The Aaron Copland Collection ca. 1900-1990

About This Collection

The Copland Letters

 Browse list of correspondence

"The man is in the letters," said Vivian Perlis of Aaron Copland, whose autobiography she helped to write. The online Aaron Copland Collection contains digitized images of over eight hundred letters, postcards, and telegrams from Aaron Copland covering the years from 1921 to 1986. Searchable texts of all published letters, postcards, and telegrams in the collection are also available.

The letters reproduced in the collection represent, though they do not exhaust, the holdings of Copland's correspondence in the Music Division of the Library of Congress. In general they constitute significant runs of letters to people important in Copland's life. (Problems of copyright and volume preclude making letters to Copland available online.) Every attempt has been made to include all the letters in the Music Division that Copland wrote to each correspondent represented, the one exception being the letters to Harold Spivacke, which constitute only a part of Copland's voluminous and largely business-related correspondence with the Music Division's former chief.

These letters come from many collections in the Music Division. Besides material from the Aaron Copland Collection, they contain material from the Leonard Bernstein Collection, the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Collection, the Jacobo Ficher Collection, the Irving Fine Collection, the Louis Kaufman Collection, the Serge Koussevitzky Collection, the Modern Music Archives, the Walter Piston Collection, the Nicolas Slonimsky Collection, the William Strickland Collection, and the papers of the Joint Army and Navy Committee on Welfare and Recreation, Sub-Committee on Music.

The letters Copland wrote that are in the Copland Collection proper came back to him in various ways. He inherited his letters to his parents after their deaths. In the 1970s, when he began to think of writing his autobiography, he asked several of his friends and colleagues to send him photocopies of his letters. Some replied with photocopies, some by returning the letters themselves. Some responded with many letters, some with just a few.

Copland seldom made carbons copies of his outgoing correspondence. The few periods in his life for which the Copland Collection is rich in carbon copies are the brief intervals when he had a secretary: in 1943 while working on the film The North Star; during his South American tour in 1947; in the fall of 1958 when he was staying in London and presumably was provided with a secretary by his publisher, Boosey & Hawkes. Because they were obviously dictated to a secretary, these letters have the flavor of Copland's post-1940 correspondence but are not particularly trenchant, lacking the distinctive qualities that came forth when Copland himself sat down to write.


The following individuals are the major correspondents represented in the letters portion of this online collection. They are listed with the source collection for Copland's letters to them or, in the case of material in the Copland Collection itself, with an indication of whether the letters are originals or photocopies.

Arthur Berger (Copland Collection; photocopy). The online collection contains a single letter to this writer of the first book-length study of Copland; it is perhaps the most evocative of Copland's letters describing his Mexican visits.

Leonard Bernstein (Bernstein Collection). Copland's protégé in the late 1930s and early 1940s, Bernstein became one of the leading champions and interpreters of Copland's music.

Nadia Boulanger (Copland Collection; originals). Copland's principal teacher and mentor. His Nonet is dedicated to her.

Paul Bowles (Copland Collection; originals). Composer and novelist. The two letters in the Copland Collection seem to have been part of a voluminous and regular correspondence.

Benjamin Britten (Copland Collection; photocopies). English composer. The first set of Old American Songs was written for Britten and his collaborator Peter Pears. Britten's side of the correspondence is published in Donald Mitchell et al., eds., Letters from a Life: The Selected Letters and Diaries of Benjamin Britten, 1913-1976 (2 vols., Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991).

Carlos Chávez (Copland Collection; photocopies). Mexican composer; one of Copland's principal composer friends. As a conductor, Chávez performed Copland's Short Symphony when American conductors had declared it unperformable. Chávez's side of the correspondence and slightly abridged versions of Copland's letters are published in Spanish translation in Gloria Carmona, ed., Epistolario selecto de Carlos Chávez (México: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1989).

Israel Citkowitz (Copland Collection; originals). Citkowitz was a slightly younger composer (1909-1974), gifted in song and chamber music, for whom Copland had high hopes. The online collection contains all Copland's letters to Citkowitz in the Copland Collection.

Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge (Coolidge Collection). American patron of chamber music. She commissioned from Copland (and thus had dedicated to her) Appalachian Spring and the Piano Quartet.

Jacobo Ficher (Ficher Collection). Argentinian composer. Copland's letters to him document his interest in South American music.

Irving and Verna Fine (Irving Fine Collection). Irving Fine was a composer and younger colleague of Copland whose choral arrangements of several of Copland's Old American Songs have given them a life as choral works. Copland shared houses with Irving and Verna Fine for several summers at Tanglewood. After Irving Fine's death in 1962 Copland continued to be supportive of Verna Fine, and his letters to her retain warmth and sparkle to the end of his letter-writing years. Copland dedicated "Sleep Is Supposed to Be," one of the two central songs of his Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson, to Irving Fine. The Irving Fine Collection also contains letters from Copland to Verna Fine's mother, Florence Rudnick, in whose Boston apartment he sequestered himself to write In the Beginning.

Serge, Natalie, and Olga Koussevitzky (Koussevitzky Collection). Serge Koussevitzky, conductor of the Boston Symphony from 1924 to 1949, was the first performer to champion Copland's music in America and remained a supporter of Copland (and of many other American composers) until his death. Copland, in turn, was a major help to Koussevitzky from 1940 on in the running of the Berkshire Music Festival at Tanglewood. Copland's letters to Koussevitzky's first wife, Natalie, are, for the most part, social; his letters to Koussevitzky's second wife, Olga (Olga Naumoff, Koussevitzky's secretary, until 1947), concern the running of Tanglewood. Copland's Third Symphony is dedicated "To the memory of Natalie Koussevitzky."

Minna Lederman (Modern Music Archives). Lederman was editor of the journal of the League of Composers, Modern Music, which was published from 1924 to 1946. Copland was a major contributor to the magazine and a trusted advisor to Lederman.

Marcelle de Manziarly (Copland Collection; originals). French composer, Boulanger student. Copland dedicated "Heart, We Will Forget Him," the fifth of his Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson, to de Manziarly.


Olga Naumoff: see Serge, Natalie, and Olga Koussevitzky.

Walter Piston (Piston Collection). American composer. The body of Piston's correspondence is in the Boston Public Library; the one letter in this online collection represents the small but important collection of letters to Piston from the years 1931-55 that is in the Music Division of the Library of Congress.

Florence Rudnick: see Irving and Verna Fine.

Roger Sessions (Copland Collection; photocopies) American composer; co-producer with Copland of the Copland-Sessions Concerts during the years 1928-31.

Nicolas Slonimsky (Slonimsky Collection; some early letters in the Koussevitzky Collection). Musical polymath. During most of the period in which Copland corresponded with him he was musical secretary to Koussevitzky; the jokey letters to the incorrigibly humorous Slonimsky serve to balance Copland's oh-so-serious letters to Koussevitzky himself.

Harold Spivacke (Coolidge Collection; Joint Army and Navy Committee on Welfare and Recreation, Sub-Committee on Music). Chief of the Music Division of the Library of Congress, 1937-1972. Spivacke's tact and unflappable serenity kept the commissioning of Appalachian Spring on course.

William Strickland (Strickland Collection). American conductor. Some of the letters in this online collection are concerned with Strickland's editorship of the H. W. Gray organ series, for which Copland wrote his Episode.

"The man is in the letters." It might then seem as though a collection of more than eight hundred letters, postcards, and telegrams from Aaron Copland would give a complete portrait of the man and the composer. However, users of this online collection should remember that these letters represent only the holdings of the Music Division of the Library of Congress. At least equally important are Copland's letters to Virgil Thomson (at Yale University); Claire Reis and William Schuman (at the New York Public Library); Howard Clurman, David Diamond, and Walter Piston (at the Boston Public Library); and several others. To each of his correspondents Copland shows a slightly different aspect of his personality, so the letters in this online collection provide a detailed self-portrait if not a complete one.