The Aaron Copland Collection ca. 1900-1990

About This Collection

The Copland Writings

 Browse list of Writings

Aaron Copland was best known first as a composer and later, in the 1960s and '70s, as a conductor. His name is less frequently associated with literary endeavors. The Writings portion of the Aaron Copland Collection suggests that in this respect his reputation should perhaps be revised: it includes a vast array of articles, lectures, speeches, book drafts, and radio and television commentaries that span the years 1925 to 1988. The long stream of Copland's literary efforts began with an article written for publication in 1925, shortly after his return to the United States from three years in Paris, and continued into the late 1970s and early 1980s. He displayed the same technique in his writings that he did in his music: that is, a frequent self-borrowing in which he used the same material in different media.

The writings selected for this online collection comprise eighty-six items. The selections represent unpublished drafts of material for articles, lectures, and speeches. Some selections display Copland's literary processes in thoughtful revisions, word changes, rearranging, and other editorial techniques. He usually began with handwritten notes or drafts and proceeded through several typewritten drafts before creating a final unmarked typewritten version. (Example: "A Visit to Snape," Version 2 and Version 3 ) Not every literary work in the Aaron Copland Collection illustrates this transformation, however. The lectures and speeches display another aspect of Copland's literary endeavors: the fact that he underscored almost every word in red or blue pencil. Because he probably made these markings to help him deliver his speeches, they recapture something of the sound as well as the thought of his vocal presentations. They also add a colorful element to the handwritten and typed drafts.

Like many conductors, Copland used a similar device in his conducting scores, where red and blue pencil markings draw the eye to changes in time signature, dynamics, and the entrances of instruments. [Example: "Talk on Leonard Bernstein"]

Whatever their intended uses, the online examples of Copland's unpublished writings can be grouped into four categories: autobiographical, about Copland's music, about other composers, and about other people.

The two autobiographical titles contrast the esoteric concerns of "Music and the Human Spirit", in which Copland addresses "the creation of an art music" as one of "humanity's truly unique achievements," with the practicality of "The Composer as Conductor" in which he recalls that "Some twenty years ago, during the course of a memorable evening at the Stravinskys' home in Los Angeles, the venerable maestro turned to me and said in no uncertain terms: 'My dear, you should conduct your own music. All composers should conduct their own music!'"

The writings about Copland's music highlight eleven of Copland's compositions in five different media. Writings on two ballets describe his collaboration with Martha Graham (Appalachian Spring) and his work with Lincoln Kirstein on the story for Billy the Kid, ("About Billy the Kid" and "Notes on a Cowboy Ballet"). Copland discusses the creation of his three major solo piano works, Piano Fantasy", "Piano Sonata," and "Piano Variations," in two different lectures under the title Compositional Phases [on My Three Piano Works]." An article about the 1925 orchestral work Music for the Theatre summarizes the reaction of audiences, musicians, and reviewers in the United States and Europe, including the performance by the New York Symphony Orchestra in which its conductor, Dr. Walter Damrosch, had "revenge in the end." Copland wrote A Visit to Snape for a tribute to Benjamin Britten on his fiftieth birthday; in it, he extols the "kind of composer rapport" between them and the "exchange of musical impressions" between his own "The Second Hurricane" and Britten's Piano Concerto No. 1.

As the composer of several film scores, Copland was frequently asked to lecture or write about composing for the movies. In his discussions on the subject, Copland speaks not only about his experiences and the scores he wrote, but about other film composers and working in Hollywood. In "Film Music", a lecture given at the Museum of Modern Art Film Library in 1940, Copland briefly describes Hollywood and the mysterious nature of film music. He talks about the music he wrote for the film Of Mice and Men; four film composers, Eric Korngold, Max Steiner, Alfred Newman, and Herbert Stoddard; and some of their film scores. By the time he gave the lecture "Film Talk" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1971, Copland's credentials as a film composer included six feature films and two documentaries. On that occasion, excerpts from three features (Something Wild, The Red Pony, and The Heiress) and one documentary (The City) were screened as he commented on how music may help a film and how one sets music to a film.

The largest category of writings in this online collection centers on Copland's views about other composers. In these works, Copland speaks not only about his American contemporaries but about Mozart ("At the Thought of Mozart"), Berlioz ("Berlioz - from the Composer's Standpoint"), and Pierre Boulez; Composers in Russia and the Composers of South America; Michael Tippett ("Cousin Michael"), Darius Milhaud, Dmitri Shostakovitch ("Dmitri Shostakovitch and the New Simplicity"), Gabriel Fauré, Franz Liszt, Gustav Mahler ("Mahler (XX Cent[ury]"), Igor Stravinsky, Serge Prokofieff [Sergey Prokofiev] ("On the Occasion of the 70th Birthday of Serge Prokofieff") , Benjamin Britten ("Special Fondness for B.B. [Benjamin Britten]") , and Zoltán Kodály. Copland was concerned above all with educating others about composers and their music, and in these writings he sometimes presents his personal viewpoints and reflections. At the National Arts Club in 1968, for example, he spoke about Leonard Bernstein's gifts and how it was "impossible to imagine the American musical scene in the last quarter century without him." [Example: "LB"]

As Copland lived on through the century, he was asked to write celebratory epistles or obituaries about many of his contemporaries, whether they were composers or others who had influenced his life. These writings about other people offer Copland's portraits of his Parisian teacher, Nadia Boulanger ("Intro[duction] of N[adia] Boulanger as Teacher"); his early theory teacher, Rubin Goldmark ("Rubin Goldmark: A Tribute"); his publisher, Ralph Hawkes ("Ralph Hawkes: In Memoriam") ; his friend and colleague at the League of Composers, Claire Reis; and his long-time supporter, the conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Serge Koussevitzky ("Serge Koussevitzky - The 100th Anniversary [unpublished writings]"). "It is almost forty years since first I rang the bell at Nadia Boulanger's Paris apartment . . . " begins the 1960 tribute to his teacher, ("The Teacher: Nadia Boulanger"), the person who was most influential in molding and forming the composer Aaron Copland.