This is a fine and listenable symphony, very much in Copland's "populist" style. The last movement is based on his Fanfare for the Common Man which I am familiar with, of course. I recommend reading Tom's article introducing the symphony and listening to the whole piece. He has links to other performances, but I will embed here Leonard Bernstein's recording of the last movement with the New York Philharmonic:
There is more to be said, of course. For one thing, there was a fierce competition with William Schumann and Roy Harris among others to write the "Great American Symphony". And, following Beethoven's example in his Symphony No. 3, it needed to be an heroic one. It is acknowledged that Copland won that competition! The symphony was written between the D-Day landings in Europe in the summer of 1944 and the summer of 1946, just after America had won the war in the Pacific with Japan by dropping two atomic bombs on Japanese cities. This triumph also brought anxiety as the whole world now had to live with the possibility of nuclear destruction as the Soviet Union soon had its own bomb. Also, the Cold War between the West and East began soon after the end of the war. Churchill's speech announcing that an "Iron Curtain" had fallen across Eastern Europe was made in March 1946.
As a consequence of the Cold War a hunt began in the US to root out supposed communist sympathizers. One of these was the German composer Hanns Eisler who had fled the Nazis in 1933 and lived in Hollywood. He was deported in 1948 for being a communist. Copland came close to being guilty by association as he was mentioned in an interview by Eisler as being a person with "progressive ideas" which made him suspect. Copland was also photographed at a conference in New York in 1949 with the composer Dmitri Shostakovich who was traveling as a cultural ambassador for the Soviet Union. This conference was a holdover from the wartime alliance, but the publication of the photo in Life magazine under the headline "Dupes and Fellow Travelers Dress Up Communist Fronts" did Copland's career no good! Ironically, Shostakovich was also in disgrace after the 1948 denouncing for "formalism".
|Shostakovich (center) and Copland (right) in New York in 1949|
After all this, Copland was not going to risk any more "populism" which could all too easily be termed sympathy for communism. Indeed, a performance of A Lincoln Portrait that was scheduled to be given at the inauguration of President Eisenhower in 1953 was canceled because of Copland's "questionable affiliations." Around this time, pressured by ultimately being called to testify at the infamous hearings of the McCarthy subcommittee, Copland made a major change in his musical style, turning away from the tonality of his populist works to the austerity of twelve-tone composition. Here is the first movement of his Piano Quartet, composed in 1950:
Withdrawing from the populism of tonality to the Ivory Tower of "pure art" (symbolized by serialism) was a way for Copland and other American composers to avoid being drawn into the political battles of the post-war period.
It is just one of the political and aesthetic complexities of the Cold War that the CIA funded the European avant-garde after the war as an effort to demonstrate the superiority of Western aesthetic procedures over the socialist realism of the Soviet Union. Much as the scientific expertise of Albert Einstein and the Manhattan Project (which gave rise to the atomic bomb) demonstrated the superiority of Western science over that of the communists.
Copland wrote his Symphony No. 3 in a sincere attempt to capture the heroic feeling around the end of the war. At around the same time Shostakovich wrote his Symphony No. 9: originally intended to be a heroic celebration of the end of the war as well, it turned out quite differently. Shostakovich, while certainly capable of disingenuous celebrations in the mode of socialist realism such as we see in his Symphonies Nos. 11 and 12, at this moment in time, he just couldn't do it and instead wrote a more classical symphony full of wit and irony. This is the lightest and most cheerful symphony he ever wrote. He just couldn't bring himself to write something puffed up and pompous on this occasion. Here is Leonard Bernstein conducting the piece: