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Reading my. Old Institute cooperative broadcasting Council presents Aaron Copeland the composer as creative as a number 5 in the National Association of educational broadcasters series The creative mind produced by WGBH FM in Boston under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center. These conversations explore the griot of process as it pertains to the American artist and scientist in the 20th century. And here is our host and commentator for the creative mind. Lyman Bryson. In the conversation with Mr. Aaron Copeland the distinguished composer we're getting again into the region of collaboration between closely allied arts again music and the dance. When we were talking with Miss De Mille about dancing we heard a good deal of the choreographers demands upon the composer and the extent
to which the choreographer could give the composer a lead into the mood and substance of which a dance should be composed. Mr. Copeland gives us the other point of view of course as a composer he is well aware of the fact that music is in a sense a very independent are much more sold on the dance. Walter Pater and a very famous and rather acted remark said that all arts tend to move into the condition of music I suppose what he meant by that was that as the Arts get more sophisticated audiences. They tend to be less representation or they tend to deal less and less with specific concrete things and more and more general ideas and moods and of course that's true and music is one art which can do that most safely and still keep its hold upon our emotions and our response. Nevertheless this is somewhat paradoxical. Music is the most cooperative of the arts too because music works with the
dance music works with poetry. It surrenders its own independence without any hesitation when it can help to create a combined form of beauty and power. A song without accompaniment of course is conceivable but most songs are better because of the half perceived accompaniment that goes with them dancing without music is also conceivable. The virtue also Spanish Spanish dancer will sometimes tap his foot in complicated rhythms without any music but this is somewhat more of a stunt I should say than it is an art form. Usually a dance is performed to music now. This might be the reason for Mr Copeland saying that music for a dance is better if the ideas come from the choreographer and the musician works so to speak to order. Mr Copeland is also written for the movies He's written four songs he's written for television and in all these he says music should not
be too insistent. Music should be occasionally restrained retiring perhaps even complacently dull in order to give the other art as the dancing or the acting or the words a better chance. Maybe because he's modest in this way about his own role that he's so popular a collaborator and so much sought after in writing for the dance for television and for the other Collaborative Arts. Mr Copland insists however that the creative mind in this as in everything else is interested in the problems which are presented to him more than anything else. Inventiveness real creation we might say is stimulated by the new needs of a culture as well as by the artist's own personal experience. And in these new forms these two kinds of demand converge upon the artist and get out of him. The best that he's got. Now in spite of all this of course the older forms of the arts persist composers still write opera and ballet. Mr.
Copeland is interested in opera alone he's given so much of his time to ballet. And like the others he continues to work in these old forms because they're complex and challenging. There are always new and the problems that is there are new problems in the old forms. We begin our conversation with Mr. Copeland when Eisenberg asks him how does a ballet get started. I have the idea. That a great many composers even don't understand how a ballet that gets put on the stage really get started. I think most composers imagine. That they will get a dance idea themselves or get a friend of theirs to write a dance idea up in script form. They then put that dance idea to music and then they go around looking for a producer or a dance choreographer to put it on the stage. That's an illusion. In our day and time dancers and especially ballet is do not
get produced out of the mind of the composer. They get produced out of the mind of the choreographer so that I would say every ballet that I've ever heard of has always started in the mind of the choreographer and it's the choreographer who comes to the composer and says I have this dance idea. It might have a story or it might not have a story. Mostly it would have some kind of story. I have this dance idea now I would like you to write music for it. And that's the way a ballet gets started. Didn't you however write a dance Symphony before it was choreographed. I wrote a ballet from which the dancer for me came called grow old when I was very young and innocent. In the 20s when I was a student in Paris because I had the same idea then that other people had that you write a ballet and then somebody puts it on the stage and I'm speaking with a certain amount from my experience I both say I am speaking from my experience when I
say that. That early ballet girls never did get produced and I think that that was one of the reasons. Do you think then that a composer has to know dance or choreography in order to compose for it. Well I think a composer ought to be sensitive. To the translation of a certain gesture elements into musical terms. In other words there are certain composers who write a kind of absolute music let's say a string quartet which in its very essence may not suggest a dance movement so that I would say any good dance composer. Should have a natural feeling for gesture and gesture translated into a musical frenzy ology. When you actually are composing for dance. How important a part does the dance play in the process of composition. That is to say when you're composing do you think of your music primarily or are you at the same time
