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Virgil Thomson: The Plow that Broke the Plains; The River [Soundtrack]

V. Thomson Audio CD
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

Price: $11.28 & FREE Shipping on orders over $35. Details
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MP3 Music, 21 Songs, 2007 $7.99  
Audio CD, Soundtrack, 2007 $11.28  

Listen to Samples and Buy MP3s

Songs from this album are available to purchase as MP3s. Click on "Buy MP3" or view the MP3 Album.

Song Title Time Price
listen  1. The Plow that Broke the Plains: Prelude 4:04$0.89  Buy MP3 
listen  2. The Plow that Broke the Plains: Pastorale (Grass) 1:19$0.89  Buy MP3 
listen  3. The Plow that Broke the Plains: Cattle 2:06$0.89  Buy MP3 
listen  4. The Plow that Broke the Plains: The Homesteader 2:47$0.89  Buy MP3 
listen  5. The Plow that Broke the Plains: Warning 1:29$0.89  Buy MP3 
listen  6. The Plow that Broke the Plains: War and the Tractor 3:54$0.89  Buy MP3 
listen  7. The Plow that Broke the Plains: Speculation (Blues) 2:54$0.89  Buy MP3 
listen  8. The Plow that Broke the Plains: Drought 1:45$0.89  Buy MP3 
listen  9. The Plow that Broke the Plains: Wind and Dust 2:03$0.89  Buy MP3 
listen10. The Plow that Broke the Plains: Devastation 4:33$0.89  Buy MP3 
listen11. The River: Prelude0:40$0.89  Buy MP3 
listen12. The River: First Forest 1:00$0.89  Buy MP3 
listen13. The River: A Big River 2:46$0.89  Buy MP3 
listen14. The River: Cotton Pickers 2:42$0.89  Buy MP3 
listen15. The River: Ruins 1:19$0.89  Buy MP3 
listen16. The River: Logging 2:00$0.89  Buy MP3 
listen17. The River: Coal 2:37$0.89  Buy MP3 
listen18. The River: Floods 7:38$0.89  Buy MP3 
listen19. The River: Requiem 1:13$0.89  Buy MP3 
listen20. The River: Tenancy 3:20$0.89  Buy MP3 
listen21. The River: Finale 3:23$0.89  Buy MP3 

Frequently Bought Together

Virgil Thomson: The Plow that Broke the Plains; The River + Virgil Thomson: Symphony No 1-3 + Harris: Symphonies Nos. 5 and 6
Price for all three: $33.82

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Product Details

  • Audio CD (October 30, 2007)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Format: Soundtrack
  • Label: Naxos American
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #109,131 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Editorial Reviews


Naxos's DVD division has already released the performances on this disc of Virgil Thomson's scores for The Plow that Broke the Plains and The River, as soundtracks for a re-release of the original films. That DVD (Naxos 2.110521) contained, as bonus tracks, the original musical performances. The additional investment for the DVD seems minor, considering the historical value of the films themselves and the other additional material (interviews with film participants and some comments from Thomson himself).

However, for the extremely budget-minded or those only interested in the audio experience, these performances by the Post-Classical Ensemble, led by Angel Gil-Ordóñez, merit a strong recommendation.

Naxos's booklet essay, in the typical tiny font, has a fine essay on the composition of the scores as well as a track-by-track synopsis tying the music to scenes from each of the films. Joseph Horowitz, director of the Post-Classical Ensemble, composed the notes.

