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College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences, Lamont School of Music, Musicology and Ethnomusicology


Music, Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Composition, Cold War


Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein were not only two of the most influential American composers but were also important cultural figures in left-wing American politics throughout their lifetimes. As public figures with sometimes communist sympathies, they fell victim to McCarthyism’s Red Scare tactics like so many others did, facing scrutiny from the US government. The Cold War era, marked by a contradictory combination of a cultural push for family values and consumerism with the overarching fear of foreign infiltration and nuclear annihilation, led to a feeling of anxiety and mistrust. In this paper, I examine the ways in which Copland’s and Bernstein’s politics informed their compositions in response to McCarthyism and the Cold War era. Primarily through the examples of both a stage work (Copland’s The Tender Land and Bernstein’s Candide) and a symphonic work (Copland’s Symphony No. 3 and Bernstein’s Symphony No. 2), this response can be analyzed through both explicit messaging and subtle musical characteristics.

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