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Conversation with Aaron Copeland. This is another in a continuing series of programs each of which offers the listener a rare opportunity to hear an eminent musician informally discussing his own career and expressing his thoughts about a variety of topics related to the art of music. The regular participants in these discussions are Aaron Parsons professor of music theory at Northwestern University's School of Music and program annotator for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. And George Stone program director for Zenith radio corporation's serious music station w e FM in Chicago. Mr. Parsons and Mr. Stone have as their guest on today's program the noted music educator lecturer and author busy guest conductor and dean of American composers Aaron Copeland. Now here is there and Parsons. Mr. Copeland your name has been associated with American music for the whole of the 20th century. You have seen the changing styles the changing patterns in American music and as
American music fits into the international scene for these many years because you've been at the forefront of these developments you name it so it has been closely associated with Americana through such things as your ballet Appalachian Spring and Rodeo. What is your reaction now to this kind of liaison with Americana. Well I think I should preface my reply by saying that the need the desire to write a music that was recognizably American happened at a time when we had no such movement. Not any that we were aware of of course Charles Ives was doing exactly that up in New England and in New York City. But we didn't know Charles I was not even by name. This was the 1920s. Yeah but you're speaking because I was writing his very American sounding music in the 1910 and even before then.
So we had we had the false idea that we were the first to think about really emphasizing the American quality in music serious music. But of course today the whole picture has completely changed. The contemporary musical movement is characterized by a kind of internationalism and style I would say would be difficult to distinguish between the work of a Japanese composer and a French composer and other composers they're working with in a style familiar to all the composers around the world so that the idea of writing specifically American sounding music is definitely out at the present time. Nobody knows why it might come back again. But even I myself would hesitate to write pieces in the style of Billy the Kid already or one of those American sounding pieces that really borrowed from American folklore to help them get their specifically American atmosphere. Well as a matter of fact you have not since about nineteen forty
forties and how did you turn to them or to a more abstract style of writing. I was told by a European conductor. When he thinks of American music of Copeland. And I would suspect that theirs has been true for a great many years. You are one of the first Americans to be widely performed abroad and there is no question but what certain elements of the Copeland style have now permeated the entire fabric of American music. You said in one of your writings at one time however that you did not believe that. As I recall you did not believe that conscious Americanisms would lead to the development of a true American music. This would seem to be borne out by the subsequent trend of your own music.
Yes I I don't think there's any need for it anymore in other words once. Once we develop a style which is our own style and we don't have to make such a conscious effort to develop a star which we already have. It's just like a French composer wouldn't have to think about being French just because he's a Frenchman and brought up in a certain way he writes music that has characteristics that we would think of as perhaps French refinement and style or perfection of the workmanship ballers sheen of the general sound of a French woman's work in the same way I think our rhythms for instance to take just one item in music which so characterize the whole jazz development we can write rhythms like those without suggesting jazz anymore but there will be American rhythms because they were born out of that particular need and desire to write a rhythmic kind of had its origins in popular music.
Let's go back. I'll tell you one other thing if I may interrupt. One of my. I don't know if I'd say it was a problem but one of the things the fire in my musical life now is this overemphasis from my standpoint on the so-called obvious Americanism in my own works. In other words I like to be able to think of myself in a broader way than that so that my Piano Variations for instance which have no jazz quotations or folk song quotations of any kind I wouldn't even bring up the subject if you listen to it. Nevertheless I think I just as American because of the rhythms they have and the spirit of the piece the sort of hard dry relentless drive that I think it has as the more obviously American things. But there's something so convenient. About pasting a label on somebody that it's never their plate. The minute your name is mentioned as attention it has a tendency to think Oh yes very very sick.
Well I'm sure that in a sense at least this is what the conductor to whom I referred a moment ago was saying. We think of Copeland being American because he is in fact American but Copeland is cool and there is no other composer who says the same things in quite the same way. It's a highly original style and this makes it very easy to say well this is American when really what we're saying is this is truly open. Yeah. I think well now as well as I wanted to do a moment ago. I'd be interested in knowing how you got involved in music in the first place. You were born in Brooklyn and was a musical family. No it wasn't. I wasn't particularly aware of music. My brother played the violin a bit. My sister played the piano a little bit. The other children in the family didn't have anything to do with music. I was the youngest of five
and I remember when I first showed some interest in the piano. My sister said Would you like me to teach you something about that. She did give me some lessons they must've lasted about six months or so and then she said oh I can't teach you real want to get a proper teacher. So when I went to my mother and said I want to get a real piano teacher she said Oh always spend so much money on the other kids trying to give the music lessons. We don't want to waste any more money on you. But in the end I persuaded her and she said well if you go out and find a teacher we'll pay for the lesson. My first teacher was a man and he was a musician and fellow called up old Wilson who used to come to Brooklyn once a week in his real studio was he but he rented a place in a rather distinguished looking building in the street
in New York and I used to go there once a week it was really quite excited about it. But I had a late start I began when I was about 13 which is late for a composer. So for a pianist pianist. Did you study music theory in harmony with Mr. Wolfson. No. Come later. You know that that desire to I began after I could play a little make up little pieces arouse a desire to learn something about how you do it really. Did you write these pieces down or did you simply play them by ear. Mostly play them by I would. The point was I could start a piece but I didn't know how to get to the end how to go on always you get a starting idea but the rest of it needed some kind of technique and I because I knew about harmony that it was necessary to study harmony. And I asked him to recommend a teacher and I was very fortunate because he recommended Rubin Goldmark who is a very good. Man a very conservative man in the musical
sense. But he gave me a solid background I think it was a marker that there was no joy at that time when I was when I was 19 18 and I was only starting about three or four years late and he was the first composition professor. But gradually I began to feel that I was writing music that he had no sympathy for. Actually they were mildly Debussy pieces in the style of U.S. and he just sort of threw up his hands and said I can't tell you about this because I have no sympathy for it. So you just go on doing your harmony and counterpoint exercises you can do what you like on the side. Were you acquainted with the music of Debussy at the time the initial efforts. I was in my in 1980. I wasn't in 1950 but gradually I was very curious of course and I think that's one of the best signs or main signs about
musical gift anyone who loves music naturally wants to know everything that they can find out all about it. And I discovered it the Montague Street Library in Brooklyn a collection of musical scores up stairs on the top floor of a dusty and unused looking. But they had opera scars and they had orchestral scores I had things I didn't have access to otherwise. So I was a very steady viral and continuous reader I used to figure them out the piano as best I could you know that your piano teacher would give you pieces music of Debussy you know plenty you know. He was also you know deaf you see in 1918 was a radical. His dream was to get just you had to have a pretty good technique in those days to blame also the captain of my was be exemplary of this period. Absolutely. Yes that was my big mouth and out of the
harmonies and qualities. But I think that's a little rhythmic. Joy to it. I can already detect the influence of jazz I'm even thinking about it. Well were you interested specifically in jazz during these new york years. Because I'm speaking of the New York years as that period prior to your going to Paris in 1991. So during that period were you aware I was you know I wrote a few little short pieces based on jazz. But I never thought about it as I began to think about it once I was in Paris the great charm of jazz. And from 3000 miles away you might say in Paris it seemed much more American in America just like any old thing you have around the house you know you didn't attach any particular importance to it. It was just popular music that everybody sang and dance still and that was that I didn't connect it with Beethoven or Mozart.
But in Paris I got to know the music for instance of various Meo especially his ballet the creation of the world which I think is a delightful piece and which he teaches. And it occurred to me if a freshman American can do it even better maybe you know one of those feelings so that I connect to my jazz interest with Paris more than I do even with Brooklyn conscious jazz. Well further study is that you have before you. Leapt off to Paris in 1921. Well I had other piano teachers in Brooklyn while I was still living in Brooklyn and I stayed with Mr. Goldman for four years from 1979 nine hundred twenty one. Actually I wanted to go to pass a year earlier but he persuaded me to stay one more year because he wanted me to write a piano sonata his idea of the ultimate in musical form was the ability to write the first movement of a piano and the beginning of the middle actually and the whole works you know.
He said once you do that off you in Paris I found it was a prop a few that you were supposed to write before you were able to go out of your own text books. Did you have in mind at that time specifically. I never heard it. She was completely unknown and as far as I was. I read about it. This musta been around 19 20 20. I read about the formation of a school outside of Paris a summer school that was being created for American students it was a kind of offshoot of the war effort of the First World War was a damn Russian had been there during the war I don't know what it is he set up American Army band he did something that brought him to France and got him to know a lot of French musicians including Najibullah. And it was his idea and the French government's idea to make use of the palaces for him. One wing of it for the setting up of this American school of musical studies just
for the summertime. Instead I read about it I thought oh gee I don't know a soul in France this would be a way of going and at least having some friends around. Getting a start maybe I learn about French musical situation in Paris and so it was where I was really heading and it was a very fortunate thing for me they began the school and they did because it worked out exactly like that I was engaged to be the harmony teacher of the composition teacher was another version of Mr. Gold He was a conventional proper teacher at the conservatory in Paris considered the top man there just as Mr Goldmark was in America later at the Juilliard School. But I you know I realized immediately that here's another go Mark I'm going to get anywhere with him. And then they begin telling and began telling me about this harmony teacher who was so exciting and please why would I go and visit her class I said I'm not interested because I've already had the harmony I'm finished with that. Well they said come
anyhow coming out. So I was persuaded there was a hospice there and I was immediately won over by the way she was talking about a simple thing and harmony and I remember I was in bars got enough. She was analyzing some harmonies and the way one chord followed another and why and what with the top point was and it was just something about her personality. While the warmth with which he reacted to music and the scent she gave off knowing everything about music. There were no questions you could dream up that you would know the answer to what was that thing your father was a successful businessman. And so often we find businessmen take a rather dim view of sons following a career in music. Did you experience this or was he all in favor of your going right ahead with it. No I think I had the great advantage of being the fifth child. I think my parents
guidance instincts were all expended on the all the children and they taught me was Well if you ought to I suppose go ahead and do it you know. We don't have any better ideas for you but of course they have the usual parental worries about how you're going to make a living. And of course I myself I was living but I knew what interested me and so they didn't get in the way. It was imperious you first met Koussevitzky. Yes it was Mademoiselle Laurentia who took me to visit him after it was announced that he was going to be the next conductor of the Boston Symphony. She took me there with a part of a ballet score that I had been working on this rug. Yes the saying we called grow grow grow grow grow. Which we know that it was part of it. It still is part of the growth has never been performed but I did accept the three
dances called Symphony and I played in a different section at that time of the introductory section which is called cortege Mar Cobre and he was very nice he seemed enthusiastic and you know what was there that day for coffee. I always remember him because he sort of looked over my shoulder as I was playing the music in a rather disapproving way. He was a tall lanky fellow very outspoken and not not at all the usual type of composer. Rather dry dry humor you know and and say just what he thinks without worrying whether you were upset or not if I am made like rest for a moment. Claire read her book refers to a location on which you accompanied her and Prokofiev to the shore rooms I believe that any electronic organ company. Yes there we have an example of my dry outlook met again on that occasion.
But I see him from time to time at the years when he came to America but he I remember that first time because after I finished playing the piece he sort of growled out too many Bessie asked him not to you know Bessie asked him not to mention the bass to keep repeating the same phrase over and over again as a kind of a basic phrase. And of course he was absolutely right but I didn't think it was nice of you to be talking about. When I was there I was told it was Bell. Sell the BS because of it. However seems not to have been deterred in his enthusiasm for the piece. Now he never actually did play the quarter as you know why. Because in the mean time between the time I saw him the time he became the actual conduct. Not people as I was engaged to be a soloist with him during his first season. She was an organist. Still you know she's still teaching in the same studio that I went to 50 years ago. Yeah she's almost 50 years and still lively I was at her 80th
birthday celebration last October there was a big party put on by the Prince of Monaco at Monte Carlo and Grace Kelly Princess Grace. It was quite an occasion. A lot of all students came and I happened to be in Europe and I went to but. When Koussevitzky became the conductor he engaged other peers organ soloist during that first season and she asked me to write a concerto for her she was going to perform a soloist with the watered down Russian his orchestra in New York and because of Boston and so I wrote this symphony for organ and orchestra which he played with both orchestras and that kind of wiped out the cortege was forgotten about because I produce this bigger piece more recently when you returned from Europe. Was one of the first things you did the music for the theatre. Yes it was him who was involved in that also yes if
he had been he had agreed to conduct a group of musicians maybe 30 men of the Boston Symphony in a concert of contemporary music in New York he would bring them down and we would commission pieces fall out of the cage and I don't remember whether or not they were all commissioned but any write it was an all contemporary program and he spoke to the head of the League of composers and asked how to commission me to do a piece for that occasion I did the music for the home owner a book he did refer to the fact that he had met you in Paris apparently. Mrs. Riis. And I would judge most other persons who were involved with contemporary music at that time did not know you because you had been out of the country and so they wouldn't have known about me at all. Do you know who introduced me to the League of composers who were so instrumental in producing new things. The composer Marion Bauer. Do you know her name.
