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Aaron Copland discusses his career

BROADCAST: Mar. 10, 1961 | DURATION: 00:48:46


Aaron Copland discusses his music, his colleagues, contemporaries, musicians, and composers.


Tap within the transcript to jump to that part of the audio.


Studs Terkel Aaron Copland, one of America's most distinguished composers, is in town. Tomorrow night he's the special guest of the Chamber Consortium at Orchestra Hall, 8 o'clock. And will [unintelligible] conduct. Mr. Copland will conduct several of his best-known works. And I thought, conjunction with that, we'd rebroadcast a conversation with Aaron Copland, when he was a guest on this program some 21 years ago. It, well I was, it was January, 1961 he had visited Chicago. And he reflected. And it ends with a piece of his. And so, in conjunction with his appearance tomorrow night, the program of 21 years ago with Aaron Copland. After this message. [pause in recording] A statement by Aaron Copland, one of the five statements, of "Statements for Orchestra," I think it's, it seems like the most appropriate way to open a conversation with our distinguished guest, Aaron Copland. Composer, lecturer, critic, over and above that obviously, a man with a humanistic approach to life, that seems so clear in in the music he writes and in the words he writes, too. The word itself, statement. Why did you, why did you call this, this composition "Statements for Orchestra?"

Aaron Copland Well, I may have had in mind the idea of giving the audience a hint as to what the piece, what the general nature of the piece was about, or what the general nature of the piece was, really. And if you tell an audience, well if they just hear a piece that sounds rather brave and bold, and then you tell them that that's a kind of militant statement, I think it just helps them to guess more definitely what the composer had in mind. Now you can't always do that, but if you can do it and I thought I could in these short movements, I think it's all to the good.

Studs Terkel The idea of letting the audience in on someth- later on let their imagination flow freely.

Aaron Copland Well, I wouldn't want to be too precise.

Studs Terkel Yeah, yeah.

Aaron Copland The word militant just by itself--

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Aaron Copland You can kind of combine that with whatever you have in your head when you hear the music.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Aaron Copland Another one of the moments is called "Subjective." Well that's a very general word. Nevertheless it gives you a sense of--

Studs Terkel Another one called "Cryptic." [unintelligible] called "Cryptic." So there, that leaves it open.

Aaron Copland Character. Another one called "Cryptic." I couldn't decide what that meant precisely, yes.

Studs Terkel Of course it's something I believe you said it, or your friend Harold Clurman, the the director and critic said, about your "Third Symphony" somewhere, you let this speak for itself. [unintelligible]

Aaron Copland Well in the last analysis--

Studs Terkel Yes, yes.

Aaron Copland One always wants to let one's music speak for itself.

Studs Terkel Well there are so many facets to Aaron Copland, that it's a question of, where do we begin? Aaron Copland, who has written for, just about all the media, for the film, for ballet, which seemed to be most familiar to the audience, for radio. And there's the other Aaron Copland, too, Aaron Copland the observer of other composers. You've influenced so many of the younger composers, your interest, you know that you and Roger Sessions had these concerts in which you're encouraging contemporary composers in, I know in Chicago--

Aaron Copland Yes, that was a long time ago.

Studs Terkel Nonetheless, Easley Blackwood, a local composer, young Chicago composer speaks of your interest in in -- this is still I suppose a continuing aspect of your--

Aaron Copland Oh yes, of course, there are always young composers, you know.

Studs Terkel What of the young Aaron Copland? If we can begin. Recently in "Harper's," and I think this is an excerpt from your book, "Copland on Music," that's now available, was an affectionate portrait of Nadia Boulanger. What are your memories of of Boulanger and her influence on you?

Aaron Copland Well, for one thing you know Nadia Boulanger wasn't that much older than I was when I studied with her. She was precisely 13 years older than I was. That was old enough but, to be a teacher, to take the teacher attitude. And yet she had a very young attitude herself, and our lessons as I remember them were more like discussions than teacher telling the student what to do. She had 2 very attractive qualities. One was her extraordinary love for music. It was exhilarating, intoxicating, just to be near her. Music meant so much to her, and it was so live a thing to her, that you couldn't help but, if you had similar sentiments, feel stirred up and excited by merely being in her presence. That's a very exciting thing for a teacher to have. The other thing she had was the quality of giving you confidence in yourself. You know, some teachers work by tearing down. They they, they tell you you really are a worm, you don't know from nothing. Paul Hindemith is that kind of man. He tends to tell students they know nothing. And some students love that. They have a feeling, well here's a man who's really honest with me. I don't really know anything and now I'm really going to begin with him to learn something. But Nadia Boulanger wasn't like that. She gave you the feeling that, you could do even more than you yourself thought you could do. And that was a very stimulating thing. I think it was those 2 elements in her character that attracted me most in those days.

Studs Terkel Her own enthusiasm and imbuing the student--

Aaron Copland Yes.

Studs Terkel With confidence.

Aaron Copland Exactly.

Studs Terkel There's something you said too about her interests being so varied, too, aside from music and the other fine arts, too.

Aaron Copland Yes, she was very broadly cultured, and even in music, it was very exciting to me to meet with a musician who understood the very latest things in music, and that was in the '20s when there were a lot of new things happening, and also who seemed thoroughly at home with Bach and pre-Bach music, Palestrina and even before Palestrina. So that you had the feeling her range was terrific, and there were no secrets about music for her. So that any questions you had in your mind, she knew the answers. That's a wonderful thing for a teacher to have.

