A*S*H to A Prairie Home Companion

Publication of this book was supported in part by a grant from the Henry and Edna Binkele Classical Music Fund.


Sally Bick is an associate professor of music at the University of Windsor.

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