Upbeat in Music

In a democracy at war, the cultural values of a young and vigorous nation can and must be preserved.

The closing lines of Upbeat in Music echo the rising nationalist sentiment that permeated America in the 1940s. This film, originally premiered in 1943 catalogues the musical year. And if one quote can sum up America’s musical life in the middle of World War II, it is certainly the one listed above. Upbeat in Music is a short documentary  put together by newsreel makers, the March of Time. This year, 1943, in particular is compelling. America was in the middle of World War II and the nation’s sole preoccupation was establishing a strong national identity. Music was not spared from this endeavor. In fact, music is perhaps one of the great definers on American musical identity. This short film while attempting to discuss only 1943 ended up encapsulating the spirit of American Music as a whole in a few key ways.

Committee determining “Hit-Kit” songs

First, the entire film is preoccupied with the definition of “American” sound. To be fair, the film was made during a time of increasing nationalist fervor. World War II was in full swing and music was not be be exempt from the military industrial complex.  In fact, the film points out throughout WWII the US Government printed in “hit kits” (books of five American songs and one song by an Allied Nation) that would be given to soldiers in the field. What got to go inside of the hit-kits was hotly contested. So much so that the government formed Music Committees of msuicians and impresarios like Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, and Paul Whiteman to determine which pieces of music were “American” enough to be included. At this crucial time in history, it became incredibly important that America establish a cohesive musical identity. And the most American way to establsih and American musical identity is certainly through the formation of a government committee.

Even after the reel moves on from talking about World War 2, it continues to emphasize a true “American” sound. The reel describes the efforts of American composers to create Americna works, referring to the compositions of Duke Ellington, Virgil Thomson, and Aaron Copland. Later, the video goes on to describe the way the Jukebox is changing the music industry and discusses the way musicians are struggling to maintain credit for (and therefore profit from) their work. This struggle reflects a another aspect of American music as a whole: the duality of the musician both as an artist and businessperson. The film spends a great deal of time talking about Serge Koussevitsky and the BSO and acknowledging the Metropolitan Opera and several large symphony orchestras as both important business and important artistic forces.

The last section of the film focused heavily on popular music, pointing out that the American musical landscape is predominantly molded by the desires of a white, middle class market. This too is present throughout all of American music hisotry, the idea of capitalism and music coinciding. The presence of these sentiments from a documentary in the 1940s only proves that markets for music have been driving forces behind musical development in America long before the new millenium.

The film discusses the growing importance of jazz and recognizes the importance of Marion Anderson‘s recordings of spirituals as well, only briefly touching on the subject. While the film does discuss composers like Duke Ellington and performers like Anderson, it is also important to not the racist overtones that permeate the work. Nearly every person in the film is white, and when Ellington was brought up, through praised for his work in jazz, he was contrasted against “serious” composers like Copland and Thomson. Paul Whiteman was considered to be the standard bearer for jazz when it came to determining what should go into the “hit-kits” rather than someone like Duke Ellington who had a great deal of experience in the subject. In fact, no person of color was allowed on the “hit-kits” committee. As I said earlier, this film succeeds in painting a complete picture of American music history, and that history includes racism.

The film closes with the patriotic images of young soldiers giving recitals and the reminder that “In a democracy at war, the cultural values of a young and vigorous nation can and must be preserved”. For a nation at war, the preservation and definition of musical culture was of utmost importance. Upbeat in Music serves both as a time capsule and as an example of the major themes in American musical history. It is an invaluable insight into the ways music interacts with politics, culture, and economics as well as the way we talk about and research music.

 

Sources

Crawford, Richard. America’s Musical Life: A History. New York: W.W. Norton, 2005.

March of Time Archive

 

The Bromance of Carlos Chávez and Aaron Copland

Aaron Copland (back) and Carlos Chavez (front).

Aaron Copland and Carlos Chávez have an odd relationship, most notably in the similarities with their education and career paths. Robert L. Parker states in his article Copland and Chávez: Brothers-in-Arms, “there is no logical reason why their careers should have been so alike,”1 however alike they were and because of those similarities it seems they became each others best friend, at least in their respective music circles. After their initial meeting in the early 1930’s, the two exchanged many letters as well as promoted each others works in their respective  countries. It began with Copland through his ten concerts in the Copland-Sessions where Chávez’ works were performed in New York, London, and Paris. Soon after, Chavez accepted a post in Mexico as music director of the Orquesta Sinfónica de México where he was then in the position to return the favor to Copland.

