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Conversation with Roger Sessions. 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 corporations Sirius music station WBEZ FM in Chicago. Mr. Parsons and Mr. Stone have as their guest on today's program Roger Sessions who for half a century has been a major force in American music. He is recognized as a leading American composer teacher and author. His books on the problems of contemporary music had a profound influence on 20th century American composers. Now here is Aaron Parsons. This positions this seventh symphony that you have just recently completed I believe was a commission from the University of Michigan. And
it's those performance will be played by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. It's such an important event to have a new work. We hear it only once. A new work needs much preparation could you give us some idea of what the listener might expect. So far this works there's some things that might assist him in his outlook as he approaches a new work for the first time. This is actually something that I don't feel like I know anything about and I wonder whether anything except in well a kind of give new pointing out that there are certain ideas that we could write a number of them. Of course the idea
is this I don't I'm not sure it's quite so helpful. They all have something in common they all come from. Even when they're very contrasting just imagine you must have struck you a little. You had just come from this very first rehearsal. This is the first time you heard it realized. I think it's that it makes a tremendous impact. Well the first time even with the starts and stops the inevitable. But of course there are a great many different changes of mood so to speak. And so I think you know by the time the perfume is even more
pronounced because it is being read for the first thing tends to be a little on the grace. It is eventually didn't sound particularly great to me but less so. It takes a while they conducted to find the balance of the pot so that he can project for the players themselves to get a feel of that. I know what I want to play is how do I get to the point where they're thinking of the music rather than the No. I think very well you know you need it. And this process goes on through the new. On the occasion of the performance here in Chicago of your third symphony I find in looking back to the
annotation that errand did at that time that you said as far as the symphony itself is concerned I feel as I have always felt reluctant to write extensive program notes for my own work. There are no other composers who completely share this view. And of course there are those who will write luminously about their music. It is your feeling and that your music must communicate to whomever hears it. Whatever it has to say on its own merit is this the idea. Well if they want to be communicated in the final analysis it is all in the music. Well good but there are people who. Try not to be profane about it but it seems to be communicate that.
Tell me what you mean. And of those circumstances there can't be any communication because I have sometimes pointed out if there's going to be a communication you have to have not only a sending set but it was. True and there is further fact that we have classic examples of one piece of music communicating different things to different people. There's the old story about Robert Schumann. Which was a Mendelssohn Italian or no I guess you heard the Scotch symphony and said anyone hearing this music would be so compensated as by having made a trip to Italy. Really it's pretty difficult for me to of course because these things really can't be put into words.
People have to for actions you know you've written a great deal about the listener and the problems that the listener faces the problems of the so-called music appreciation instruction that goes on throughout the country and you are shall we say feeling of horror for our Most of this kind of instruction to the let's not have it here much of it is what what for the listener. Can one say approach and you work for the first time they're going to hear it once. Relax and listen. You're the best you can pay attention. You know I would say pay attention you know cooks. Let's come down to the seventh symphony again how long have you been at work on the scorer's decisions. Well I had my first day. Right. 964 excuse me.
And then as happens with me I mean I have a period where I keep it in the back of my work. Then when I take it you have to take it up very very slowly. Sometimes I'm going to be pinned. This is self-indulgent. Because I can do it very fast on occasion if I have to do. I got down to regular work on this probably around first to be. Sta. And. The first place I was in California which was not my home where I
work. And I like to have my own things are possible. Eventually I would very well there. And then new interruptions in the winter. We had a visit from my daughter for a month. That was quite so well OK. But I finished the symphony early in the summer and I finished with the end of the last movement I delivered the first two movements early. Well I guess considerably better. So from December July 3 movements about how long is that plane time do you staying. Yeah it was about 18 minutes.
You mean this is a shorter symphony of let's say the third which was heard here along to me. It's the biggest was in a certain sense. It's not the most dramatic. It's the first and second between 20 and 25 minutes. He's 25 or 26 minutes that is very sure. It's no longer than 15 minutes but it's played with six that is just maybe a half minute longer let's say this is longer than the others. But the point is this music is more concentrated.