Studs Terkel As a whimsical story you tell, it probably wasn't humorous to you at the time, when she induced you to write a symphony for organ.

Aaron Copland Yes.

Studs Terkel And -- would, do you mind telling us about that, and and--

Aaron Copland Well she's a very fine organist. And she was going to come -- she was coming to America to make her debut as organ soloist with 2 of our best orchestras, the orchestra that Walter Damrosch conducted, this was in 1925. And also was Serge Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony, he was having his first winter as a regular conductor of that orchestra. And they both invited her to play organ solo music with them. And she asked me if I wouldn't write her a piece for that occasion, those 2 occasions. And so I agreed to write an organ symphony though I didn't know very much about the organ, and I had never heard any of my own orchestrations sounded. I had orchestrated things but never heard them. That was very brave of her, don't you think? I mean to take a chance on a young student.

Studs Terkel You were in the early 20s, then?

Aaron Copland I was 23, 24. And I worked very hard. I had come back from Paris by then and sent her the music. She kept writing me letters, hurry up hurry up I've got to have time to learn this stuff. I sent her the music, and then she came and played it. And the -- you're probably thinking of the story connected with the, Damrosch's--

Studs Terkel Damrosch. [laughter]

Aaron Copland First performance. Damrosch was a man who had a very faithful Sunday afternoon audience, rather like a family, and there were quite a lot of elderly ladies, well-meaning music lovers, and my symphony in the '20s was pretty shocking, he thought, but still he had agreed to play it so he didn't have much choice about it. And so he had this problem of how he could both be nice to Mademoiselle Boulanger, who he loved dearly, and at the same time be nice to his elderly subscribers, who he knew would be worried by this symphony. So that when it was completely finished and he came out to conduct the next work on the program, he suddenly without war- warning turned around and said to the audience, if a young man at the age of 23 can write a symphony like this, in 5 years he'll be ready to commit murder [laughter]. Naturally brought a big laugh. And many times, you know, he tried to explain away to me the, what he said then, as if he was a little frightened [laughter] by what he himself had said.

Studs Terkel Despite what he said and what may have been your embarrassment or worry at the time, Mademoiselle Boulanger had this faith in you, [unintelligible]

Aaron Copland Oh yes, she did -- she wasn't at all disturbed--

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Aaron Copland By his apparent dislike of the piece.

Studs Terkel Well, obviously a justified faith indeed. I think about you again, Aaron Copland, so many facets to your musical life. In the early days, were you interested in jazz elements, too?

Aaron Copland Yes--

Studs Terkel way way back.

Aaron Copland I was very interested in jazz in the '20s, mostly as an easy way you might say, or an obvious way of using materials which everybody would recognize as being American in origin. In the '20s, several composers, not only myself, had a very strong preoccupation about the writing of a music that everybody could identify with our country. I after all was studying in Paris and I realized that Debussy and Ravel were very typically French. And so one wondered: couldn't we do that same thing in America? Why couldn't we write a serious music, that was not jazz, or perhaps related to jazz, which everyone would immediately recognize as American? And I think we did. But then the fact that we did, means that the younger people didn't have to do it anymore. So that after the pieces that were written in the '20s, there was a lack of interest in the jazz field. Now of course things have changed again.

Studs Terkel As being as sort of a resurgence of interest [unintelligible]--

Aaron Copland Yes, definitely.

Studs Terkel But it was, it's interesting that back in the '20s you were thinking it was to find a national flavor is that it, in a way?

Aaron Copland Yes.

Studs Terkel A national flavor, to it. But today of course you find it in so many other ways. It's -- superficially you've been associated with -- interested in music Americana, the fact that you did use folk themes in--

Aaron Copland Yes.

Studs Terkel "Billy the Kid"--

Aaron Copland Yes.

Studs Terkel And "Appalachian Spring."

Aaron Copland There's a tendency to overplay--

Aaron Copland Yes.

Aaron Copland That side of my production I think--

Studs Terkel Yes.

Aaron Copland Because it's so accessible, by comparison with the other kind of music, which is more in the regular nature of concert music.

Studs Terkel How would you describe the music that is today your music? The Copland of today.

Aaron Copland Well I I wouldn't want to try to describe it, to tell you the truth because I'm limit it. I think of it as being different kinds of music for different reasons, different purposes, different media. I hope it's varied, and that it all sounds like me despite the variety.

Studs Terkel It's your friend Harold Clurman, who who's saying what you just said in his way here: music is a reflection of and response to specific worlds of men. It is play. It is speech. It is unconscious, a result unconscious statement at the same time. And as you say yourself, I prefer to let it speak for itself. Is this pretty much your--

Aaron Copland Yes I think--

Studs Terkel Credo today?

Aaron Copland That if he's right, that's that's very close to it.

Studs Terkel If he's right.

Aaron Copland If he's right. [laughter]

Studs Terkel Well you ask him when you see him. So many, again media is what you've written. I immediately think of, which I'm sure everybody would agree, just I as a movie goer, so moved as a layman [knowing nothi-?] me as a movie goer, so impressed with your music for 2 films that I liked very much, especially "Of Mice and Men." The other was "Our Town." This is about the first time, really, that screen music was written that was not, the typical, bombastic music. How did you approach "Of Mice and Men"?

Aaron Copland Well, I think actually I was very anxious to evoke the particular atmospheres of those 2 films. One, after all "Mice and Men" took place on a California ranch, the other took place in a New England town in New Hampshire. And most film scores in those days, in the early '40s, tended to sound alike, didn't matter whether the movie took place in the time of Henry VII, or whether it was about a couple of prizefighters nowadays. The -- a kind of nineteenth century, late nineteenth century Tchaikovsky-ish, Franc-like score was pasted on whatever the film happened to be about. And I think perhaps in in stressing the the particular landscape of California, and trying to evoke that landscape in musical terms, I had something of an influence on the westerns you'll hear on television today, in other words, normally you'll hear nowadays a folk tune, a simple, cowboy folk tune, which they'll treat in a rather simpler--

Studs Terkel Yes.

Aaron Copland Way than was customary, formerly. And I think "Of Mice and Men" was one of the first scores that would have stressed that idea.

Studs Terkel In my mind's eye as I see "Of Mice and Men" now, I hear the music that so impressed, it so -- Steinbeck or whoever the film adapter was, had wanted this -- the beginning, I remember Lenny and and George hiding in the [rough?] something passed [right?], you knew tragedy was going to happen.

Aaron Copland Mhm.

Studs Terkel But what I think of specifically, is the girl, Curley's wife when she was frustrated, and I remember that music, as though--

Aaron Copland Mhm.

Studs Terkel She was just, hemmed in. Did you -- as though you wrote for the actual actors, the individuals too.

Aaron Copland Well after all when you write music for a film, you live live--

Studs Terkel [Yes?]

Aaron Copland With the film, and in that sense you live with the actors for 6 weeks or more. You react to them. It's very possible--

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Aaron Copland That the music would take on the character of the thing that you look at so often.

Studs Terkel Thinking out loud: the score. Am I, am I wrong? What the score, say, for "Of Mice and Men." Could that not be something in itself, even without the visual part? I'm just wondering, listening to it [unintelligible]?

Aaron Copland Well the most flattering thing that can be said to a film composer is to have someone come up to you and say you know I've gone back to that film and sat there with my eyes closed, just to listen to the music [laughter]. But the use of film music as a concert piece, that's a separate operation. The fact that it might do well for a film, doesn't necessarily mean that it will make a--

Studs Terkel Hold on its own.

Aaron Copland successful concert piece. Generally you would have to rework it, so that it would have more flow and connection.

Studs Terkel You wrote this to italicize the mood of the film.

Aaron Copland Yes, and generally musical sequences last over a very brief time, maybe three minutes long, they don't make full movements, you have to rework them. I've done that. I did that with the music I wrote for another Steinbeck film called "The Red Pony." I made a suite from pieces from "The Red Pony."

Studs Terkel "The Red Pony Suite," then is available--

Aaron Copland Yes.

Studs Terkel Just for hearing.

Aaron Copland Yes it is.

Studs Terkel There's a case of seeing a movie with your eyes closed. There's so many statements, again, [unintelligible] comments you make that are so pertinent, and to the point about [other] aspects of music. You said something I -- it was in the recent "Saturday Review" article, recent, it may have been several months ago, I think this is part of your book, "Copland on Music." [Feelings] about what you call the soigne approach, the smooth slick. Would you mind expanding on that a bit?

Aaron Copland That was a notation I made in a musical journal I occasionally keep, a notation that occurred to me while I was sitting at a concert listening to X conduct. I had the feeling that there was too much emphasis being put on just the smooth, beautiful sounds in themselves, and it suddenly occurred to me that really when composers write music they're not thinking about smooth, beautiful, round, lovely sounds in and for themselves. They have another idea in mind, and that is the expressive quality of the music. It's like looking at a face that has no lines in it and not too much of character. We work in terms of faces that are full of character. You want to see the lines, you want to feel the the expressive thing behind the notes, and that that's the important thing, and [wield?] any composer will give up any day, a certain smoothness and soigne kind of approach, to the performing of his music, if he can get in turn, in exchange, the real essence of what he thinks he was putting into that piece in terms of feelings, and character, and expression.

Studs Terkel It could be rough, he meant it to be rough here.

Aaron Copland Yes. You know, I've often, in conducting, I've often had to say to orchestral musicians, you're playing too beautifully.

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Aaron Copland I mean, you're playing the way, all your life long you've been trying to play. You studied to make the most beautiful tone possible, the most round, the most lovely. That's not what I want. I want a rather harsh sound, but one that has character, and which seems to be connected with this particular passage in this particular piece and wouldn't belong anyplace else. Now that's, you need musicians with imagination to give you that.

Studs Terkel It's like someone touching up a painting and taking the wrinkles out of the old lady's throat or--

Aaron Copland Yes, exactly, yeah yeah.

Studs Terkel Crow's feet. This is -- What of you the conductor -- tribute has been paid you by several critics. You as a, as a conductor of your own work. What of this? Are are composers, generally, the best interpreters at the podium [unintelligible].

Aaron Copland Oh, well you know composers have very bad reputations as conductors. They're known to be, generally, inadequate on the podium. And it's understandable because, after all the composing and conducting are 2 very different activities, and a gift in one department doesn't mean to say you'd have a gift in another. You might know, and most composers would know, how they want their music to go. But you might not have the technical ability to indicate to an orchestra how that should happen. So that mostly composers as I say make very poor conductors, and if you are a composer and begin to conduct, you have that to contend with. On the other hand, people get so surprised if you can conduct at all with any adequacy, that they possibly exaggerate your qualities. I like to conduct my own things, because I have a feeling I know how I want them to go. And I've conducted a sufficient number of orchestras by now so that I feel I'm able to indicate what I want to an orchestra and I -- Koussevitzky used to say to me, even when a composer doesn't technically conduct as well as a professional conductor would, he nevertheless gives to the music some quality that no conductor could quite give. And I think there's some truth to that.

Studs Terkel Here again his own imagination that went into the creating--

Aaron Copland Yes.

Studs Terkel Comes now in the interpreting.

Aaron Copland Exactly.

Studs Terkel Well isn't that something else, why you are so good a conductor, I'm just asking this, the fact that you are able to communicate with members of the orchestra, with other human beings, and--

Aaron Copland Well I tell you have a great advantage, and that is that the orchestral musician is willing to admit, that you really ought to know how this piece should go. Now any other conductor conducting Beethoven and Brahms is subject to doubt in the orchestral musicians' mind. Does this fellow really have the right to be standing up there and telling me how this goes? I've played with another conductor who thought it should go differently, you see. Now in my case, if they have played the same piece with another conductor they think, well he's the composer he ought to know. And you get a great advantage from that, you see. And also, if they like the music, they give you something added, a little extra something in the interpretation because you are the composer, and here they're playing with you. This opportunity is not going to happen every day in the week. It's not a routine thing. There's something special about the occasion when you play with the composer conducting. And so I feel I get the advantage of their extra interest.

Studs Terkel But in addition I suspect, if I may suspect, there is the element of your ability to communicate to other people, musicians, [unintelligible] that possibly another composer may not.

Aaron Copland Well there's -- naturally, you you should have the ability to communicate through gesture and facial expression what it is you want.

Aaron Copland You wouldn't -- somewhere you called the opera, we're coming to an opera that you wrote, you referred to opera as a form fatale somewhere there, in in your writings. Would you mind explaining that just a bit?

Aaron Copland Well I was thinking of la femme fatale--

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Aaron Copland And switching it around to la form fatale.

Studs Terkel Uh-huh.

Aaron Copland I meant actually that there was something -- that a composer beginning in opera should be a little fatalistic about the whole operation. Because the end result is so unsure and the amount of work and labor that goes into the writing of a full length opera is so enormous by comparison with the, oh the slight chance of its being a really full-fledged success, that you're really taking a terrific chance. And in that sense one feels attracted to it, in in something like one would be attracted to something that's full of danger. And one sho- one really is quite frightened at the prospect of sitting down to begin a new opera.

Studs Terkel You know the all effort going into it and what will come out--

Aaron Copland Well, look how different it is from writing a symphony. After all, in the time that it takes you to write 1 opera, a 3 act opera, you could write 3 symphonies. You write that 1 opera, maybe it'll take you 2 or 3 years to do it, and in 1 night, when 1 night, in 2 and a half hours, everybody decides about it. And it's a decision which will be, you will find very difficult to have rethought at some future time. That's very frightening. If you have a symphony played and it gets bad criticisms, doesn't matter. I mean 6 months later somebody else someplace else may take a chance and conduct it.

Studs Terkel But it's not [unintelligible] opera.

Aaron Copland Not an opera, not an opera. If San Francisco hears that the City Center in New York gave something and it was badly written up, they won't touch it.

Studs Terkel I suppose this is similar to a, I suppose playwright might have that same problem--

Aaron Copland It's exactly like a play, exactly like a play.

Studs Terkel All that effort, boom.

Aaron Copland You know. But we musicians are not used to that, you see--

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Aaron Copland In any other field in music, there's a possibility of recall, but rarely in opera. Ten years might have to go by, you see, before anybody who believes strongly in the value of a work will pick it up again.

Studs Terkel What of your opera, "Second Hurricane?" What of this work?

Aaron Copland Well that's an opera for high school--

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Aaron Copland Kids to sing it's not quite the same--

Studs Terkel [No? Yeah?]

Aaron Copland Thing.

Aaron Copland Would you mind telling us about, that how you came to write that, the circumstances?

Aaron Copland Well it was written in the late '30s, at a time when there was a lot of interest in something called Gebrauchsmusik. That's a large German word which simply means music for use--

Aaron Copland Use.

Aaron Copland Written for use, for Gebrauch. And it began, I think, in the minds of certain publishers, who thought that, here was this large audience, potential audience, of young people who weren't familiar with the contemporary idiom in music, and why couldn't composers write music, of rather simple technical requirements, which nevertheless would tip them off, so to speak, in the contemporary idiom, which would make it seem natural for them to get started on chords that were a little more complex and rhythms that were less conventional. And with that in mind, numbers of composers, Hindemith at the head of them, really, wrote works -- Kurt Weill wrote one called "Der Jasager," "The Yes-Sayer," which was very popular in Germany -- they wrote works for kids to perform that weren't like Gilbert and Sullivan, but that treated contemporary subject matter and used rhythms and melodies, and harmonies a little more advanced than the music they were accustomed to, and that was the origin of "The Second Hurricane."

Studs Terkel So we will hear, actually hear the kids now of a high school, a New York high school.

Aaron Copland That's right.

Studs Terkel Now singing. This is what, the kids marooned is that they--

Aaron Copland The kids were marooned in a hurricane and flood. They'd gone out to save people, and they themselves got marooned in, into a tough spot.

Studs Terkel Hear, then, the voices of our heroes from Copland's "Second Hurricane." [music playing] Here then a [passive? pass at?] "Second Hurricane," there were two choruses here, Mr. Copland, right?

Aaron Copland Yes--

Studs Terkel In this case, yes.

Aaron Copland There was the chorus of high school kids and then their parents, also--

Aaron Copland Yeah.

Aaron Copland Acted by high school kids, in this case.

Studs Terkel This is performed recently over TV?

Aaron Copland Yes, it was given on TV. Well now it's about a year ago last April.

Studs Terkel By Leonard Bernstein the conductor--

Aaron Copland On one of those young people symphony concerts, yes.

Studs Terkel I think we should point out that's available now, it's a fairly recent issue, isn't it?

Aaron Copland Yes it is.

Studs Terkel Fairly recent. So that's someway again, we're going to wander if we will, there's so many avenues to travel with you, here. But since you mentioned TV, your feelings about the -- I, you've been asked many times I'm sure the TV influence. I know there are the Young People's Concerts of Bernstein. What do you think is the overall TV influence on on musical taste in America? It's a general question, of course.

Aaron Copland Well, I wish that TV were more of a musical medium than it is, actually, it's something you look at rather than you listen to. And in that sense I think we composers think of FM stations and regular radio stations as more supporters of our music than we can hope TV to be. But of course, in special programs like operas or such things as the Bernstein broadcasts, it's of an enormous help because it it reaches so many people and in so vivid a way. But I don't think that they've yet worked out a way of presenting serious music so that it can be interesting to look at at the same time as it is to listen to, and I'm not even sure there is such a thing that's possible.

Studs Terkel The very nature of the medium--

Aaron Copland The very nature.

Studs Terkel Itself.

Aaron Copland Exactly.

Studs Terkel Aside from the commercial [unintelligible]--

Aaron Copland I say it reluctantly, but I'm afraid that's the truth.

Studs Terkel [Right there?] What it -- there's something you said. You you make statements that are provocative, but statements that you mean, that are intriguing. This apparently is from your book, too, though I read it in this article, in "The Saturday Review." You spoke of, earlier you talked about national music, you were looking for a national flavor when you experimented with jazz in the early days, just as Debussy expressed a French flavor. You were speaking of composers in small countries, like Grieg, Norway and Sibelius of Finland, and you spoke of -- you were inferring that was a [baleful?] influence upon the young -- that is, with their being gone, that flavor so covered the country that nothing has happened since. Is -- am I right in your--

Aaron Copland Yes, I was thinking about the influence of a, of an important talent, a first rate talent in a small country. I, it seemed to me suddenly one day, it sort of hit me, that in a country like Norway, Grieg had had so preponderate an influence, that the younger people kind of couldn't get out from under and do their own kind of thing. And the same thing had happened in Finland with Sibelius. There was a tendency for the same thing to happen in Mexico with Chavez and Revueltas, and in Brazil, even, which is a large country--

Studs Terkel Villa-Lobos.

Aaron Copland But musically a smallish country with Villa-Lobos, so that it's rather dangerous, I thought, for a smallish country to have a very important figure because he tends to kill off the younger people.

Studs Terkel Is this, is historically, has your argument been buttressed historically, I mean is this true--

Aaron Copland Well I only thought about it that far, I hadn't thought of what happened in Czechoslovakia with Smetana and Dvorak. I don't know. Probably there's something to it. Not so much in a place like the Soviet Union where--

Studs Terkel [So big?]

Aaron Copland The Russian 5 were able to still to produce Shostakovich. Since then I don't know [laughter].

Studs Terkel Well since we're talking about what what seems to be a lack of younger composers in these countries, what about young composers today? You were saying something in your piece about Boulanger that you wondered how she would feel about young compose- you use the phrase "worshiping at strange shrines." What's your feeling?

Aaron Copland Well, obviously the younger generation is always interested in things that interest them, not in things that interest the older generation. And in that sense, Nadia Boulanger now being over 70, and still teaching young people, would inevitably find some of them not sympathetic to some of her ideas, and interested in quite different things, which is what I meant by strange gods. It's very extraordinary for instance that the leader of the young French composers nowadays, Pierre Boulez, should be taking so much of his inspiration from German sources. His interest in the music and Webern would never have been able to be predicted by anybody who had studied the scene in the '20s, and yet there it is. So that we of the older generation can't hope to guess, in advance, what the young people will be interested in 10 years from now. All we know is, it's likely to be something that wouldn't have struck us as being the thing that they would be interested in.

Studs Terkel You're raising a point here that just occurred to me as you're talking, as I listen. So Boulez has his influences Germanic. Now this would be un-thought of let's say a generation or 2 ago. Now, is this happening in the world, I'm cur- in, I'm wondering now about in the fine arts in the way of thinking, that a -- flavors, you spoke earlier of national flavors--

Aaron Copland Yeah.

Studs Terkel Do you feel that this is breaking down, that there will be sort of a grayness, musically [unintelligible]?

Aaron Copland Well you're putting it in a rather negative way--

Aaron Copland Yeah, right, yeah.

Aaron Copland They wouldn't say grayness.

Aaron Copland No.

Aaron Copland They'd say they're not interested in nationalism and music, that's very definite. They're interested in an international musical style, and they can show you historical precedent, when it would have been difficult to tell the difference between German, French, and English music.