However, for the purposes of this class, the importance of this friendship is about more than their similarities in character, education, and career. In 1934, Chávez wrote the following to Copland,

We had this summer a lot of Honegger, Hindemith, etc. etc. stuff here, and let me tell you that there are simple unbearable for me, that are artificial, full of literature, bad literature, and worse possible taste, I cannot stand them any more, they should shut up for ever, so much the better…

I find this personal comment on European literature rather funny. So much of our conversations in class contribute the sense of “high class” music to European culture and styles. Yet, here Copland and Chávez are seeing it as bad, almost grotesque by Chávez’ description. Chávez goes on to say the following:

… I got the Little Symphony [sic]; and let me tell you what I thought: well, here is the real thing, here is our music, my music, the music of our time, of my taste, of my culture, here it is as a simple and natural fact of my own self, as everything belonging to oneself is simple and natural.2

From this I was able to conclude on two things. One, that Coplands and Chávez’ musical tastes derive from their sense of “American Music.” (I am using this term to categorize both North and Central American Music) Although they live in two different countries, they both derive their music from folk traditions that are geographically very close to one-another. This likely contributed to their distaste in the aforementioned composers pieces.

Two, Chávez makes a very conniving argument on the authenticity of music. So much of our class is trying to define authentic music, understanding that we likely never can. However, when music is composed with respect to the origins of its inspiration, the music belongs to itself, simply and naturally. The physical, educational, or cultural background of the composer is less important when he or she is composing out of respect to their sources. If we can allow of that mindset, then the music begins to define itself, not the composer.

 

1 Robert L. Parker, Copland and Chávez: Brother-in-Arms (Illinois, University of Illinois Press, 1987), 433.

2 Howard Pollack, Aaron Copland: The Life and Works of an Uncommon Man (New York, Henry Holt and Company, 1999), 222.

Sources

  1. Parker, Robert L. “Copland and Chávez: Brothers-in-Arms.” American Music 5, no. 4 (1987): 433-44. doi:10.2307/3051451.
  2. Pollack, Howard. Aaron Copland : The Life and Work of an Uncommon Man. 1st ed. New York: Henry Holt, 1999.
  3. Schaal, Eric. Aaron Copland and Carlos Chávez. , . Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/copland.phot0014/. (Accessed November 06, 2017.)

Copland’s El Salón México

This letter from Leonard Bernstein was sent to Aaron Copland in October of 1938. The letter was written in response to Copland’s El Salón México.

It is important to note the effect that Copland’s piece had on Bernstein and how it reflects views of music during the time. One of the first things that Bernstein mentions is how Copland’s music got stuck in his head. He is also able to easily notate the opening theme of El Salón México. This goes to show that Copland accomplished music writing that was simple enough to be remembered, and he incorporated themes that would recognizable.

Bernstein acknowledges that he admires Copland’s work and calls him a “master in America.” Copland’s simplified style of this time period is well-known as Copland’s own sound as well as an American sound. Copland was working to move contemporary composition from appealing to a select few towards appealing to the masses. It seems that Copland accomplished this with the success of El Salón México and other works. In fact, Elizabeth B. Crist argues that Copland’s El Salón México was able to project political ideologies onto the concert public.

Crist acknowledges that, the ideological dimensions of Copland’s works have been generally lost within the music’s enduring success, obscured by the legacy of anticommunist historiography and its formalist reification of art.” Bernstein focuses on Copland’s technique and the “solid sureness of that construction.” This makes me wonder more about Copland’s other non-musical intentions.

A recording of Leonard Bernstein conducting Copland’s El Salón México:

Sources

Crawford, Richard. America’s Musical Life. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001.

Crist, Elizabeth B. “Aaron Copland and the Popular Front.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 56, no. 2 (Summer 2003): 409–465.

Pollack, Howard. “Copland, Aaron.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed November 7, 2017, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/06422.

Simeone, Nigel, ed. The Leonard Bernstein Letters. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2013.

Yaddo Festival Brings Music of Copland and Ives Together

During the 1930s, amidst the Great Depression and the American modernist movement, works by two of the most well-recognized American composers were performed in the same place in the same weekend. The First Festival of Contemporary American Music, held at the Yaddo estate in Saratoga Springs, NY featured a weekend of music programmed largely by Aaron Copland. Included in the Sunday afternoon concert were seven pieces from Charles Ives’ “114 Songs.”1

In this letter included in The Selected Correspondence of Aaron Copland, Copland writes to Ives to gain approval to perform these works as part of the festival and to obtain scores to begin work. Although Copland does not overtly mention why he has chosen to include Ives’ pieces in the festival, the editors propose that Copland included Ives’ pieces to provide historical background for the more contemporary pieces on the program.2

Ives’ art songs performed at Yaddo, a few of which are included here, marked a turning point in his reception among critics. Critic Paul Rosenfield wrote of sensing “the presence of a first-rate composer of Lieder in the ranks of American Music.”3 The festival, while giving voice to numerous contemporary composers of the time, also served as a chance for Copland to moderate a forum between critics and young composers, greatly benefiting the reputation of Ives’ compositions while simultaneously making Copland out to be exceedingly disapproving of the way journalists impacted contemporary music.4

Although Copland’s preferences for simple, easy-to-understand music which we discussed in class last week seemed in conflict with Ives’ ultra-modernist “push-the-envelope” styles, it’s enlightening to see that parts of both composers came together successfully in the Yaddo Festival. While there are many things that set these composers apart, it still is important to note that they were able to appreciate one another for the contributions they were making in a period of economic turmoil and financial hardship for a majority of the United States.

Copland and Bernstein: two friends with diverging viewpoints on ‘American music’

 

Copland and Bernstein working together

It is no secret that Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland were great friends. Even though I had heard this going into my research, I had no idea to what extent the level of mutual investment and encouragement was! I was astounded and quite honestly touched to find the amount of loving correspondence that I did between the two composers. While there are extensive works devoted to both of their respective correspondences, I was particularly interested in a letter written by Copland to Bernstein that addresses their different viewpoints on American music.

In this letter, written December 7, 1938, Copland writes Bernstein with advice on Bernstein’s senior thesis at Harvard, which explores nationalism in American composition. His thesis, completed in 1939, is entitled “The Absorption of Race Elements into American Music,” in which he proposes a new American nationalism — one that is defined by the way in which the composer blends their own heritage with “Negro” and “New England” musical traditions, as these form the “sociological backbone of the country.”1

1938 correspondence from Copland to Bernstein

In all of the correspondence I’ve read between the two, Copland shows his affection for Bernstein while also giving “grandfatherly advice,” as he calls it in this particular letter. His advice regarding Bernstein’s thesis in the letter at hand is as follows:

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because a Gilbert used Negro material, there was therefore nothing American about it. There’s always a chance it might have an ‘American’ quality despite its material.

This comment made me curious — what was Bernstein’s assertion about Gilbert, and who was this Gilbert anyway?

It turns out Henry F. Gilbert (1868-1928) was a composition student of Mcdowell’s, and was particularly interested in African-American music. Bernstein cites Gilbert’s Comedy Overture on Negro Themes and The Dance in the Place Congo in his thesis to make claims about American music. He asserts that these pieces contribute to the nationalistic process beginning in 1900, a process inspired by Dvorak’s New World Symphony, by engaging in artificial representation where “new indigenous materials were merely imposed upon an otherwise neutral kind of musical scheme.” Bernstein writes that despite Gilbert being a “sensitive and sound musician,” the way in which he incorporates ‘Negro’ material in his works is not American. 1
Here is a recording of Gilbert’s Comedy Overture on Negro Themes:

He complicates the definition of American music further when he categorizes the slow and lyrical sections of  the Comedy Overture on Negro Themes as European. He even writes that “There is no consequential development emerging inevitably from the thematic ideas themselves; there is no basic American “feeling.””1
So he is in fact defining American music by its
sound, which leaves me rather confused. Copland rather encourages him to look beyond the material, demonstrating that Copland has a much broader view of American music. He remarks that:

Composing in this country is still pretty young no matter how you look at it.

Copland has open arms when it comes to American compositions — an attitude which Bernstein does not share at this point in his life.