It moves from one thing to another much more rapidly. I noticed in listening to the rehearsal this morning that that one listener is aware of the same musical idea as each of the moments. They're always different. In fact I believe that no time I was aware of this I would say an exact repetition of an idea just in the course of the three movements. This this must be an aspect of this type of concentration that you are speaking of. Well actually this goes way back in my music. I mean certainly it's true Concerto which was written it was finished in 1935 in the early 30s. And there's no repetition in that either.
However. It's not because I'm against it. In which I wrote the first quote. There is some repetition. In my second cooked it was well this is not quite the same one movement which has a real capital. I was astonished that it came out that way and I had something else sketched out to write. But when I actually got to it just to repeat the first it seemed much more much more logical and much more in character with what I wanted. And the same thing in my soul. It's a quite a long piece. And in this second movement which is I suppose a sort of a sketch of movement.
There also is a compass. And I think he's the only one. But you don't have the time of beginning work composition plot that you're going to do this. It's going to get unfolds as you go. It's true that you have a sort of a general picture and you know what the main contrasts the main ideas are going to be with this would be proper to say that you have a picture of the larger shape and movement. Yes. And by shape we mean the relationship of the putz in terms of dynamics. Intensity Yeah. Most of our positions in an almost abstract sense you have not really abstract. Sure. Because it's got to got to be some think this way rather than let's say in the classical sense we say that the composer
is going to write a sonata and therefore the basic shape in a sense has been adopted. No but you know a curious thing. The sonata form. You know when the tsunami was first mentioned as a classical classical set out to find that out years ago two of my advanced students working in history in music I would find out. When I checked there were three very distinguished musicologists one of them was how we danced. And the date was in the 1840s
eighteen hundred and seventy nine hundred and seventeen eighteen twenty seven thousand eight hundred twenty eight. And yet in the 1840s was when people began to speak to the label a series of events which were not similar. From then on the sonata form became much more. A rigorous unestablished but I don't think it was in a creative state. And also at this point in the minds of some almost sacrosanct thing. Yeah exactly. He did it and had the text felt about that time that Martin was
was safe it. No I shut my students ones by saying what I really believe is true. Nevertheless it may shock you when I say that I said that it is more resemblance between a symphony by Brahms and the symphony by checkups there is between one Beethoven symphony in another and that's true. You have indicated that you find working at composition most congenial in your home surroundings. I wonder if you follow a daily regimen of any kind or do you just work when it is convenient to work. Well I wouldn't quite say that but I do a regular routine but I never have to envy people who do. One reason for that is because there is always a time with every piece where I
just have to let the thing develop in my mind without sitting down and trying to force it on anyone. You see that's one reason but the other reason is because I'm not. In my daily life you know your daily life has included in that you love teaching which included a good deal of teaching lecturing writing essays box beside me. The composition has come first and I've been able to put it first except for one short period when I could compose nothing. One question that this kind of a naive question in a way that it always appears Do you compose at the piano.
No no I I can't say that I never use the piano when I am composing I do sometimes but actually in my studies the piano is in too much trouble. But anyway of course I think this is a matter of habit. I got started composing when I was out on my bass actually years ago and it never occurred to me you had to maybe use the piano. And so I never never an excuse me I never developed the kind of facility with a keyboard that I can read very easily and I have some technique. But I never developed an improvisational facility at the keyboard I have it because I was on the man you see. Well no I'm serious. I don't think there's any
principal and you know I think everybody should be independent of the piano but that is something you know but you wouldn't be critical of a man who who did find it ridiculous may have been skewed. I'm not pretty not even critical of Mozart. He improvised a great deal here. Have you been rather inclined to be critical of the city and extent of others. Or is the most dangerous and worst critic. After all these years and I'm sure you have no objection to it because you have been one of America's most unfortunately lost a family for the
premiere of a new war remains a very great experience and it's not an exclusively pleasurable one. I mean there are great pleasures in it enough where it goes on in their lives. Yes. That was what I was going to lead up to. Do you ever find or have you ever found would perhaps be a better way of putting it that this music is spread out on the racks and the conductor begins leading the players through the first hearing of your first hearing. Do you ever find that it doesn't sound the way you thought it would in you in your head when you heard the music. Does it ever sound differently.