Yes. 20th century music she was one of the three most in this country to write a book that was very useful and really I remember that. She was gone to Julliard for well she had studied harmony even before the start of the Fontainebleau school and I got in or in Paris and when I came back she was already on the border around it and I petted the cat and mouse to the boy. My Passacaglia for piano those were the first two things I ever played in New York as a composer. The first public performance of any of your music in this country was on that occasion. Yes yes with the lead concert they had on Sunday afternoon. That was shortly before music for the theater. Now that was a whole season before they all I was I played the piano pieces then Koussevitzky and damn Rush's performance took place later on that winter.
Then came the summer that I spent at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough New Hampshire where I wrote the music for the theater and then they played it that following season so it was the season 5:35 was first play. The symphony is one of your early works that must have been a consolation to you not nineteen twenty eight twenty nine. This was a this was to be a contest piece for this $5000 prize also 25000 pole prizes 25 found Yes the victory delighted victory coming as it was called that announced this extraordinary prize nobody ever heard of such a sum offered for one composition before and still in love which it still is dodged but then it was a three time world of 75000 today. So naturally everybody wanted the right to take a chance on winning the prize. And in the end I was working on a piece of mine called the symphonic code and I realized I wasn't going to get it done in time as we got closer to the closing date of the competition. And in a panic I thought I must send
something. I remember these three dances in side the score girl going I thought if I yanked them out and call it a dance symphony I'll have a piece which I did and then as it turned out no one piece was the judge the way that they split the prize five way. Robert Russell Bennett walked off with two prizes to $5000 what he had said in two different compositions and the two did you know really and Ernest Bloch was one of the winners. America pot winner. I think so. No I think Americans I can't remember anymore which exactly which piece it was. I had one and that makes four doesn't it somebody else had one type of guy. You'll even splitting the party five ways and it was a rather silly I did offer to yeah I mean they dropped off my job and went to Europe and I was going to I think Julia Smith biographer reports that you
managed to get along on that prize money for two years and that I could live on twenty five hundred dollars a year in those days if you were a student and especially in Europe where it was cheap to live at home. Were you finding resistance in the matter of performance. Orchestras other than those you have mentioned at this time while resistance may be too strong a word. It's always difficult for a young composer who isn't very well known to bring his music to the attention of a conductor in such a way that the conductor picks it out of a pile of score as they always have piles cause a rod to get sent to them by publishers all composers themselves. They don't have the time to devote to them properly so you can really know what's in all of them you know it takes a lot of time and effort and even musical understanding to read an orchestral score it's not like reading a book. It's not that easy so that you really risk chances when you send things around.
Conductors and it's normally a slow process before one's music gets picked up. We've devoted considerable amount of discussion these programs with various conductors to this very topic and the great problem they have now particularly with extended and greater attendant responsibilities the great problem they have in getting to the scores which are submitted to them and the serious chance that there may be something really marvelous in this pile you speak and you know nowadays there's even a. More of a temptation to confine your interest in this course to those that have recordings either by some other orchestra or a commercial recording because it's a sort of an easy way. You save yourself a lot of time by listening to the work that has a recording with it rather than just digging through it yourself without the aid of 40.
There's a tendency I think on the part of conductors nowadays that played pieces that they can get familiar with and that you are listening to a conversation with their own Copeland with their own Parsons and George St.. We pause ten seconds before station identification. Now resuming the conversation with Mr. Copeland here is Aaron Parsons. During the 30s and 40s Mr. Copeland You were very much involved with the theater. How did you become involved with a theatrical performance in the dance particularly. It was not my notion really. The first offer I had to do a ballet it came from Ruth Paige. Here in Chicago I was summering up in like northern Minnesota and I got a wire from her saying would you come to Chicago and work on a ballet.
I want to produce with my company and I did that I live in Michigan Boulevard she lent me her studio there and we have an opening at the Opera House and it was very exciting for me at the time but it's it was about I called Hear ye hear ye I didn't do anything about it cause it was written in rather a bit of a hurry and I was forced because of the hurry to use some materials from earlier pieces that I didn't think of it as a completely composed piece from beginning to end so that nothing ever happened much about it but I did get a lot of experience in watching my music being danced to so that when the next offer came came from Lincoln Christine. And that ballot to the bill it was I think Prime we had here in Chicago I wasn't here for a company that was called a ballet caravan and I believe they happened to have been here at the time that they first played it danced it.