Note: The two were 18 years apart but died just 2 months apart — Bernstein at 72 and Copland at 90.

Sources

  1. Bernstein, Findings. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1982.
  2. Copland, Aaron. Aaron Copland to Leonard Bernstein, December 7, 1938. In The Selected Correspondence of Aaron Copland, edited by Elizabeth B Crist and Wayne Shirley. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2006.

A Copland in Paris finds American sound

I grew up on a farm. I have a recognizable Minnesota accent. I only call it “duck duck grey duck.”

These are not things I would have described as distinctive about myself as I was growing up. This is because I was surrounded by it. I felt no need to assert it as part of my identity – everyone around me also possessed these factors of identity. However, when I came to St. Olaf, a school where I am often surrounded by students from Oregon, New Jersey, Texas, and even other countries, my friends and peers informed me just how identifying these things about me are. I went to a place where I was no longer surrounded by people from my same background, and people pointed out things about me that made me distinctive to them. That made me all the more aware of my identity.

Similarly, in post-WWI America, Copland found himself studying in a new place entirely surrounded by something different: Paris. He grew up in New York at the turn of the century, the son of Russian immigrants, and he was thoroughly surrounded by the American soundscape. When he arrived in Paris, excited and determined to learn and make a living, he began working with Nadia Boulanger, respected and revered composer at the time.

Image result for Aaron Copland nadia boulanger

Unlike Virgil Thomson, who pursued American music sound after being rejected from the Parisian music scene (saying it would be better to try and cultivate American sound than try to even break into the European scene), Copland turned to the American sound at the strong encouragement of his teacher, Nadia Boulanger.

One of the other students working in this class, Brandon Cash, also posted on this topic in 2015. Cash successfully outlines the strong relationship between Boulanger and Copland, especially highlighting the doors she opened for him in meeting other composers.

Compositionally, too, Boulanger’s abstract approach to jazz, which removed it from its cultural context and saw it as a purely compositional force, carried on into Copland’s work.

Image result for Aaron Copland nadia boulanger

Source: Library of Congress

However, it is important to understand her importance in Copland’s development not as a middle woman between him and Stravinsky, for example, but as a valuable contributor in her own right. She encouraged him to define his American sound – otherwise he would crash and burn. Her blunt, heavily honest advice drove him to really define what he was trying to achieve in creating “American” music. Most importantly, she helped him realize that he had a unique identity in being American and having American sound, so he needed to focus and cultivate that. Like me, he didn’t realize he had certain distinctive aspects of his identity until he was in an entirely different place and someone else told him.

It is ironic that the vessel through which he found his American sound is in a Western European country. However, this is not surprising, given that the outside view of American music can give valuable insight just as the view from within. Boulanger did, indeed, encourage him to listen to other composers’ works, and after he heard Milhaud, Stravinsky, Ravel, and Debussy dabble in Jazz, he incorporated it into several of his works. These include Rondino, Symphony for Organ and Orchestra, Music for the Theater, Dance Symphony, and Piano Concerto.

Below, these letters show Copland’s excitement at being in Paris and finding success and his correspondence with Nadia Boulanger.

Letter from Nadia Boulanger to Aaron Copland

Letter from Copland to Boulanger

Letter from Copland to his parents detailing his excitement at selling his first two compositions in Paris

Carole Jean Harris, “The French connection: The neoclassical influence of Stravinsky, through Boulanger, on the music of Copland, Talma and Piston.” State University of New York at Buffalo, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2002.

Annegret Fauser, “Aaron Copland, Nadia Boulanger, and the Making of an “American” Composer.” The Musical Quarterly, Volume 89, Issue 4, 1 December 2006, Pages 524–554.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jazz as a Diversifier at St. Olaf

Benny Goodman

Knowing little about past artists St. Olaf has brought to campus, I set about my research seeing if any of the few jazz artists I know had ever performed on campus. One of my favorite being Benny Goodman, I began there. Although he never did perform on campus, and his name did not result in many articles, I did find a few important ones that expand on previous posts in this blog. In this post in particular, I will be adding to what Noah Livingston discussed this week as well on diversity within the music department at St. Olaf College.

Kristi McGee, a senior in 1989-90, wrote a strong letter explaining her reasoning for St. Olaf desperately needing a Jazz program in its curriculum. Whereas Noah’s found article seems to have a focus on the lack of diverse students at St. Olaf, McGee focuses on the musical and political benefits in relation to the college that a jazz program would bring.

Politically, McGee states that it is odd that the college does not have a jazz program implemented:

It seems ironic that an institution such as St. Olaf with high aspirations, and goals of diversification has not implemented a formal Jazz program. The emphasis on sacred and choral music and the disregard of other important musical genres, mainly Jazz, perpetuates St. Olaf’s image as a homogeneous, conservative, and conformists institution.

Any college cannot advocate for diverse student body while maintaining a conservative mindset on any matter, and although the college today is very open to dialogue, discussion, and change, it is evident through many of this blogs post that St. Olaf was not always accepting of opposing viewpoints. It appears that in the late 80’s and early 90’s, St. Olaf was in flux as it seeked to gather a larger diverse student body. Though it wished to accept new perspectives, it was not ready to let go of more traditional views on western music forms and what was considered art music and popular music.

To support her argument that jazz music is just as influential as other traditional musical genres, McGee list many influential artists and composers of jazz, and then proceeded to

Copland Clarinet Concerto, preformed by Benny Goodman, conducted by Aaron Copland, 1963.

explain how contemporary composers such as Ravel and Stravinsky had jazz influence their work. The example I will be using is Benny Goodman and how he influenced Aaron Copland’s Clarinet Concerto.

Goodman is a jazz and clarinet legend, and is considered the “king of swing.” His style and work as a clarinetist and as a band leader went on to influence a multitude of other artists and composers. This includes Aaron Copland and his Clarinet Concerto. Although it is now a standard of the classical clarinet repertoire, Copland’s Concerto was inspired by jazz techniques and Benny Goodman’s own playing.

McGee goes on to describe, in her own way, that to acknowledge jazz in an academic way would be to elevate it to a similar status that the school holds its coral and traditional western music to, which would then better acknowledge the work of the African American and other diverse American population that were instrument in creating and defining the one music style that is original to the United States, jazz.

Sources

Copland, Warfield, Goodman, Warfield, William, Goodman, Benny, Copland, Aaron, and Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Performer. Concerto for Clarinet and String Orchestra : With Harp and Piano. Old American Songs [sets 1 and 2]., 1963.

McGee, Kristi. “Jazz program desperately needed in music department.” Manitou Messenger, 06 Oct. 1989, pp. 5.

jazclarinetist. “Benny Goodman – Copland Concerto for Clarinet and String Orchestra.” YouTube, YouTube, 28 Mar. 2012, www.youtube.com/watch?v=PmMFL1zZ-tU.

Romanticizing the West

800px-Colorado_-_Branding_Calves_c._1900William Henry Jackson was tasked with exploring and surveying the American West at a time when America was expanding and the Manifest Destiny was still at the forefront of American ideology. Over his life of 99 years, Jackson became famous for his work with photochrom, such as the photo to the left from around 1900.[1] The branding of a calf is posed as a fairly leisurely activity, as a few of the characters stand around looking at their corral of cattle and the wide open space available to them in the West. Working for the government, Jackson often took exploration trips to photograph scenery along railroad routes and with his photography of beautiful natural landmarks, he even convinced Congress to create Yellowstone National Park. With photos like these, that show a decent life on the frontier and human’s domination over nature, Jackson’s narrow lens paints a Romantic image of the west, sure to keep out the fact that many Native Americans were displaced as a result.

Just as Jackson’s work had a lot to do with the image of the West to the rest of America, composers such as Virgil Thomson and Aaron Copland composed the sounds of the Western frontier, though 30 years later and for nostalgia instead of Manifest Destiny. In Virgil Thomson’s The Plow that Broke the Plains, a film made by the Works Progress Administration in 1936, the cattle are represented by this music.[2]

Doesn’t sound similar to this music from Aaron Copland’s Rodeo from 1942?[3]

The common folk song between the two is called “Old Paint,” a paint being a spotted horse, and the song said to be a common song sung by the cowboys of the west during their night shifts of protecting the cattle. Here cowboy folk music, again excluding Native Americans, is drawn on to paint what sounds like a lackadaisical and relaxed picture of the West. This is a nostalgic, romanticized reflection of cowboy culture much like Jackson’s romantic view of the West. The extent to which this relaxed cowboy life was a reality or the authenticity with which their folk music was presented in these classical genres is debatable.