Again, the DVD offers a richer experience, but those who desire the convenience of the CD format will be grateful for this release. -- Opera Today, Chris Mullins, May 2008

Product Description

Pare Lorentz' The Plow that Broke the Plains and The River are landmark American documentary films.* Aesthetically, they break new ground in seamlessly marrying pictorial imagery, symphonic music, and poetic free verse, all realized with supreme artistr

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a classic of Americana October 27, 2007
Format:MP3 Music
Around the same time that Aaron Copland began combining American folk (or rather folk-like) themes with European classical (or "neo-classical") composition techniques Virgil Thomson composed in a similar manner for the scores of two films (The Plow That Broke the Plains & The River / Gil-Ordonez, Post-Classical Ensemble) commissioned by the FDR administration promoting New Deal agricultural programs. The Plow that Broke the Plains actually predates Billy the Kid and Appalachian Spring and is not quite as grand a piece as either of those, nor as complete a synthesis of styles, but it nonetheless deserves as wide recognition. Thomson uses more actual bits of 18th century Americana (folk tunes, Stephen Foster songs, hymns and marches) than Copland (who often made up his folk songs) and throws in authentic instrumentation like steel-string guitar, banjo and harmonium. This material gets developed in many striking ways - with spiky counterpoint and strange pungent harmonies. A good example is right at the top where a near quotation of the opening of Brahms' first Symphony leading directly into the "Old 100th" hymn tune. Themes alternate in this manner and get combined an eventually the "Old 100th" receives a stunning, set of variations in the "Wind and Dust" movement.

The River presents the tunes more faithfully to their original forms, and a bit more separate from the "European" music but is a quite interesting work on its own merit. The highlight is the section called "Floods" where the flood waters are evoked by somber swirling contrapuntal string writing.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 45 Years after Stokowski! May 25, 2008
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
Do you enjoy tuneful American music of the 20th century? If so, this disc might be one for you. Virgil Thomson composed scores for two Great Depression era documentary films about the environment: "The Plow that Broke the Plains" and "The River". His music is delightful, containing elements of folk, jazz and, to this listener, suggestions or reminders of Charles Ives.

If you have never heard this music, don't hesitate in getting the CD. (There's a separate Naxos DVD of the films, too.) The CD is just about all one could ask for. The Post-Classical Ensemble (numbering around 40 players) was founded in 2003 and recorded this music two years later. They play well together, and the woodwind and brass solo passages are outstanding. The sound is close and vibrant. A listener really couldn't ask for much more ...oh perhaps a little closer miking of the banjo, which makes a brief but welcome appearance.

Some listeners/collectors undoubtedly own the classic 1960 recording of suites of this music made by the legendary conductor Leopold Stokowski with the Symphony of the Air orchestra for Vanguard Records. If you are fortunate to possess this LP or CD, by all means do not part with it. But this new Naxos "American Classics" series disc deserves your attention because it contains nearly 20 additional minutes of music (including some that did not fit into Thomson's film score) than the Stokowski suites.

I advise you to get the old Stokowski recording if you can find it, but definitely buy this bargain-priced CD. It's a winner.

Tim Koerner
May 2008
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Homespun classics November 11, 2007
Format:Audio CD
Hats off to Naxos for making available Virgil Thomson's soundtracks to the New Deal documentaries The Plow that Broke the Plains and The River, which respectively explored the Dust Bowl era and flood control of the Mississippi River. Thomson's quintessentially American music -- bold, brash and emotionally direct -- provided the perfect accompaniment to these groundbreaking, socially orientated films. The composer applied his kaleidoscopic musical palette to both projects, mixing folk, country, jazz and classical forms to create sound pictures keenly attuned to the onscreen action. He also made witty and ironic use of homespun instruments such as banjo, guitar and harmonium. The result was music of deceptive simplicity that nevertheless communicates with great power and clarity without overpowering the visuals. In their vivid and unpretentious evocation of American spirit and rhythms, Thomson's soundtracks provided a refreshing alternative to the lushly orchestrated scores that dominated Hollywood in the thirties and forties.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fine Renditions of Thomson's Scores February 25, 2008
By Jim
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
Spanish conductor Angel Gil-Ordonez and the Post-Classical Ensemble of Washington D. C. specialize in contemporary music. They do spirited renditions of the original film scores that would stand by themselves even if not associated with re-release of the films. Only two complaints: 1) the sounds of musicians' fingers sliding up their string boards in the first movement of The River should have been edited out, and 2) the banjo should have been accentuated in The Rose of Alabama.
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