A conversation with...; Roger Sessions, part two
Now resuming the conversation with Roger Sessions here is George Stone. Let's go back now to the New England of. The very early part of the century. When your interest in music was just forming and as I understand you. You began at a very early age. Studying music. When I began I began piano lessons when I was. But I didn't study any compass you know long before I studied anything any composition. Of course you entered Harvard at age 14 age 14. I'm sorry to say because it was really not very it
doesn't seem to have heard. I hope I've gotten over it. Well then after Harvard it was e-mail and study with Richard Pryor. To what extent was he an influence in your thinking. Of course there again. I mean I don't like to say this but I have to say it. When very many hardly any but it was hardly anybody in the United States at that time who who knew what a composer needed and what times do you mean. Well perhaps perhaps I haven't put it right but Edward Burlingame was a teacher the day was closest to and was the most he. He asked me to come out
for a walk with him and he told me he said. He said I want to tell you something and that is that what you really want and what you really need. We're not in a position to give you. I want to try to explain to you. And he advised me to go and study and you know it with and I would have done that if they hadn't book although this was around 19 19. It was the spring of 1914. This conversation took place. When down for quite a while I was quite it seemed to be quite a likelihood that it wasn't because of me. And then. But I did go to study and it didn't seem to be
in the ads for me to go after my life going on for four years and going somewhere else. And I wasn't sure but what I knew I need to know soon found that I wasn't. And I'm very good at it because I don't think that that sort of French music would have been a very good thing for me. Parker You probably were taught the basic 19th century orientation music musical practice. More on this this was. A quite different period especially in the United States from the since the first world. And I think that the same things that took up much more quickly
and much money. There are only five of them or only a handful of us in my generation a really small handful of people who really wanted to compose. And so the teaching was something quite different. Well I wrote one of an article recently maybe in an interview that I gave new perspectives and new music. The idea was to produce cultured gentleman and produce serious musicians. What do you want to know the difference. But he reassures me I didn't know Pixie's when he said I didn't mean to interrupt you. No no but I wondered to what extent he spoke of those persons in your generation
who were interested in music and so there were relatively few that is seriously interested in music as a life's work. Yes well you know the names of. Yes. What about those in the generation ahead of yours. Were you aware of the work that had been written by the various composers almost all of them from New England. Was there an awareness of the kind of music that was being produced in America. You know yes. And could she. I didn't give it quite its due. I gave it. I wasn't interested you did you did your path ever crossed child Ives and does not know.
It wouldn't of him. I knew I was and he was there. But he seemed kind of freakish so to speak. Of course that I did know and the Boston Symphony. Played much more contemporary music than I think has been and has been the case in the last 30 30 of 40 heads. But you know I hear a lot of this music from the most. It wasn't what I wanted to do that. What did you feel that most of it was simply too deeply rooted in what had already been said elsewhere. Well that's certainly. And only I didn't think of
it in such a formulated term and there was nothing. Very very interesting. Yes. When did you begin teaching. Well I actually began teaching in 1970. Smith College for four years then I took the Cleveland Institute. Is this where you went to Cleveland. I went to just look for instruction there in New York. Yes. Now did he offer for you running game had all thought that you might find. Oh yeah. Had you gone to your oh yeah. And I was getting ready I had to get somebody who in the first place had
complete respect. Secondly I mean that sounds awful as far as the others are concerned because a and but it was a man who really represented a first musicianship. And so I felt that he would be totally frank with me. You see. So yes I'm going to be with him for a number of years. This must mean that during that time you are convinced that these qualities that you mentioned were what you needed and what you wanted. What was it specifically that he could offer you that these others had not. For me is a
really impeccable craftsmanship you might say that he wouldn't let anything get. He would demand everything from that should be that I was demanding of myself. That's really what you do when you approached an honest block with the idea of becoming his pupil. Did you take him examples of your work. It was a very very amusing little incident because he told me we had an interview in which he really gave me the so to speak. But I was through and I wasn't really absolutely thrilled I went home.
The most literal account of the whole time kind of a notebook a few years later I read it to you. His jaw dropped. Let me make you make it sound as if I didn't like you. I was reading it. I thought it was funny. This is not my first. No no oh not here first. I said Well you certainly didn't give me any reason to think you did. And he said well I wouldn't. And the American student liked that I said. I said but then he told me that some of some of the others
hadn't taken it as well as I do you know. You know here I sat down the piano and he shouted to the top of his lungs the names of the composers to me. And of course I knew they didn't. After all just sort of set things straight in his mind. I joined in with him. Debussy here and I'd say yes newfound interest down on the next page. And then he sat me down of course and he said this this really doesn't matter. He was just trying to see whether I could take it. I recall reading something written by his daughter that indicated that he could be a pretty formidable character when he was in temper and the next minute it was all over
would break through the clouds and everything was lovely. Oh yes. But of course this wasn't a matter of temper. He was the image in his expression the sort of thing that any young man doing anything to be able to take is really where you went with him to Cleveland. And he taught there. Did you continue your study with him at that time. No you know I'm a more informal and a very involved as an actor. But I wasn't. Actually taking lessons. Was it at about that time that you wrote the Black maskers. Well it was their idea that I was in Cleveland you know in the second year that it was in Cleveland I went in 1921 narrow the black mask because in the
spring of 1923 is this one of the works to which you refer as enjoy now but not feeling at the end yeah. Yeah I mean yeah of course it's been a tremendously popular song. It's been played a very great deal and sometimes I wish they had something else and said I don't know but I certainly enjoy hearing it. Well no in that particular case there are no problems of any kind and some later ones that I was really thinking of like a first quick hit like piano. Concerto has been played a great deal too recently especially certainly Mr. Sessions I found
contradictory statements a couple of references that I checked were you or were you not a pupil have been Jane. No it wasn't but after Cleveland you did spend some several years in Europe did you not. I spent six of the manipulator but I was in Paris quite often and I admit I went quite often. And she was always very nice to me but I never studied with my car. It's not perfect. I used to be quite annoyed when people said I had because I threw away I did study with their new son who was a nun. This is unusual for that time for me because so many Americans going to Europe sought out. Yeah not idea of launching a
supreme contrast to any other opportunities for European study and there's a whole group of American composers almost ran out of the school came onto this ng flyin screw you escaped. That's true. Well you can put it that way. OK he was referring to the influence. Yeah. Having escaped and you know I don't think I did it was I mean I don't think that here. Naturally she was a very very fine musician and she was influenced by everything. Well you said you were in Paris frequently one gets the impression from this that you spent your european years in various places. Well I didn't really lived in Italy.
I never spent time in Paris thank you very much. And then I went to Berlin because I was very nice to be urged me to come to Berlin and sort of open and gave me the music. When I got there. And this I must say was. Fascinating place in the world musically that I would second the innocence most most of us was some of your music performed in Europe at that. Oh yes by my company for example did he perform any of my music in Europe actually but it was performed in international festivals and
I'm semi conducted my first symphony there in Geneva and in Berlin and then my first piano sonata was had first performed in England in Oxford Festival and was performed and given a good deal and played in France. When you returned to the United States and eventually took up the post at Princeton you continued to work at composition his. You found time. Yes. Although he's with the years after I actually went to Princeton I didn't want to be connected with the university and
he wasn't so bad when I actually was. But I thought after I left Smith that was the end of the college I want to be you know more with musicians you see. But the point is that one couldn't make the private teaching alone. Richards what I. Essentially tried to do. There was no job being a conservative. I was offered a job at Princeton but I was very very had I had to work for two or three years because I really stuck to the bottom. The reason I started the bottom was because the music to Princeton was so studying from the bottom it was just founded. So I'd teach freshman freshman freshman and sophomores and
juniors. You think that the demands of university life inhibit the creative process. Composer Well no actually. I don't think for any reason except that they take time. Well the Course would be a factor. I NEVER any time in my life have allowed anything that can be my major interest even in years when I've composed relatively little. That was the main thing. But and so if anything had arisen I would have found a way of getting out of the universe right away. I think this is a rather big question and it's no it's not a question that I found a particularly happy