For more about early 20th century composers shaping the American West, see this NPR article.

[1] William Jackson, “Colorado-Branding Calves,” photochrom on paper, Flatten Art Museum.

[2] Virgil Thomson, writer, Virgil Thomson: The Plow That Broke the Plains, The River, Conducted by Richard Kapp, Performed by Richard Kapp, Essay, Streaming Audio, Accessed April 28, 2015. http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/378497. 

[3] Aaron Copland writer, Appalachian Spring/Rodeo/Fanfare for the Common Man, Conducted by Louis Lane, Recorded January 1, 1982, Telarc, 1982, Streaming Audio, Accessed April 28, 2015. http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/2129722. 

El Salón México: a Production of Political Ideology?

A few scholars had pointed out that Copland’s music in 1930s-40s was somehow associated with the idea of Pan Americanism. During the promotion of “Good Neighbor Policy” time, not only did Copland serve the government in an official capacity, but he published on Latin American music and composed Latin-American–style works such as El Salon Mexico.

Audiences are pretty sure that Copland’s deep interest in Latin America music absolutely went beyond the “Good Neighbor policy”, but I personally think that Pan Americanist aesthetic ideology actually influenced Copland’s way of composing. Some Argentine critics also pointed out that Copland’s interest in Latin America was largely motivated by his leftist politics, and that this ideology, moreover, permeates the very scores of his Latin- American–themed compositions (Crist 2003). They insisted that various forces had aligned to promote U.S folklore as an emblem of progressive politics.

However, Copland did care about his audience and the music public. It is said that in his memoirs, Copland claimed El Salon Mexico had “started the ball rolling toward the popular success and wide audience I had only just begun to think about.”

20150407001315

Crist, Elizabeth B. “Aaron Copland and the popular front.” (2003): 409-465.

 

To attract the public attention (or promote the belief of Pan Americanism), Copland tried new approaches in his composition. El Salon Mexico uses an abstract ideal of musical logic in favor of a rhapsodic form that emphasizes rhetorical coherence more than structural design. In addition, this one-movement orchestral fantasy features a new accentuation of melody. As the first of Copland’s works to make extensive use of folk song, this composition captures the spirit of the eponymous dance hall by quoting traditional Mexican tunes and evoking such popular musical. For example, it shows how Mexico rhythmic developments are free and always in transition.

20150407012606

Copland, Aaron. “The Story behind My El Salón México.” Tempo, No. 4 (1939):2-4

 

I would think that during Copland’s time, he promoted folklore to Latin American composers while cultivating accessible folkloric elements in his own music- and all these qualities also valued by the government committees on which he served.

 

Works Cited:

Crist, Elizabeth B. “Aaron Copland and the popular front.” (2003): 409-465.

Copland, Aaron. “The Story behind My El Salón México.” Tempo, No. 4 (1939):2-4

Copland – Paris, France in 1921 – His Early Victories

In June of 1921, Aaron Copland sailed to Paris, France to study music composition at the Palais de Fontainebleau. He gained much knowledge and experience with the help of his instructors Paul Vidal and Nadia Boulanger, as well as meeting new comrades like Harold Clurman. These individuals were formative in the early stages of Copland’s composing career and thus left an immense impact on his life and music. During his time in Paris, Copland had a great correspondence with his parents back in the United States.

 Copland in early 1920s

 

One particularly amazing written account of Copland’s early success in Paris is in a letter he wrote to his parents. Merely three months into his stay in Paris, Copland had an opportunity that excited him more than ‘any debut in Carnegie Hall ever could.’ The following shows a portion of his letter to his parents:

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 5.52.58 PM

(Selected correspondence of Aaron copland, p. 39)

 

Copland’s gained great success in Paris very early on in his stay. In the next letter to his parents, he writes of another great victory–he sells his first composition to one of the biggest publishing companies in all of Paris. Copland writes to his parents with a delightful voice, comfortable expressing his unadulterated joy with his loved ones. Readers are lucky to be able to get such a glimpse into an intimate exchange of letters from a composer to his parents. Copland has left such a mark on music history in America, and to be able to read more closely at the details of the beginning of his career is unique and very telling of what he was experiencing in the moment.