And I suppose my music has a dance quality and rhythmically I've always been very aware of the dance and its implications so that it seemed like a natural thing for me to to work with dances and for dances. I recall having read that when the idea of Billy the Kid was being discussed with Kirsten and suggested to you the literal use of certain themes and initially you rather rejected her idea. Do you recall that particular series of events. Yes I do because he not only suggested them but he gave me a book that had no idea. This is Lomax. No it was a collection of popular songs by various range by various people and I thought well I want with that. You know that was my first reaction but that you get with you on holiday.
I went to I was on my way to Paris when he asked me to do it so I did work on a ballet in Paris you know you can rent a studio for just not to practice anybody who doesn't have a piano goes to these piano houses where they have separate studios and you rent it for an hour or two and I worked there in this propitious atmosphere with other pianos within hearing distance and got quite a bit done and then I finished it at the McDowell colony I had the month of August. That's a wonderful place I don't know if you know about the colony but it's been a great help to me. Yes there are many composers who are well. Composition Yes. You know it was founded by the widow of Edward McDowell and his memory was based at a property in Peterborough New Hampshire that they owned and which he then added to and she began building studios so that artists writers painters and composers could spend
several months a year in complete isolation if they like. And certainly in their studio they were in complete isolation otherwise they had breakfast and dinner together. But the whole day is yours to do with what you like even don't disturb you when they bring a basket lunch and leave it on the porch of your studio they don't knock or anything they just leave it and steal away. It is your own preference when you are working to be completely isolated. Well now I have a house which is completely isolated so I don't have to go to a place like the colony. But I'm very ancient Actually I'm the president of the McDowell association that runs the car have been. Yes but I don't go as a columnist anymore. It was also I guess at about this time of which we're speaking you did some very significant work in Hollywood. I recall an article by you. I
don't recall where I saw it so I don't know whether it was from a book or whether it was an article in a periodical but you referred to your experience in Hollywood and you spoke of the heart that the film score plays in the overall production. And I especially recall your saying that when first you saw the film being run that you had the impression that the film screen was a very cold thing and as I recall your words you said that the score it seemed to you was like a very small flame that was put there to warm what was on the screen. I think that's a marvelous description of it would you talk a little bit about Motion Picture Music and your experiences with it. I got involved in the writing of the film because the group of architects had made a picket call the city.
It was a kind of propaganda picture to show proper city planning by comparison with a city that just grows up without any particular scheme behind it. And they asked me to write the music for that. And some people out in Hollywood who were preparing a picture of mice and men saw that. Documentary the city and I think I got the offer of the job because of the music I did for the city. I think the most effective way to prove the value of music with a film is to show somebody the film without the music just turn it off and let them see the cold thing going on. Without this warm flame I spoke of because the instant they see the same thing with music going on everything seems to be warmed up. It seems more human and more feeling full and more natural and not so removed and it provides a continuity.
Yes it does. How do you adapt to the problem of making your musical ideas conform to action. I mean if it in point of time to everybody seems to think it's very difficult to match the music in point of time that is the start and then finish just when you have to because the scene is finished. But really that's not one of the problems because when we compose we're continually adding measures or removing measures. And if you find you're a little too long you generally can. Cause the gap by removing a few measures I think the main problem really is an overall one that is to say when you see a film that lasts for an hour and a half you obviously are not going to have music throughout that would be very unusual. Therefore the problem arises to where the music is going to be and where it isn't going to be where you need it most where it can be most effective so that it implies the ability to think about the film from beginning to end so place the
music that it is does the job best for the sake of the film. And once that has been determined with naturally in consultation with the director sometimes the producer. Unfortunately what they have is a lot of arguing back and forth should we start here no we ought to start a little later then. Then the problem is half saw the writing the actual writing of the music and reacting to the scene and creating a music which helps the emotional impact of the scene is I suppose like any other dramatic ability or imagination to feel what it must have felt like to be in that situation. It's a little like that. Do you feel the necessity to keep the music from overwhelming the production itself. It is in a sense an inhibiting factor for a creative musician. Not if you really have the good of the medium you're working with at heart I