Studs Terkel I deliberately [drew?] in the negative way.

Aaron Copland Oh you did? [laughter]

Studs Terkel I was thinking, I was thinking of something else. I was thinking of, what does a person think of the lack of color, in the world, and I was just wondering if, if the color if national colors are lost musically.

Aaron Copland Well you lose something. But on the other hand they will argue that you gain--

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Aaron Copland Something too, that national color tends to limit one--

Studs Terkel Mhm.

Aaron Copland Because you're looking at only one landscape--

Studs Terkel Yes.

Aaron Copland Instead of looking in larger terms, and that art should be an international thing. You can make a very good argument for the anti- nationalist--

Aaron Copland Yeah.

Aaron Copland Approach.

Studs Terkel What is your feeling about the young composer [to end?] trend, if there is such a thing as a trend?

Well I think that the young composers are living in a rather difficult time, from their own standpoint, because music is in a great state of turmoil, much more of a turmoil than the great public at large knows about. The very basic constructural principles of music are in question now. If we thought that music should have flow, a kind of naturalness of flow, the younger people may think it, they it should be just the opposite, it should be discontinuous. It has too much flow, and that the flow is too same-like etcetera, etcetera, so that every possible principle that I might name to you, they can give you the very opposite idea as a possibility. So that everything seems to be open to question in a way that, oh I doubt whether it was was true, I doubt whether it was true, in the same way for us 30 years ago. Though we felt that we were living in a very revolutionary period in music then. I think it's more revolutionary now and therefore more difficult for the young people to find themselves, find their own way, and I don't know exactly what's going to happen.

Studs Terkel Isn't this, [background noise?] you said is a parallel here in the [view? real?] of the graphic and the plastic arts, too? I mean the same--

Aaron Copland I think it's worse in music, actually.

Studs Terkel It's worse in music.

Aaron Copland Worse in music. More revolutionary in its implications than -- because I think what's coming up for question is, whether the very things we use as musical instruments are necessarily the things we ought to use. I mean, should a man blow into a pipe in exactly the same way he did in the period [laughter] of the Greeks? I mean, is there a better, easier, more effective, more delightful way of making musical sound, you see?

Studs Terkel Challenging the very foundation.

Aaron Copland Yes, and everything is up for question.

Studs Terkel Well, to what would you ascribe this? Any any--

Aaron Copland Just natural historical development.

Studs Terkel Just natural [standing? understanding?] in the world itself.

Aaron Copland Yes, I mean our idea of sound--

Studs Terkel Yes.

Aaron Copland After all has changed. Think of the way we make sounds, how the word sonic is in everybody's mind, that was not true 30 years ago. Breaking sound barriers, using sound to investigate whether ball bearings are working well or not. You know, I mean it's, it's bound to influence music, it must influence music.

Studs Terkel What's your feeling about electronic music?

Aaron Copland Well I think it's a little early to have--

Studs Terkel Yes.

Aaron Copland Any feelings about it. Let the boys--

Studs Terkel Yeah. You believe in [unintelligible].

Aaron Copland Try it out. Yes I ha- I'm very permissive in my attitude, I -- Let them try it out. Let's give them plenty of rope. [laughter]

Studs Terkel What you said, [unintelligible] in that sentence. There's something that I hadn't thought of asking you this, but now that the subject of music and the internationalism has come up. Perhaps you read the article by Lukas Foss, it was in the "Saturday Review" some time ago, "The Myth of Music's Universality?"

Aaron Copland Yes I did read that.

Studs Terkel And he speaks [as? there's?] a piece of music -- he says this is a myth, that music speaks a universal, international language.

Aaron Copland Yes.

Studs Terkel And he went on, he -- I I know I'm just offering the one sentence, he went on to say [unintelligible]. What's your feeling? He says it cannot. And yet we think of in terms of of cultural exchanges, of peace, understanding, and artistic worth--

Aaron Copland Yes.

Studs Terkel He seems to deny that this has any effect, really.

Aaron Copland Well you know that it's a sort of platitude, everybody--

Studs Terkel Yeah, yes, yeah.

Aaron Copland Says that one universal language is music--

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Aaron Copland and theoretically it should be.

Studs Terkel Yes.

Aaron Copland But actually, when I was in Japan, I heard kinds of music that seemed very strange to me, so that when you think about it more specifically, and not in that overall sense then it's obvious that peoples do write, do create kinds of music which other peoples might not understand. So that that old saw about the universality of music, I think that's what he was thinking of--

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Aaron Copland When he wrote that. But, obviously as as languages go--

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Aaron Copland It has a better chance of being international than most. [laughter]

Studs Terkel Than the word, than the written words.

Aaron Copland Yes.

Studs Terkel He was he was referring, he was saying something about nineteenth century music or semi-classics or jazz, yeah. But then [when it was?] pick of today's music, it still needs a specialized development. But the part, this sounds like a variation on Copland, too, this part here that I like very much, and that's [unintelligible] something you would say here, that basically it's a testimony, the idea of music and the writing art is a te- a man's free and searching spirit. And in this sense, it can help for whatever understanding they can be, because--

Aaron Copland Well there are large segments of the world, and possibly the most active segments nowadays that can speak together musically. I I realized that when I was in the Soviet Union.

Studs Terkel What are some of your findings? [unintelligible]

Aaron Copland There's no trouble at all talking to a Soviet musician about Beethoven's accents, and sforzati. I mean, we we think exactly the same in terms of those problems related to music, so that it's easy for artists of different countries with different political systems to get together and completely forget about the political systems during the time that they're talking about art. In that sense music is very universal in it's [field?]

