Library of Congress > Collections with Manuscripts > Aaron Copland Collection


The following articles were originally published in the Schwann record catalog inSchwann-1 Record and Tape Guide. November, 1975:

To honor Aaron Copland on his seventy-fifth birthday the following pieces have been contributed for this issue by some of his closest friends. We are most grateful to them for their instant and enthusiastic cooperation in offering tribute and personal birthday greetings to Aaron Copland, a great American composer. It is with great pleasure that we add our own warmest good wishes on this happy occasion.

-- William Schwann

  • Tribute to Aaron Copland

    by Nadia Boulanger
    Teacher-Director of the American Conservatory of Music, Fontainebleau.

  • My Friend Aaron

    by Harold Clurman
    Theatre director and critic who has been a close friend of Mr. Copland for over fifty years.

  • A Wise and Trusted Friend

    by Olga Koussevitzky
    Director of the Koussevitzky Music Foundation, widow of Serge Koussevitzky, who was Music Director of the Boston Symphony for twenty-five years and conductor of many Copland premières.

  • A 75th Birthday Tribute

    by William Schuman
    American composer and former President of the Juilliard School of Music and of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

  • Aaron and Moses

    by Leonard Bernstein
    American Composer, and Conductor Laureate of the New York Philharmonic.

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A Wise and Trusted Friend

By Olga Koussevitzky

Aaron Copland was the first American composer I met on arrival to Boston from Paris in the fall of 1929, and I recall Serge Koussevitzky's words of introduction: "This is Aaron Copland--remember the name: You will hear a great deal of him and of his music. . . ." And, indeed, I have. Memorable are the early years of strong opposition to Copland's music by the older generation of our Boston Symphony subscribers. But stronger still was Koussevitzky's faith in the composer and determination to "fight for a winning cause!…"

The early '40s marked the beginning of a new "strategy," when Koussevitzky handed to Copland the conducting "baton" (the "baguette" as he then referred to it), urging the composer to "try out" in rehearsal one of his works scheduled for a future performance with the Boston Symphony Orchestra--(one wonders if this first conducting experience still lingers in the composer's memory!).

Today, in this his seventy-fifth birthday year, Aaron Copland is internationally honored for his lasting contribution to music as composer, conductor, pianist, lecturer and author of world stature. Personally, through the years, I have learned to know and admire Aaron as a wise and trusted friend. I value his unfailing concern and advice as vice-chairman of the "Koussevitzky Music Foundation"--the "Koussevitzky Legacy," dedicated by the founder to award annual commissions to composers on a wide international basis; gratefully I recall the initial, arduous summers at Copland's chairmanship of the Composition Department at Tanglewood--the Koussevitzky "dream" of long years.

Indeed, these are years to bring to mind the thought expressed in the past century by Robert Schumann: . . . "Music is that wondrous thing that takes you to the point of the infinite and lets you gaze at it. . . ."

Today, we honor an American composer born at the outset of our turbulent century. We gaze at his music and his contribution to the world of music, at large, with a new awareness--wondrous and lasting!

Thus, from the depth of my heart, I join in the birthday tribute to our own Aaron Copland!

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Aaron and Moses

By Leonard Bernstein

I have known Aaron Copland for half of his lifetime, and loved him all those years. I have known his music for even longer than that, and have loved it with equal constancy. But critics and colleagues have been writing about the man-and-his-music for even longer, for half a century, in depth and out of it. And so, at this seventy-fifth milestone, I find myself shying away from the perquisite Tribute; such panegyrics are streaming in by the dozens. We are about to be saturated with Coplandiana on the Lincolnesque, the homespun, charming, plain-spoken, youthful, kindly, humorous, energetic, affectionate Aaron. We shall be hearing enough, and more, about his giggle, his Socratic pedagogy, his solitary disciplines, his dedications to the young.

One curious birthday thought springs to mind; let me ponder it. It has occurred to me that Aaron is well-named. Like his Biblical namesake, he has functioned as the high priest of American music, the gentle but forceful leader and taste-maker, adored by his disparate tribes for his flexibility, facility and immensely appealing articulateness. And yet this is a superficial portrait--the benign bestower of the Golden Calf. For within this pleasant and reassuring persona called Aaron lives the mysterious anima of the brother Moses, the stern and stammering lawgiver. It is as though the amiable, cultivated Aaron provides the public voice for the harsh and resolute prophet that rages within And it is this inner voice that ultimately informs the whole Copland musical corpus, uniting all its flexibility and "eclecticism" into a significant and lasting whole. Those critics who speculate, not quite sympathetically, on how the same composer could have written the pop-toned Music for the Theatre and the thornily severe Connotations should listen more carefully. They will find in both works, and in all others between, that unmistakably consistent Mosaic voice, attenuated, adorned or mollified to varying degrees according to the changing visibility of the Aaronic vestments, at the gleaming, opulent priestly breast-plate.