mean every situation journey has limitations about life and certainly in the film. But I think one of the great satisfactions of writing film music is the sense you have that you really are helping the film. I can remember a specific situation in the heiress which I wrote the music for which I thought was a very good film directed by William Wyler. There was a scene where the heroine is planned to be lope. This young man and she's waiting in the house quietly that he doesn't hear us pacing the floor he's to come at midnight and then go off and she's waiting. This is about 1850 and each time a carriage goes by the house she thinks that must be him. She dashed out finally because she thought this is final this must be it. And the carriage goes on doesn't stop and she realizes
she's being stood up as we say in our day. Well we as usual with the film we tried it out at a preview. In order to see what the reaction of the film was on the public and when that scene was played and I had written a rather romantic and exciting Allegro kind of thing to reflect her inner emotions. But strangely enough when she dashed out that time the audience burst into laughter. I don't know why they weren't sympathizing enough with her. Something was wrong and he was very worried about this was this was one of the high points of the film and the audience was reacting wrong. He came to me after that preview and said there and you've got to you've got to give us the music that's going to prevent this audience from laughing. They've got to take this seriously. So I junked the music I had written and I wrote a very tense and dissonant kind of music that wasn't romantic at
all but it was full of sort of drama. And we tried it and by golly there wasn't a laugh in the house. Now the audience might not even have known the music was going on but it created an atmosphere of tension in the theater which prevented them from having that reaction there. One of the things that I've noticed about a number of your compositions is a little nucleus of an idea seems to many musical events or movements sound slightly poverty stricken. On the contrary it's just the opposite. Things come from little guy. It's about the same thing. One of the thematic element of the musical elements which I often I noticed it in the dense symphony it's in the piano sonata and so on is the interval
of the third. I'm sure of this you have been confronted with this sort of thing before but the third seems to play a significant role. Even then Symphony for example every movement of those three starting right from the introduction is that element I hadn't thought about that quite right. And then in the piano sonata you both met melodically and harmonically juxtaposed in various ways. You say you have not thought about it and that answers my question but this is not a conscious now it isn't working means that you have perhaps it has something to do with also the jazz background and that that that that that that that that that that is a very familiar kind of movement and music are on. Well no he has referred to your method of working. Let's consider that for a moment.
How do you work to see that I don't have money and I don't have any method I can tell you that I have no conscious method. No I generally I begin with musical ideas. Pieces are engendered by musical ideas and idea hits you and you think oh gee I can develop this one that seems to have. Well sometimes you don't even know whether it has an op ed you like it or not. Well not to put it down and then maybe two or three years later you find it you know the sketchbook in which there are materials upon which you can draw as we knew it. Yeah. You have received so many commissions of one kind or another. I imagine this would be a very useful thing. It is a very useful thing that we do. Disaster you have one of the elements of musical style which I believe you have not incorporated into your own musical thinking is that which emanated from sure in Bergen the Viennese serialist. I have used the top down and I think that's what connotations for
orchestra. Also in my piano quartet I was the first work that I wrote which made use of the tongue method and I wrote a piece in celebration of the 1 25th anniversary of the New York for the monic last year which is based on Toto methods called in scape for orchestra. Is it in conflict with your notion of getting themes or ideas for compositions. No on the contrary the reason I used it the reason I turned to it was that I felt that way. Well it gave me possibilities of hearing cause that I would normally hear within the tunnel system. If you think 12 tone you think about chords that simply wouldn't occur it would seem somehow wrong in the tonal. Complex I found that very very valuable actually to have your harmonic language extended in that way was very valuable in another way I found it useful was melodic. If you use all
12 semi tones you again have your notion of what a tune might be. Extend it you got some more tones that you wouldn't think about in an ordinary tonal melody. Those two I found really sufficiently interesting too. Urged me on to think in those terms. I'm glad that I did. It's makes for more difficult listening for the audience from the audience standpoint unless you're familiar with the 12 tone indium by having heard enough music that so it naturally strikes me as somewhat strangely. But I'm afraid it's in the inevitable I mean people are going to have to get used to it and if enough composers write in that style they will get used to it. You follow any kind of strict classical notion of 12 tone serial no. And you know I actually I try to remain within the limits of my style emotional background of the pieces that may be more tense because of the nature of the
harmonic language. Perhaps less obvious than the more folk to only pieces. But aside from that I hope they don't sound like a lot like Dave and I don't think they do. How do you feel about the developments of the Stockhausen. Well I'm I'm all for them. I think a lot of areas of music. They're in the midst. Sometimes I think the 60s for them rather some of the 20s for us because the 20s seem to be like a new new start in a way in music the music of prayers or doing things that you wouldn't find in the old classics in the same way nowadays the younger fellows Stockhausen for example are using electronic means and organizing. Simultaneity is a sound three orchestras playing the three conductor