Studs Terkel What have you found, while you were there in the Soviet Union [unintellgible]?

Aaron Copland Well I was there actively, as a matter of fact I was there with Lukas Foss, we were a two-man team, and we conducted orchestras. We shared programs and they couldn't have been more cooperative. We had no trouble at all making contact. Everybody was just as helpful as they possibly could be in rehearsals, in the making of the music, and the reception of the music on the part of the audience. I had the feeling we were seeing the Soviet Union on its very best behavior.

Studs Terkel Mhm.

Aaron Copland That has nothing to do, of course, with the political side of things.

Studs Terkel Did you meet many of their contemporary composers?

Aaron Copland Yes we met all the composers. Each city, you see, has its own branch of the Union of Soviet composers, and so they are very well organized to take care of visiting firemen like ourselves.

Studs Terkel I was wondering if there was a trend, musically. We've been told, you know of the old-fashioned feelings they have in [there? their?].

Aaron Copland In the arts.

Studs Terkel The united-ness as far as contemporary music, is this so? Or is it [unintelligible]

Aaron Copland Well I think you would find them very reluctant to agree to that idea. They like to think that they know about everything that's going on. They don't want to feel that they're backward in any way. But I I think actually, a disinterested appraisal of what they're doing would would have to take into account that very much of the stuff that's being created does, I think, too much, belong in the old tradition of Russian music as we know it.

Studs Terkel The fact that you and Lukas Foss were accepted as you were is indicative that perhaps there is, are the winds of change--

Aaron Copland Oh definitely. Our visit that was taken--

Studs Terkel Yes.

Aaron Copland On the part of the Russians themselves as a, as a sign that one could hear newer kinds of things at the concerts.

Studs Terkel Another aspect of Aaron Copland. As I'm just, this is an at random wandering [with?] delightful to me, and I'm sure to the audience. The -- your comments about other composers, you know, there's a Berlioz revival isn't there, isn't there, today. Would you say there is one?

Aaron Copland Oh yes, I think so. But it's been going on for some time now.

Studs Terkel Wha- what about Berlioz? There's a -- you wrote beautifully about him in this article in, that's part of your book. What of Berlioz? What of him?

Aaron Copland Well, I was very attracted to Berlioz, I suppose partly through the propagandistic efforts of Koussevitzky, who was a great Berlioz fan and repeatedly played "Harold in Italy" at a time when it wasn't so much played. And so I grew to like his music through hearing it. We didn't know the "L'enfance du Christ," and 30 years ago wasn't much played. Now it's a regular Christmastime item. I, I'm very attracted by, you might say the classical aspect of this very romantic character. It's the combination of the part of him that belongs in the eighteenth century, plus the part that was very nineteenth century, very forward looking, that makes a very sympathetic combination I think to us nowadays. There's a certain sense of control in his music, and at the same time great dash and invention. And while the music is not without fault, it it fascinates me and obviously it fascinates a great many other people.

Studs Terkel Highly theatrical.

Aaron Copland Highly theatrical, yes.

Studs Terkel But the [inferences?] that you make is that he wrote beyond his time, is that -- would you say that? That is he wrote for--

Aaron Copland Well he was way ahead of his time in many respects, as as the nineteenth century was fully aware. I mean, he was looked upon as a wild man in his own day, and had great difficulty in putting his music over, but he was a very energetic fellow and just put on concerts of his own music conducted by himself and let, let them have it. [laughter]

Studs Terkel Why at this time? Why at this time?

Aaron Copland Well I think it's this combination of the classic and the romantic, the control and the flair together, that in some ways seems sympathetic to us.

Studs Terkel And you offer us insights into different composers. You mention something about Ravel's preoccupation with failure, rather than success. [unintelligible] Would you mind expanding on that?

Aaron Copland Oh, I was thinking about is his orchestration, there. About a story I'd heard of Nadia Boulanger calling him up after the premiere of "Bolero," and complimenting him on his orchestration, and he said oh yes of course, but gee I wish that the "Chansons madecasses" had come off as well. Now the "Chansons madecasses" was written for just a small group with a singer, where the problem was not nearly as great from the outsider's standpoint. But the point of the story was that you will generally find, that orches- people who are expert orchestrators, are very prone to be humble about the art of orchestration, because it is extremely difficult to know in advance precisely how everything is going to sound. And it's that, in a way it's that humble approach that mocks them--

Studs Terkel Yeah. [That's true?]

Aaron Copland As people of real achievement. They know how hard it is and are perfectly willing to admit it.

Studs Terkel There's this, there's this adventure isn't there, just since you mentioned this, only they know how hard it will be. So I guess when you, when you are composing, you yourself, this is, I don't know how to ask this. [unintelligible] What do you envision? The ear, sound-wise, as you are writing something, a work. This may seem like a very naive question. How is your ear working? You know, when you were talking about Ravel--

Aaron Copland It isn't my ear that's working--

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Aaron Copland It's my brain--

Studs Terkel It's your brain that's working. [laughter]

Aaron Copland Well, after all, that's a, that's a--

Studs Terkel That's a trade question.

Aaron Copland Well that's a tough question to answer. I mean if you sat down to write an article--

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Aaron Copland And I asked you [unintelligible] how is your brain working?