because I think that the universe there is a discrepancy between creative tastes and universities that the universities do and have done very very well by them. But something that doesn't quite fit. But there can eventually be made to fit. That's a question that I think a lot of people are concerned with. I don't feel they're being disloyal to my university connections and saying these kids have said it. Mr. Brush actions if yours also include the University of California at Berkeley when you know this point that you mention is very interesting to me because we have so much talk in this day that the center a principal center of
creative musical activity is on the university campus. And we see these music schools all over the country the state universities the private universities there's a great deal of activity every University School of Music has its composer composer in residence for composers who are teaching their performances going on. Curious to know more of your reaction to this feeling that the center of creative activity is still not not the university. Well I mean you can go on and yes I mean I said little I could have felt best. Well that is true Dave but I have no source of places. Oh it's the same thing I
mean if his attitude and his orientation can function very well university but of course I think that. If you're going to have music event you could face the fact that you can't have. You're going to have to perform. You've got to have not only have students took a long time to do on me but I thought a great deal about it. I've been involved in it and I'm convinced. And I would say that there should be a kind of autonomy if this situation is going to develop in a healthy
way the ultimate solution is that I don't see anything wrong. Do you have the opportunity to hear the work of contemporary composers. But there are some who have never learned their craft. Well yes but do you think some who have not got away with it if you will because so many people particularly in dealing with the work of the card don't recognize I demand it was a craft and I think what you're saying is true except that this is nothing unique to our period no problem that was that was 240 years ago.
It was true to a young man who might now be considering the serious study. What particular advice would you offer. Well I'd like how I would I would advise him to go to the best teacher he could get because somebody really first class and put itself put himself in the teacher's hands and stick by stick with one teacher until he really felt secure with his media and could do what he wanted. Now there are teachers and teachers to teach us to take you. But I would advise him I tried to tell him what a composer really is. But in terms of
craft that you have got to have as much security. With music and meeting notes and those sorts of things counterpoint harmony and everything else. As a person who is going to do who has great ambitions as a writer and as a language. But its not a question of studying a book and reading the first chapter and doing exercises 1 to 10. The end of the chapter and then going onto the second chapter. But he's got to really be able to do all this to the point where it where he knows every move he knows instinctively every motion he makes. And he has mastered it to air in the air. Exactly.
And this. This presupposes a wide and very deep knowledge of music which has been written to his own time. Well I think this I don't say it presupposes it would be very very strange if this were not. I mean anybody who is in vogue with music to the extent that a composer or performer mess to be. To know music literature as a matter of course. It's actually not everything but you got to know a good deal of first class music really extremely. That means virtually
just put and have looked good enough so that it really means something you know. Have you me any interest in electronic music as well. I have interest in it as an outsider. I mean I haven't had the time. I. NOT TO DO AND thing with it. And I'm not. I'm not sure that I would if I didn't have to. And this point because I feel that it's what it's in swaddling. Well Mr. Sessions we could go on for yet another entire program and one after that and one after that. However unfortunately our time is up for this time. I would hope that perhaps we will have the good fortune of another meeting with
- A conversation with...
- Roger Sessions, part two
- Producing Organization
- WEFM (Radio station : Chicago, Ill.)
- Zenith Radio Corporation
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- Episode Description
- This program, the second of two parts, features Roger Sessions, composer.
- Series Description
- Eminent musicians discuss their careers and the art of music. The series is co-hosted by Arrand Parsons of Northwestern University School of Music and George Stone, WEFM program director.
- Media type
Host: Parsons, Arrand
Host: Stone, George Steingoetter, 1920-
Interviewee: Sessions, Roger, 1896-1985
Producing Organization: WEFM (Radio station : Chicago, Ill.)
Producing Organization: Zenith Radio Corporation
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 67-49-8 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “A conversation with...; Roger Sessions, part two,” 1967-12-27, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed November 28, 2022, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-fb4wn83s.
- MLA: “A conversation with...; Roger Sessions, part two.” 1967-12-27. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. November 28, 2022. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-fb4wn83s>.
- APA: A conversation with...; Roger Sessions, part two. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-fb4wn83s