envisaging the movements that are going to be set to it. The specific number of people that will be participating in it. The dynamics of the dance in addition to the dynamics of your music. Well that's a little difficult to generalize about. It would change a little bit with each situation. When a dancer comes to you with a script. That they need music for. They generally give you some sense of what that script is going to be in dance form when it is broken down into separate sections they don't just say here's a script now write the music. They will generally say in the first two minutes of this ballet we are going to introduce the characters slowly. Now that's a very important U.S. slowly although I might say very fast. That's very important and we want to create a certain atmosphere in that very scene which tells you that these characters are such and such a kind of persons and we want to music that
will bring out a sense of mystery all bring out a sense of activity all of bring out a sense of religiosity in other words they must guide you as to the general nature of each specific scene broken down in terms of two and three minute or five minute or whatever it is sections. And that's the thing that you react to and which in a sense guides you always assuming that the composer has a natural feeling for the dance and likes to write music for there. Mary think Maan said that she felt that the development of the dance scene was actually antagonistic towards being subordinated to the music that she felt that there could not be this kind of identical simultaneous development. Have you ever composed for a choreographer actually sitting down with her and working out the music step by step so that that kind of antagonism would not take place. No I think what months says is
based on a great deal of truth that is to say they are two different thoughts and they do develop somewhat differently. But its a problem that you would face whenever you combine music with any other art. If you combine music with a poem The poem has a certain life that can only in a general way be reflected in the music. Dancers like MS with money generally end up by creating their dance without the aid of music. And they then bring in a composer and say this is what I've created. Now please put music to it. No composer that I know of would prefer to work that way. I myself never work that way. I can conceive of working that way because it's a kind of challenge to one to see how imaginative one can be even though one is in a kind of strait jacket which a predetermined dance would put one in. At any rate in my own case when I gave Miss Graham Appalachian Spring and when I gave Mr mill rodeo
they didn't find it necessary to change things around as I've sometimes heard it's true when composers present answers with music and they were able to adapt their essential idea to the music that I gave them from the composers point of view. Would you say that having another art form integrated is in a sense hampering intellectually that is that language the language of music has a certain meaning which is going to be distorted or can fall and or changed in some way by the addition of another language or vocabulary of dance or song or poetry or whatever. Well I think that a composer who writes a score. That is supposed to serve for dancers to dance to is working in a specific kind of genre that is different from any other genre. Therefore he shouldn't write music which would be long in any other genre there is such a thing as a ballet kind of music and if I was to say to another musician Well that sounds like
ballet music they would know what I meant which implies that there is such a style as a ballet style of music. Now precisely what that style is would be a little difficult to pin down in any absolute and precise way that we could I think determine some things about it. Well that was going to be my next question. Do compositions for datz have a common denominator musically do they all share something from the musical point of view. Well I would say they share at least this. They must be over complex. In other words if they are so here feeling that the audience will be distracted from what they see on the stage then they're getting in the way of what is happening on the stage. Therefore you will find most ballet music like the classical music of the leaves for example have a rather thin contrapuntal texture so that mostly it would depend on a long melodic line with the comparatively plain accompaniment that is less true of course
and in our time we come down to the balance of someone like Stravinsky where the textures might be richer but they still wouldn't be quite the same as texture. Let's say well like Stravinsky's most recent work in this country comes sacrum which you couldn't imagine anyone dancing to because it simply takes too much of your attention. In other words what I'm saying is the dance music must allow for distraction on the part of the listener of distraction by the happenings on the stage and must therefore if it's a good dance music help the action on the stage rather than get in the way of it. You mention the necessity for a melodic line does this melodic line in the music actually Paolo a story line in the choreographing. No no you couldn't do that. Melodies aren't that precise in their intention. I say melodic line because mostly in music it's the melody that carries everyone through the. Like the thread of a story it is. It drags you
along after it your ear follows it all the time. It binds everything together and is the simplest thing you can be given to listen to. Would you say that rhythm is a very important feature of music written for dance. Yes enormously important. A friend of mine who's a great expert on the diasporas the Edwin Denby pointed out to me that it was much more amusing to watch a dancer who is not always precisely on the beat with the music than it is to watch one who always comes down right bang on the beat. Ever since he mentioned that I have been where more than I was before of the slight hesitation either before or after the beat which helps to give the dance a kind of liveliness of its own and not just pin it on the on the beat of the music. How about the influence of jazz on music for dance. Well in American music. I would think you'd find lots of influence of jazz possibly not in a direct way but certainly in an unconscious way.