At the end of his letter about selling his composition, with a charming tone Copland signs off saying, “So, we have a composer in the Copland family, it seems. Who says there are no more miracles. Lovingly, Aaron.” (Copland, p. 41)

 

Bibliography:

Copland, Aaron. Selected Correspondence of Aaron Copland. New Haven, CT, USA: Yale University Press, 2006. Accessed March 23, 2015. ProQuest ebrary.

Image found at:  http://lcweb2.loc.gov/diglib/media/loc.natlib.copland.phot0020/ver01/0001.tif/225

El Salon Mexico: Copland’s Correspondence with Carlos Chavez

copland and chavez

El Salon Mexico was a highly labored over composition Copland was particularly enthusiastic about writing. Spending over two years on its composition, Copland was in correspondence with Mexican composer Carlos Chavez years before its actual premiere in the Fall of 1937. The correspondence between Copland and Chavez reveals Copland’s strong interest in the pieces reception critically both in terms of popularity but also particularly centered on the acceptance of it as Mexican music.

Copland’s enthusiasm for the piece can be seen in his letter two years before its premiere in a letter from August 28th, 1935:

“Just now I am finishing up the orchestration of El Salon Mexico which I wrote you about last summer. What it would sound like in Mexico I can’t imagine, but everyone here for whom I have played it seems to think it is very gay and amusing!”

This quote reveals both the excitement Copland felt and also his concern over the piece’s reception in Mexico. This concern is more strongly articulated in other letters he wrote to Chavez during the piece’s composition. In October 1934 he wrote that:

“I am terribly afraid of what you will say of he Salon Mexico – perhaps it is not Mexican at all and I would look so foolish. But in America del Norte it may sound Mexican!”

copland letter oct 15 1934

Anxious to hear about the reception of the piece, Copland asked explicitly for Chavez to pass on that information to him in 1937 after he sent the piece to be performed. He writes:

“I hope the Festival will be a big success. Also, that you’ll enjoy working on the Salon Mexico. Be sure to have Armando send me all the reviews – even those of Senor Pollares!”

copland letter may 18 1937

The correspondence between Copland and Chavez provides a fascinating insight into the concerns and enthusiasm that Copland had over the piece and shows that Copland himself was very consciously thinking about the issues of race and musical representation during the composition of his piece. Some interesting questions to ask would be whether or not Copland ought to be writing pieces which he worries are “authentic” only to an audience they do not belong to. Is it reinforcing racial stereotypes if the culture wildly raving the piece as “Mexican” is America? Is Copland advocating the writing of stereotyped pieces? Or is he trying to authentically capture and represent what might constitute as “Mexican music?” Would doing so be a respectful celebration or appropriation of Mexican music? Is Copland’s correspondence with Chavez reveal a genuine desire to please Mexican audiences or to market to American audiences? These are all questions without answers, because that’s what this class is about.

Works Cited:

Kostelanetz, Richard. Aaron Copland: A Reader. Great Britain: Routledge, 2004. Print.

http://lcweb2.loc.gov/diglib/ihas/loc.natlib.copland.phot0005/default.html

 

Nadia Boulanger – The French Woman Behind the American Man

So how exactly did Aaron Copland meet the famed Nadia Boulanger? To be honest, it appears he never wanted to. Well, at least he didn’t think he would. In the summer of 1921, Copland sailed to France to study composition at the American Conservatory, in Fontainebleau where he was “handed over to the head composition teacher of the Paris Conservatoire, Paul Vidal… [a] solidly trained, conservative man, known to the musical world in Paris as one of the top composers of the day— certainly one of the top teachers of the day,” but as Copland put it, “had nothing to tell me that was of interest.”1

Nadia_Boulanger_1925
Nadia Boulanger

So his first teacher wasn’t a roaring success. What about Nadia Boulanger? Boulanger, at the time of Copland’s arrival, taught harmony, and as a subject, he “wasn’t interested in harmony at all. It was old stuff to [him].”2 It took a little persuading from a classmate of his, but Copland finally decided to observe what Boulanger had to offer. When asked about his first encounter, Copland stated “I don’t remember what Boulanger was doing, harmonically speaking, that was so striking. It was more the sense of warmth of the personality that was very striking— and the sense of involvement in the subject— that made it seem much more lively than I ever thought harmony could be— a sudden excitement about it all, and how it was the basis of everything when you really thought about it.”3 Copland, was hooked.