simultaneously producing effects not otherwise obtainable. I mean all that is very experimental. So I think they're in a very lively period it's a little hard to see where they're going to go from here because things have gotten so complex it seems to me they can only get simple again. Do you have any personal interest in electronic experimentation. Well I think my interest I'm afraid is only theoretical because if I were able to stay home and write this stuff I might be interested but the right music I have to leave my home. The huts and go down to New York and get up for a night o'clock apartment the machine 3 0 9 2 3. It's a different sort of life and I haven't steeled myself to truly inhuman. Yeah it's like being a businessman you gotta get that machine now and you have to leave because somebody else has it. It was another hour I might do it some time but it is I just don't feel that much of a nerd does it communicate anything but it
might. For instance I like very much the music of Mario Dhabi dusky if you happen to know that name. He's one of the best men who work with me. He's an associate of the principal at Columbia and since you know it's not real you know you have in more recent years become very active as a conductor. That's true. I don't mean this last evening when you conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra one of many appearances many of first of all when did you turn to conducting and how did you find this to fit in this demanding kind of a routine fit in with a composer's schedule. Well conduct in my case was a late love I always had an interest in conducting but I didn't do very much about it for various reasons. First place you have to have an orchestra to practice on and that's not so easy to find. I was rather busy with the composition too that was also time consuming and teaching
as I tangled each summer for 25 years so that I didn't get started till I was in my late 40s or almost 50 and I sometimes attribute it to think that a very intelligent woman once said to me when you get older and it's very important that you do something that you didn't do as a younger man so that you're not always in a position of making competition with yourself as a young man and that's stuck in my head. That's good advice. Conduct in and out to be the thing that would be competing with me. So when I was invited for the first time to go on a cultural mission for the State Department down to South America they naturally assume that I conduct and they invited me to conduct their orchestras. And so that was I thought the possibility of practicing without any of my friends watching. When I had my first experience really I must have conducted at least a dozen orchestras abroad in
Italy and Yugoslavia and South America far off. So I just got my practicing there before I ventured to really start conducting it was this generally with your own works or it began with my own works and then I branched off into the usual repertoire not usual repertoire but anyhow other than my own works I try to stay away from Beethoven and and Brahms though I have conducted Brahms and enjoyed it immensely and this year I added the Tchaikovsky as Romeo and Juliet. I have ever tried. I love doing that as a modest piece but mostly I play things that are contemporary American things I think that the conductor would normally take. Have you as a conductor and at times attempted to do things with your own music which you have felt perhaps other conductors have not brought out to the extent you would like to have them brought out.
I think so yes I think its only natural that composers were given a stick. Conductors stick. That's things precisely helps the way he wants to hear that you can ask another human being to feel for you in precisely the same way and actually you can only do it the way he feels in terms of what you've given him to conduct so that it is a profound satisfaction. Once you've got sufficient technique as a conductor to elicit from an audience the thing that you really dreamt up in the first place and that of course is one of the great attractions of conducting one's own pieces. Was Dr. Koussevitzky particularly sensitive to the wants of composers. Your only experience I think he was I think actually his great interest in contemporary music was that of frustrated composer. I think he would have loved to have been a composer himself. And the fact that he wasn't one gave him this empathy with composers when he want to do everything he
could for them. It was an enormous help to us in America. He was there that he was the conductor for 25 years of the Boston Symphony because he really set the tone during those years. So the tone of encouragement and interest that we needed. Well in your own work as a teacher you've referred to Tanglewood was Tanglewood your first teaching experience. No I hadn't. I had never actually had a job as a teacher. I thought of the settlement school for a while but I never went down to the school the students came up to my place my studio and I had occasional student but nothing serious I didn't really earn my living I just added to my my living during those years from time to time so that my continuous teaching activity really dates from Tanglewood.
Well there you go that's only a summer school. But you have been involved in teaching over a great many years. I used to earn my living you know by giving lectures to adult audiences about music. The new school. Yes I was almost 10 years I lectured the New School for Social Research in New York. I just found that you could earn money faster by talking to 150 people rather than one person of the time. And I happen to fall into the job of a very fine music critic Paul Rosenfeld who unfortunately is being forgotten about now I think we should revive him had an engagement I had a year of doing giving such lectures at the new school he didn't like the job and so he handed it over to me I I kind of fell into it by mistake. And then I continued. And I've done quite a lot of lecturing around the country schools and so forth. What was the tenor of these lectures. Well these I'm a person who had a limited knowledge of music.
