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Frontier FiguresAmerican Music and the Mythology of the American West$
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Beth Levy

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780520267763

Published to California Scholarship Online: September 2012

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520267763.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM CALIFORNIA SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.california.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of California Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CALSO for personal use.date: 28 September 2021

West of Eden

West of Eden

(p.155) 5 West of Eden
Frontier Figures

Beth E. Levy

University of California Press

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

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