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Copland and Boulanger enjoying dinner together

Nadia Boulanger was described as being “very honest— sometimes brutally honest” yet very open-minded to what her students were doing.  She was, in fact, a French woman who held herself with a “certain reserve,” but at the same time was quite “warm and friendly.”4 After deciding to study with her, despite the fact she was a female (which was “revolutionary” to Copland)5 the life of the young composer would never be the same. Through his relationship with Boulanger, Copland had the opportunity to meet famous composers such as Stravinsky and Poulenc and was even published by Debussy’s own publisher.6 Nadia Boulanger opened countless doors for Copland. As Copland put it, “it was more than a student-teacher relationship.” They were also great friends.

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Copland and Boulanger

 

References:

1 Perlis, Vivian, and Van Cleve, Libby. Composers’ Voices from Ives to Ellington : An Oral History of American Music. New Haven, CT, USA: Yale University Press, 2005. 300.

2 Ibid., 300.

3 Ibid., 301.

4 Ibid., 302.

5 Ibid., 301.

6 Ibid., 303.

Depression Era Changes in American Music: Aaron Copland, Critics, and Music for the People

During the Great Depression, the United States government took action to provide work for the unemployed musicians (70% of American musicians) that had been displaced by falling audience attendance in venues around the country. In 1935, the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Project Number One implemented relief for musicians with the Federal Music Project. The Federal Music Project employed musicians to perform in both concert and folk/dance settings, teach lessons, and conduct musicological research. The Works Progress Administration was the first instance of government funded music in the United States, and this shift in the way the country approached music affected both the music being made and the relationship between composers, audience members, and, as the letter below reveals, critics.1

In the following open letter from Aaron Copland, Copland clarifies the reasons for the intended conference between critics and composers at the Yaddo Music Festival and chastises critics for failing to attend:    Screen shot 2015-03-21 at 6.05.48 PM

Though this letter dates three years prior to the implementation of Federal Project Number One, Copland was already beginning to articulate the changes that were happening in American music. By the mid-1930s, Copland himself was transitioning into his fourth stylistic period which incorporated recognizable melodies into a major-minor tonal system in an effort to garner widespread appeal.2 Copland made the shift from abstract music to accessible music during this period because the Depression made audience appeal a significant factor in composing music. If music was to survive the Depression, it needed an audience to do so. Thus, composers like Copland sought to create music that the general public would deem valuable enough to listen to.

In Copland’s letter, he calls upon critics to play their role in the transmission of music from composer to audience. The following excerpt best captures his frustration with critics for their failure to adapt to–or even recognize the need to adapt to–the changing musical climate of the United States:

Our purpose was the thoroughly serious one of considering the relation between the American composer and the music critic of the daily press and to discover what might be done to make that relation more vital and more important than it now is . . . . [the critic] is an absolute necessity [to the composer], if only because he serves as a middle man between the public and the creative artist. . . . music critics of the daily press will soon come to realize that the position of the American composer has changed, and that he is no longer satisfied with the merely tolerant and often apathetic attitude of the press toward American music in general . . .3

With these words, Copland is saying that the music industry can no longer afford to be neutral towards the role the audience plays. He does not ask critics to manipulate their reviews in order to purvey American music to the public (in the sense of propaganda), but he does encourage them to have more of an opinion about American music, presumably  to incite discussion, curiosity, and even knowledge of American music among potential audience members. Critics were integral to garnering interest for the changing American music scene of the Depression era, and Copland calls on them–as he called upon himself–to ensure that American music would have a lasting future.

Footnotes

1 Richard Crawford,”‘The Birthright of All of Us’: Classical Music, the Mass Media, and the Depression,” in America’s Musical Life: A History (New York: Norton, 2001) 590.

2 Ibid., 587.

3 Aaron Copland, Selected Correspondence of Aaron Copland (New Haven, CT, USA: Yale University Press, 2006), 91.