Well in a certain sense they could say oh because the way you think of the music the way one thinks of the music is not only as it sounds when it's played really well. But it's the way it sounds when it's paid very easily to you. I suppose that this is impossible it's impossible to expect that it will be played really well. First the first I mean the Chicago orchestra reads very remarkably. And to tell the truth I was rather dreading this morning because I would be reading a piece now I just don't want to be around. But on the contrary it was it was wonderful to hear it the way they played. But it isn't the way it will be.
Yeah yeah. And even there's another thing in there too. Very very very very rarely does one hear. We work within six to seven years of the first. With in a really relaxed occasion. I mean certainly the people here some years ago. This was the movement was it was. Just what I wanted. I've had a few experiences. No derogation of anybody who's ever played a premier. If that isn't true. But today the music.
I mean. I still like the music. Forty years ago I'm not particularly close to it. I don't have a very vivid sense of having written it but I enjoy hearing it tremendously as people have begun to play it now so people have begun to play it in the way they played had. You know this is this is I mean complete realization of one's ideas is a slow process. Well in a sense it comes when it is particularly interested in this I suppose be it you have been so involved with the music during the composition. That yes your feelings cannot really at that point I imagine
be as objective as they later become when as you said a moment ago when you don't feel any particular identification. You know this is very amusing because I have both. Had the experience of having people who know my music understand a new piece of mind before I do. That may sound very paradoxical and of course incensed. But when one listens to music one gets absorbed in the hands doing over there and one doesn't even hear what's going on and the devil basics. One is listening. Is this going to come out. Well it's not quite so tense as that and I had a very really a very amusing experience when I was listening to a
second symphony in New York and I was sitting next to me was a very very dear friend. The last page. One point I said Do you mind if I ask you a very private question and he sort of looked at me in a funny way and said No no course not what is it. And he said Well do you find the last major could of this piece. Satisfied he said what do you mean by that. Does it really does everything really lead up to it. Is it really in the piece and I said yes that's exactly what I mean to me. And then I realized later that I was I had been listening to the details and I had missed the forest was still missing the forest for the trees.
This is more apt to happen. And I asked him to compose himself. I said Did you have an experience like that of course everybody did. And June big said something like that to me. You know you mention this brings to mind and into focus in my mind. Question I would like to put to you in this day when a new piece almost says to last the road. We look for this when we go to hear your symphony we look for the same kind of general. So we see atmosphere which dominates a great segment of our musical life. I did not find this in your symphony. I saw this as which is in line with the
will to put it in the broadest terms German tradition German American produce and for me the new Seventh Symphony. I wonder would it be possible for you to think those influences which have given shape to your soul as a musical point of view. You mentioned Schoenberg and I feel that there's some element of that because of the one point is the manner of handling this nucleus of an idea as it permeates each of the movements each of the three movements of the Seventh Symphony. There are various other elements which in this day of mind as you listen sort of suggest themselves. Could you say something of what has shaped your musical outlook. Of course this is very difficult because I can almost everything. I mean you mentioned you're in big particularly. Actually I was somewhat
acquainted with Biggs music for a long long time ago 55 years ago. I first began to know some music then through who I would seem very early and certainly I mean sure and big was a tremendous big really tremendous figure Meagher of a tremendous figure than most people really given it most people. Well he was a pretty great big bit. And he's influenced everything of course not a man. Living now. Who writes the same music. He would write if both Stravinsky big hadn't lived to see the same thing could be said of Stravinsky because these are the two I think all music
snobs Devinsky did includes me very much. When I got out of it. Because it seemed a danger to be had not because it was against it because it is good. I didn't want to get into it so to speak. You're listening to a conversation with Roger Sessions. But there are parsons and George Stone. We pause ten seconds for station identification.
A conversation with...
Roger Sessions, part one
Producing Organization
WEFM (Radio station : Chicago, Ill.)
Zenith Radio Corporation
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program, the first 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.
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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
Duration: 00:29:51
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Chicago: “A conversation with...; Roger Sessions, part one,” 1967-12-27, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 10, 2023,
MLA: “A conversation with...; Roger Sessions, part one.” 1967-12-27. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 10, 2023. <>.
APA: A conversation with...; Roger Sessions, part one. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from