Douglas Stuart Moore (1893-1969)
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The Making of Power and the Land (1939-1940)


Douglas Stuart Moore
1893-1969

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Returning from Paris in 1926, Moore accepted a position in the Department of Music at Columbia University. He was promoted to Associate Professor in 1928 and became a full Professor in 1940, the same year he assumed the duties of department chair. Moore was not only a teacher, but an active participant in the musical life of New York. In 1951, the Columbia Alumni News noted that Moore had just been reelected to his sixth term of President of the National Institute of Arts and Letters and that “symphonies, chamber music, operas, film scores, children’s music, solo and choral vocal numbers have all been written by him and have been well received.” “But the type of music he creates most easily,” this article continued, “is American folk opera.”

Moore was thus an ideal choice as the composer of the score for the Rural Electrification Administration film Power and the Land. Moore’s work on Power and the Land was also an opportunity for further collaboration with his good friend Stephen Vincent Benet. In 1936, Moore and Benet had collaborated on the operetta The Headless Horseman. Two years later, Moore and Benet again collaborated on The Devil and Daniel Webster, with the libretto adapted by Benet from his short story of the same title. Presented for the first time on May 18, 1939, this one-act opera received more than twenty productions in various cities by 1950 and is still being performed.

At the time Moore was selected in 1940 as the composer for Power and the Land, he had clearly established himself as an independent composer writing in an American idiom. Willard Rhodes, in an article published in the Columbia University Journal in October 1940, wrote that Moore’s works “stubbornly defy classification according to accepted categories,” but that he was an “independent spirit” whose works reflected his “original and genial personality.” “Here,” Rhodes wrote, “is the musical statement of the hardy ideals of American society, ideals which continue real and active amidst an ever changing social scene.” Rhodes concluded that Moore’s “old-fashioned honesty and individualism combined with an ebullient enthusiasm for contemporary life and a healthy sense of humor give his work a character distinctly American.”

While an excellent choice as the composer for Power and the Land, Moore had been brought in at a late date. Mrs. Bradford Kelleher, one of Moore’s daughters, later recalled that her father was not given a great deal of time to compose the score. In early 1940, Joris Ivens and his editor Helen von Dongen, had completed the initial rough cut. By May, members of Pare Lorentz’s staff at the United States Film Service, after further polishing, had completed a work cut. Moore then viewed this cut several times and made notes as to the lengths of each segment. According to these notes (which are located in the Moore Papers in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Columbia University), the sequence of “Father and son, walking with lantern towards stable” was 25 feet in length and ran 12 seconds. The scene where “Outside the farmhouse, Mother is pumping water, she walks over to house,” was some 27 feet and ran 18 seconds. Moore’s notes continue: “General view of kitchen. Girl is still peeling potatoes. Little boy comes in carrying firewood. Brings it over to Mother. Mother puts fire in stove, puts kettle on.” This comprised 17 feet and ran 11 and 1/2 seconds.

Moore, a true professional, hit his mark. While Ivens had offered to make modifications to various scenes to fit the sound track, this proved not to be necessary. As Robert L. Snyder has noted, “Moore’s music fit the timing of the scenes exactly.” Moore and Stephen Vincent Benet, who has written the commentary, also worked well together. When there was a potential conflict between the commentary and the music at the dinner table scene, Moore, according to film scholar Robert L. Snyder, agreed to discreetly tune down the music. Elsewhere in the film, Benet was so impressed with Moore’s score for the harvesting scene that he penned an additional verse to accompany the music.


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