Music for an Exhibition: Sounds of 1934
December 28, 2009
On a recent Sunday afternoon, pianist and music educator Leslie Amper presented a program at American Art on the WPA Federal Music Project, providing a perfect antidote to the gloomy weather outside. With the exhibition 1934: A New Deal for Artists, currently on view through January 3, 2010, Amper's program added another layer to our understanding of the importance of FDR's initiatives to help artists, as well as composers, musicians, and dancers among others, in need. And as a chilling reminder of the lack of support artists have often received over the years, she told us, "It was the first time in our [nation's] history that the government funded culture, and it helped to create the golden age of American music."
The program didn't just support artists, it paid them for their labor. And the statistics are amazing: from 1935–1939 more than 200 composers—including luminaries Roger Sessions, Aaron Copland, and David Diamond—presented more than 6,000 new works. As Amper said about her research into the Federal Music Project, "It was like discovering ancient Egypt. I had no idea how much had gone on during that period, thanks to FDR." In addition to assisting composers, funds were also available for copyists (in those pre-computer days when everything was done by hand) and librarians. The program also encouraged participation by amateur adults and offered training for music critics, music teachers, radio announcers, and radio singers, such as the one featured in the painting Radio Broadcast by Julia Eckel, on view in 1934: A New Deal for Artists.
For the second part of the program, Amper sat at the Steinway and presented a wonderful array of music created under the auspices of the Federal Music Program. Composers included Henry Cowell, Amy Beach, Ruth Crawford Seeger, and perhaps the granddaddy of them all, Aaron Copland. On a program of musical highlights, one must give kudos to soprano Carmen Balthrop, who joined Amper for three songs, including George Gershwin's "Just Another Rhumba," a wildly playful tune that enabled both singer and pianist to show their artistic chops, as well as some sly dance moves. Both performers are to be commended for their artistry, generosity of spirit, and just plain charm.
Amper closed the program on a serious, but hopeful note, with Copland's Piano Sonata. It is Copland, out of all the many composers of this time, who is credited with creating "an American sound."
- WPA, 1934, Music, Julia Eckel', Leslie Amper, Roger Sessions, Aaron Copland, David Diamond,
American Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum
The comments to this entry are closed.