One of the most fascinating studies of Copland's music is the reconciling of that opulence with the much-discussed directness and "plainness" of the Copland image. For me the reconciliation took place easily, and long ago. As a student, back in the mid-Thirties, I heard my first Copland piece, a recording of his Piano Variations . In my instant, over-whelmed reaction to this music I automatically envisaged the composer as patriarch, perhaps bearded like Whitman, certainly Mosaic. Some time later I met the patriarch, cleanly shaven, broadly smiling, a young thirty-seven. In fact, the occasion of our meeting coincided with his birthday; there was a party in his loft, all charm and gaiety, and I "entertained" by playing the Piano Variations . There it all came together, and so it has remained. Our relationship has been long and joyous, but at its core those Variations have been ceaselessly hammering. Similarly with his music: from Billy the Kid to Inscape , from the Salon Mexico to the Nonet, those Variations are the key. There is always the prophetic statement, the reflective meditation, that curiously tender hesitancy: There are always those angular leaps, those scherzando spasms. Moses in Aaron's garb. I love all this music, in all its degrees of severity and charm. And I love the man, in all those same degrees.

It is futile to say: may he live forever! Of course he will.

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Birthday Tribute

By William Schuman

Celebrating Aaron Copland's birthday has for me become virtually an avocational pursuit. At the time Aaron was sixty I was president of the Juilliard School and had the satisfaction of organizing a grand festival of his works. For his seventieth there was a special program at Lincoln Center organized by his publishers, who for both birthdays gave splendid parties after the performances. It was my great pleasure for his sixtieth and seventieth (as it will be for his seventy-fifth) to have served as master of ceremonies, introducing the brilliant colleagues who came to pay tribute.

As each Copland milestone approaches, his close friends and colleagues feel a compelling desire for a laying on of hands, a desire to demonstrate their respect and gratitude for the remarkable composer and their admiration and love for the wise and compassionate man. For his seventy-fifth, we're better organized than ever before. We even have the Aaron Copland Seventy-Fifth Birthday Celebration committee. We're ready to welcome Aaron into that venerable group of American masters which already includes Harris, Piston, Sessions and Thompson.

Our committee members have assignments to insure that every segment of the music community is aware of this important event. Performers, educators, critics, broadcasters, organizations, public officials and friends are being requested to make appropriate efforts. There is no doubt that the response will be a natural outpouring of affection.

There will be many celebrations (there have already been several). In New York City the big party will be given by the MacDowell Colony. Aaron has a special feeling for the Colony. He has served as its president and is presently a member of the Colony's board of directors, and he has often enjoyed the ideal working conditions the Colony provides the artist. (The first time Aaron was a Colony Fellow was in 1925. Others that year included Henry S. Gilbert, Roy Harris, Mrs. H. H. A. Beach, Stephen Vincent Benét, DuBose Heyward, Edwin Arlington Robinson, Sara Teasdale and Elinor Wylie.)

The MacDowell event on November 12 will begin with a Copland program at Alice Tully Hall, which will include the world premiere of a choreographic work by Pearl Lang set to the Sonata for Violin and Piano. Excerpts from films with Copland music will be shown, and the recent Duo for Flute and Piano and the choral work "In the Beginning" will also be performed. After the concert there will be a gala party at the Lincoln Center Library and Museum for the Performing Arts including a preview of a Copland exhibit opening on his birthday two days later.

What, I sometimes wonder, does Aaron think of all this fuss. Certainly he cooperates and, in fact, is often called upon to participate as conductor (which he loves) or as a speaker (which he must love because he does it so well). In discussions he is ever the professional, as though the project did not concern him especially. Always his reassuring presence: the lack of guile, the absence of false modesty and the serenity that bespeaks the inner security of a man fulfilled.

If we can't know what Aaron feels, what about us, why do we make these efforts? After all, nothing we do can really add to his fame, his acceptance or the esteem in which he is held.

I think we do it for ourselves. What other reason do we really need but our own recognition that to lavish praise on Aaron gives us all joy and satisfaction and a heightened sense of identity with a man who is one of the glories of American music.

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My Friend Aaron

By Harold Clurman

[Reprinted by Permission Kennedy Center Stage bill, Feb 1974 Copyright B&B Enterprises, Inc. 1974]

Aaron Copland is quite simply a great man. I do not refer to his eminence as a composer; I speak of the person. It is his simplicity which is the essential mark of greatness.

He did not "develop" it, he always possessed it. When he was twenty-one, he was in considerable measure the man he was to become: relaxed, considerate, balanced, modest, unostentatiously secure. No "intellectual," he is more than intelligent. Put down baldly, the description suggests dullness. But the virtues named, in a man of vast artistic gifts, are rare. It is a miracle when a complexity of attributes resolve themselves into a strikingly simple consistency.