Studs Terkel Yes, how is it working?

Aaron Copland I don't know, it's working in a natural way. [laughter] I'd say it comes naturally. [laughter]

Studs Terkel [I think I'm going to?] answer that as the hearing of the music and then we see a brain, and and a heart--

Aaron Copland You see the brain at work, yes.

Studs Terkel And a heart at work, too, in this instance. There was 1 other comment perhaps, and you've been very gracious indeed, Mr. Copland. There's something -- I get a kick out of it: literary men and music writers. And you say, often, they see too much in it. The men who write, men who use words on paper, there was some comment you had made and, is that is that true?

Aaron Copland Yes, I've always been fascinated--

Studs Terkel Yeah.

Aaron Copland With the relation of listening to music to literary people. I think it began that first time I ever went to the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire, where I met poets and writers for the first time, they were there too. And after 2 months of talking with them, I began to get the feeling, these fellows have a curious relationship [laughter] to music, you know? So many of the times when they mention music, and many of them are afraid even to get near the subject, they will connect some word with, let's say a musical instrument, that I or any other musician would never dream of of applying to that particular instrument. It's like having an instinct for saying the wrong thing. [laughter] And deep down I kind of sympathize with them because I can, I have to -- if I think about myself in relation to other art, some, let's say some very advanced bit of modern poetry, I can see how it would be to a professional. I'm liable to associate the wrong thing with some sentence, you know. So that I'm sympathetic, but nevertheless I can see that they feel rather uncomfortable, many of them with music as a subject. And since in their writing they might normally have to mention it in some way, they're very likely to--

Studs Terkel So they-- [unintelligible]

Aaron Copland Make rather serious errors from our, our angle.

Studs Terkel Except for the writers who [renewed?]--

Aaron Copland Except for the few rare ones.

Studs Terkel Like a man like Shaw, say.

Aaron Copland Bernard Shaw or Marcel Proust, had a wonderful instinct for music, and so did Thomas Mann. The sections in "Doctor Faustus" are extraordinary, that have to do with music.

Studs Terkel Now these 3 men of the word, apparently they were so well-versed in the music--

Aaron Copland Well they had a natural feeling for it. Auden, for instance, Wystan Auden has an extraordinary feeling for music.

Studs Terkel But for many others it's a dangerous--

Aaron Copland Yeah. [laughter]

Studs Terkel Listen there were--

Aaron Copland Well some of them you know have never even mentioned the word. I've forgotten my, perhaps Balzac, is one. But there are examples of very famous writers who never touched on music in any way whatever.

Studs Terkel And they're very wise. [laughter] Mr. Copland, Aaron Copland. Composer, writer, critic. Thank you very much, Mr. Copland.

Aaron Copland Thank you.

Studs Terkel Thank you very much. We thought perhaps another aspect of your musical writing, [be your] chamber music. The the clarin- the "Sextet" for strings. Do you mind telling us a bit about this and perhaps we'd hear a passage from this as we're signing off?

Aaron Copland Well it's not signing off music.

Studs Terkel It's not signing -- no no, I say, I use the phrase signing off indefinitely, not- [laughter]

Aaron Copland No I meant in the sense that it was very carefully worked on, and is meant to be heard as an object, as a thing--

Studs Terkel Right.

Aaron Copland In in the complete sense. There are pieces you can play excerpts from of course and adequately represent them perhaps. This doesn't happen to be true of the "Sextet" because though all, it only lasts 15 minutes, I worked on it for about 2 years, with the greatest seriousness. It's for a string quartet, clarinet, and piano. And this particular version by the way is wonderfully performed by the Julliard string quartet.

Studs Terkel Mr. Copland we shall play the 15 minutes of it.

Aaron Copland Well you're very nice. [laughter]

Aaron Copland No, on the contrary, not a -- this is it, this is, I think one point should be made clear, this is no favor to you it's a favor to ourselves. [laughter] And I, it just occurred to me. It's sacrilege isn't the word, but butchery might be the word. To do something in terms of a man's work that is within our framework. And even though the clock might say the show was an hour, if -- it's a baby. [laughter] We don't kill babies, [that's wonderful?]. So as we'll hear the -- would you, do you want to tell us about the "Sextet" that we'll hear in its entirety?

Aaron Copland Well it's a wor- that's wonderful, it's a work that that is in 3 sections played without pause. It's fast, slow, and fast. And it's based on about 2 themes for each movement, let's say 6 main themes in 2, 2, and 2. And I worked on the treatment of the themes very carefully, so that I felt when I was finished with it, well now that's about as good as I can make it. I [unintelligible] it's useless to try and go on because I won't be able to do any better with it. In that sense I think it's one of my most finished pieces, and I'm most satisfied with the formal structure of it. It seems to say what I want to say just as clearly and as concisely, and concise is a key word in that piece, I think, as I could possibly do. I also think it's very typical of the kind of music I was writing in the early '30s. It originally, you know, was for full symphony orchestra, still is. But I made this version for sextet because I couldn't get performances of the darn thing as a, as an orchestral piece, and I knew I could get 6 musicians together. So that was the origin of it.

Studs Terkel Here's a case of practical difficulties leading to a piece of music being what it is, too. [lighter striking]

Aaron Copland Yes, exactly.

Studs Terkel [Here? Hear?] then the "Sextet" for strings in its entirety and without further comment. Thank you very much, Mr. Copland.

Aaron Copland Thank you.