Jazz rhythms are now so much a part of our composer's innards that they use them without even thinking about them or specifically remembering that they derive from jazz. You've also had experience writing music for other media such as the movies. Would you tell us a little bit about this what the problems are there. Well I think there's a definite connection between writing music for the movies and writing music for ballet in that both are collaborative in both cases. You are helping another art to be more expressive in its own terms. And it's not like writing a piece therefore which is supposed to be entirely self-sufficient on its own. It's a less grand grand way of writing music let's say. I think it's a very valuable one. I think just as we now say. Ballet music and everybody understands we assume what we mean.
We now say also movie music unfortunately that has a bad meaning in most people's minds. But I can visualize a time when we will see movie music and people will understand what we mean just as when we say now ballet music and it would have merely a bad connotation. You don't think then that music composed for these other outlets is necessarily less serious music or in minor music in comparison with music composed for an orchestra. No I don't think it need be by definition more minor. But I do think that the purpose of it is somewhat controlled by the fact that it is an all in itself all sufficient since both dance and music are similar in the sense that they can never be present completely to their audience at one time. Do you think that in a sense they help each other to communicate their message when they are combined. Well I think the dance is more helped by music the music is by the dance.
I think for example that an audience would be more disturbed at watching Miss Graham do Appalachian Spring without any sound than they would be listening to the sweet derogatory even listening to the the the musical score as I wrote it. That's no virtue of my own not simply part of the situation the dance simply does need some kind of sound to create the atmosphere. The underlined gesture to underline rhythm and music when listened to by itself suggests things to the mind of the listener. So that they don't have to actually see it present in the way that they can't hear music when they watch the dance. What is the motivation. If we may call it that for a composer to branch out into these other fields is it merely curiosity or the challenge or is there some. You mean these other fields ballet ballet dance ballet movies radio television.
What you mustn't forget that certain composers are especially gifted for the writing of such music they can't write string quartets because they have no gift for the writing string quartets or they're not interested in that kind of music. And the best opera composers of course are the ones who are hopelessly opera composers and can't write anything but operas. Is there a need felt on the part of a composer though who can write these other things to reach a wider audience. Well there oh there are various reasons for writing what is in actuality functional music. It could all come under the heading of functional music since it serves a function. Aside from its own existence as music there are many reasons as I say for writing that kind of music in the first place. People pay for the writing of it they need it and they're ready to pay for it that is not always true of string quartets. There seem to be plenty of string quartets in the world and aside from a few patrons of music who want to see a few more string quartets created nobody pays you to write a string quartet so that is an incentive. Also
as you say in the writing of a movie score you know in advance that millions of people all over the world will hear your notes. That's a kind of stimulus that you don't get from the writing of sheerly concert music. But I think in the main It presents a composer with a different problem. Most composers are not like a starved model who is satisfied to write one symphony after another till they mounted up to 8 9 and 10. They like to see what they can do in different ways each time you present yourself with a different problem you're likely to come up with a different thought. And it's the stimulus of working in different kinds of media that I think is responsible for the interest of composers and writing different sorts of things so that these different fields actually provide you with a means of self discovery. Exactly. You see the same material from a different angle. It's needed for different purposes just different solution.
Does the music of a composer necessarily reflect his geographical background. A great number of your pieces seem to have a western flavor despite the fact that you were born and brought up in the east. And I wondered whether your interest in Americana specifically Western and there are Qana could be expanded a little bit. Well it would take me perhaps too long a time to really give you the full background of how I happened to write music based on Western material. I connected in my own mind. Who would be seeking in music for a kind of musical colloquialism that would seem natural to listeners in the United States. When I was a student in Paris I was very aware of the fact that there was some connection between devotees music and the city of Paris where I was living and I always thought it would be nice if I could write a kind of music that would somehow evoke Brooklyn where I was born. Well it turned out that I didn't write of music evocative of Brooklyn
but I managed to write what people tell me is a music evocative of certain parts of the United States are interest and when I say our I mean our serious composers interest in American folk material. Must be dated I think from the time that the Library of Congress began to build up archives of recordings of actual folk music performed and sung by the backwoods people until that time when we only knew about folk songs as printed in books. We had a feeling that our folk material in the United States was all derived from foreign sources since we all came from abroad at one time or another. But when we heard the same material sung and played then it seemed to take on a character only connected with the Kentucky mountains or the Far West or cowboy songs and similar material and it was that listening to that kind of material sung and played not just in books but I think gave us the
idea that we could make use of that material in our more serious works. Now the fact that I happened to write Western valets was not of my own doing entirely valid Billy the Kid was suggested to me by link in case dean of the ballet caravan. The road is always entirely suggested by Mr. M. and it was only my own particular imagination set at work on those problems that brought up that kind of music. If they had never come to me asking for a Western diet I might never have written about it. Evocative of the West. On the other hand before either of them came to me I had written a piece called El Salvador Mexico which drew on Mexican material so that I was thinking in terms of the use of folk material to create a kind of naturalness and music that people would feel at home with. It was possible then few to transcend the regional difference without actually having steeped yourself in it you could do it by research at the Library of Congress there's no magic
in research you don't do it by research you do it by your imagination. You have to sort of think yourself into. What it feels like to be on a prairie head alone at night and somebody is that being on a prairie a lot at night is very much like being in a big city alone at night when you don't know anybody in the midst of a great crowd. And I don't doubt what that's true. I mean I could I could imagine myself for instance using the Jewish folk song for instance and and evoking a very you break atmosphere. No one happened to ask me for that and it didn't happen it turned out that I ever wrote a Hebrew ballad but I can conceive of such a thing being true to Brooklyn to music might be more difficult. You know what you must have some kind of typical background material that the people who are already for one reason or another accustomed to thinking of in terms of a specific specific landscape that's a help.