I have known Aaron for over fifty years. We met in Paris, where he had gone to study composition with Nadia Boulanger, the teacher most respected among French musicians. I went there to study literature at the Sorbonne. Our friendship has never been clouded by a single quarrel or misunderstanding, nor has it ever grown stale or perfunctory. One reason for this is that Aaron is always interesting--because he is always totally aware.

Strong feelings stir within him, but there is little evidence of this on the surface--except perhaps when he conducts! He is always outwardly calm, though never cold. His approach to people is unfailingly receptive, friendly, wherever possible helpful (and polite without regard to the other's place or position) Nor have I known anyone who could take advantage of him. He always understands the situation in which he finds himself. He is always just, not in the sense of being "fair," but in that he stands in the exactly fitting relationship to each of his own experiences. He instinctively avoids all intemperance he never goes "overboard." Sometimes he pretends surprise--that is his little joke--but the truth is, he is prepared for everything. His wisdom consists of having learned how to make himself ready for all contingencies.

In the days of our youth I used to wonder why it was that whenever we had meals together, his checks always came to less than mine; and when we traveled together, he chose the more reasonably priced quarters. At first I took this to mean that he "understood" money better than I did. But I soon came to understand his frugality was a result of neither caution nor asceticism. In every respect, he knows what things cost. His speech and writing are as economical as his music--that is why we always find him upright and never "uptight."

With all this, he is endowed with great humor. His music is as full of it as it is of passion. Nothing could be more false than the conductor Walter Damrosch's quip at the premiere of Copland's First Symphony in 1925: "If a young man at the age of twenty-three," Damrosch said to the audience on completing his performance of the piece, "can write a symphony like that, in five years he will commit murder." This of course, was Damrosch's way of softening the impact of the audience's bewilderment or hurt at the time, when the work was considered wildly "modern." But Copland's modernism does not arise from a desire to innovate or to startle, but from his responsiveness to everything that is going on--outside and inside himself. For this reason, his most "difficult" or "severe" compositions, though they may shock at first, are on further acquaintance appreciated for their directness of statement, their clarity of aim.

There is mystery in Aaron, but no ambiguity. He says what he feels and means. He would make a great diplomat (he is one, in fact) not because he ever prevaricates, but because he tells the truth--nothing more nor less. He is not given to overstatement of any kind. A stranger aboard a transatlantic liner, having recognized Aaron, approached him and said, "Mr. Copland, I don't like your music." To which Aaron, unruffled, replied, "Does it matter?" Of this incident Aaron's comment to me was "I didn't think any better of him for having said it." Aaron's humility does not forgo a sense of his own merit.

He always desires to express what is there. At the outset of Aaron's career, America was hardly present in music, though America's presence was very much felt in the world. He wished America to manifest itself musically. Among the most salient aspects of American life is its energy, its rhythm, and perhaps its bluster. In the early Twenties, jazz was America's musical emblem. Aaron employed the jazz idiom as one of the forms of our common speech. In its invention and momentum, jazz communicates exuberance and fun. These qualities have always remained in Aaron's music as in his personality, even when they were no longer "jazzy." There has always been in him the exultation of forward movement, a forging ahead.

The central control of Aaron's being is thoughtfulness. One recognizes it throughout everything he does: the person who reflects in tranquility within the hurly-burly, the melodrama of a fantastically extroverted society. Yet for all the turbulence, turmoil and danger of our contemporary action, Aaron holds to and reminds us of the basic truths of our conscience in proud, forthright, majestic annunciation.

None of this in his art or in his private address ever becomes ponderous. Even in his most serious moments, Aaron never loses the capacity to smile, to joke, even to "kid" within the boundaries of veracity.

In Aaron we meet a whole man.

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Tribute to Aaron Copland

By Nadia Boulanger

Does the celebration of an anniversary impose on us the burdensome weight of accumulated years, or is it every year a kind of rebirth? As times elapses, new aims, new means are found, unspoiled by evolution. Aaron Copland gives a vivid example of this duality.

In 1921 I had the privilege to see entering a young boy, slim, with his acute face, his so defined behavior, his "listening" eyes, his "seeing" ear, his juvenile unique laugh (kept until today) a musician, a poet, a real human being already.

I remember vividly this extraordinary impression. Impression one gets only when facing the ones marked by "the sign": every gesture, every expression, every form of activity is revealing and displayed in music as well as in life.

The time of celebration does not imply, for me, a time for analysis and I will not make the imprudence to try to define the art of Aaron Copland. During these years, works after works have come out, giving light to this variety and this similarity.

He has also kept the marvelous power to remain young, ardent, violent at his hours, warm always, carried away by his astounding rhythmical strength.

Highly qualified writers have written enlightening books on Copland's works, but here is only without the slightest pretention to add a stone to these learned tributes, the affectionate testimony of his oldest friend, wishing him to continue to create new images while remaining on his always open goal.

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