Yes oh definitely they were people who consider themselves music lovers and want to know more about it and I gave a series called what to listen for and music which I made into a book later. And I hope they were helpful. I believe the music and imagination. One of the books that came out of a series of lectures to us a lot was the Norton professorship at Harvard and I held that chair for the school year of 52 53. And you only have to give six lectures public lectures on that. Professorship but you have to publish them and you have to live in Cambridge. So I had a very nice year in Cambridge just this has become a very distinguished series of American thought on music because the distinguished composers. And in this country one can think of right away who have done these. There are there are actually only been about a half a dozen composers they every year they alternate They have different fields are covered.
Yes. I believe that began with Stravinsky and you needn't shout as that as well and such and such and such was a colleague of yours Mr. Sessions who also has appeared with us on these programs and that suggests a topic that I'd like to touch. What about the Copeland sessions concerts. This goes back now quite a way to what about nine thousand twenty eight or so. Yes exactly how did this idea come about and what do you feel the game to you as a person and as a musician was from the series whether the series was started because we were reacting I think against it. Almost exclusively into lashon all attitude to modern music societies that were functioning in the early twenties Mrs. Rhys is composed. She was the chairman and international composers guild de-stressed modern music they were
very excited we were all very excited about modern music and there was a tendency to turn the whole modern music movement mostly into things from abroad. We were hearing for the first time pieces of broken bag and Stravinsky and actually that fill the picture. And Sessions and I as American composers felt that there ought to be a society that put the emphasis on American music and that's why we started these concerts very modest affair took place in a theater a small theater in New York and maybe had the usual 250 people that still go to modern music. But they were valuable and I think that they made this point about the American series they only lasted about three or four years we ran out of funds and. I think with the pathos of distance as it's called they take on a sort of a glower they didn't have at the time to make the problem of the American composer in those days
it was so clearly defined by what you said. What would you advise students now to be prepared to face. Oh I was about say the worst is always good advice. It's always difficult for a student as I was saying relation a conductor to make his mark in the arts and none of the music in any of the Arts any young man who expects to be accepted with open arms right from the beginning is usually going to find it doesn't work that way. It's a gradual uphill fight. One's own piece has a meaning for oneself that it really has for others. Sometimes it takes a long time the more original It is the slower the process the more acceptable it is the faster the process but then the price is that in the end it's the other thing that wasn't so easy to get the first time which has the lasting power. I was thinking of that last night when I was
conducting the Ives Decoration Day it was written in 1912. Anybody would see that score and when he put the last note this fellow's out of his mind you can't write music like this it does make sense. The harmonies are right the sonorities are well-balanced crazy band march right in the middle of it and it turns out that that's the piece we're playing in 1967 and the prop of music that was being written properly in 1912 we're not interested in now because it seems old fashioned and doesn't hold so that I think a young student has to have a lot of courage built himself and be prepared. Mike a rather uphill fight doesn't always work that way but it very often has in certain basic ways that it's really no different no different no. I think by the nature of things it can't be different because the fellow with the really fresh new ideas is going to have to
impose the listening public nature of things be easy for him to impose those is immediately. It takes time for things to sink in. As is another very good example and very resonant music was first heard in the 20s. It had a very small number. Now we see that the public is much broader. On the occasion of Aaron Copeland's 50th birthday. Roland wrote in The New York Times. Copeland has made himself the spearhead of the development of the modern American school. He has done this with and ostentatious moose and a desire for service to his art that will leave their mark on this whole period of native composition and open the way for a greater future to come. The passing years have served to underscore the truth of that statement. We are very grateful to you for joining us in this conversation.
Thank you it was a pleasure to be here. Thank you very much. And very fascinating. This has been a conversation with the noted music educator lecturer and author guest conductor and the dean of American composers Aaron Copeland. Participating where Aaron Parsons professor of music theory at Northwestern University School of Music and program annotator for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and George Stone program director of Zenith radio corporation's radio station WEF am. This is the national educational radio network.
A conversation with...
Aaron Copland
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Chicago: “A conversation with...; Aaron Copland,” 1968-07-24, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 23, 2024,
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APA: A conversation with...; Aaron Copland. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from