There has been a tendency it seems to me in contemporary dance to a lot of very heavily upon music that has already been written. Do you think that this is satisfactory for the dancer. No I definitely don't think it's satisfactory for the dancer. I can understand the temptation dancer wanting to choreograph an idea in their mind must be desperate until they get music and naturally music already recorded is must be a great comfort to work to because there it is you can put it out and stop it whenever you like. You don't even have to pay at the dance. You know a pianist a rehearsal pianist so there are many reasons for working with music already written but I think it's a deterrent to the final result because a choreographic idea if it's really fresh ought to be expressed in musical terms with a music specially designed for that choreographic idea I think that's axiomatic. I can imagine
certain exceptions. I can imagine someone doing an eighteenth century ballet so precisely based on 18th century forms that it would be better to use some Handel or Bach. In order to get background music that goes with that but that would be very much an exception. And I deplore the the recent tendency on the part of choreographers not to commission dance corps from living composers. I understand their problems. They're expensive to get because composers have to eat and so they must be paid when they write functional music. They must be paid each time their score is performed in public for profit and the music they write must be copied by professional copyist which is also expensive so that one of the great deterrents I suppose the choreographer would say is the cost of ordering music especially for their own use. But they have
to pay for lots of other things when they put on valets I just think they're going to have to add that extra cost of the specially written score. Do you find that there is an additional difficulty if you not only dance is fitted to the music but let us say songs or narration. All the reading and poetry you mean yes. Well any time I think that you add one more element for the viewer to take into account you naturally complicate the end result. And it's simpler to work with music alone it's a little more complicated to add dance and it's still more complicated when you ask. I add still another element. I mean the most complicated form of all the absolutely impossible for me is that of opera. Just because there are so many different things at work at the same time all I can say is the fact that opera includes all the known forms of music I might include. That is to say you can have a chorus singing alone
but have a chorus singing with an orchestra. You can have an orchestra alone you can introduce ballet. You can do practically anything in an opera. Those various possibilities is the thing that fascinates composers all the time but at the same time makes the form so hopeless in another sense. And you'll note when you read histories of music that opera was always being reformed every 50 years somebody came along decided no those other operas before were not based on the right idea and I'm going to show you how an opera really should be written. And I have an idea others and it's insoluble problem nobody's ever gonna finally. Saw it but that it will continue to fascinate composers to the end of time. Aaron Copeland the composer as create our. Conversation number five in a series exploring the creative process as it pertains to the American artist and scientist in the 20th century. Host with a creative mind.
Lyman Bryson producer for the series Jack Dee Summerfield with William cavernous and Nadia Eisenberg as production associates next week. Alan Tate the poit as creator. The creative mind is produced and recorded by WGBH FM in Boston for the National Association of educational broadcasters under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center. This program was distributed by the national educational radio network.
Creative mind
The composer as creator
Producing Organization
WGBH Educational Foundation
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program features Aaron Copland speaking on music composition and creativity.
Series Description
This series, hosted by Lyman Bryson, presents radio essays about the creative process for the American artist and scientist in the 20th century.
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Guest: Copland, Aaron, 1900-1990
Host: Bryson, Lyman, 1888-1959
Producer: Summerfield, Jack D.
Producing Organization: WGBH Educational Foundation
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 58-44-5 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:11
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Chicago: “Creative mind; The composer as creator,” 1964-04-11, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed May 29, 2024,
MLA: “Creative mind; The composer as creator.” 1964-04-11. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. May 29, 2024. <>.
APA: Creative mind; The composer as creator. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from