By WILDA HEISS
The November release of the online version of the Aaron Copland Collection at the Library of Congress befittingly celebrates the centennial of the birth of the preeminent 20th century American composer Aaron Copland (1900-1990).
Through the generosity of the Aaron Copland Fund for Music, administered by James Kendrick, and the publisher of Copland's music, Boosey & Hawkes Inc., administered by Carolyn Kalett, portions of Copland's music sketches, personal correspondence, unpublished writings and photographs are available to the general public from the Library's American Memory Web Site at www.loc.gov.
On June 10, 1921, on board the steamer France, Copland wrote: "Dear Ma & Pa -- I have decided to write you a little every day and so give you an idea of life on board this boat. ..."
Thus began a journey for Copland that significantly shaped the course of his life. After three years of study in Paris, Copland returned home to America and began a full life of composing, performing, writing, lecturing and eventually conducting. Musical audiences in America were first introduced to Copland's music at the 1925 premiere of his Symphony for Organ and Orchestra by the New York Symphony Orchestra under Walter Damrosch, whose comment at the concert was, "Ladies and gentlemen, I am sure you will agree that if a gifted young man can write a symphony like this at 23, within five years he will be ready to commit murder!" Fortunately, Damrosch's joke was never taken seriously. Today, Aaron Copland's music is well known and performed to audiences throughout the world.
The online collection presents approximately 5,000 images, selected from Copland's music sketches, correspondence, writings and photographs in the Aaron Copland Collection and other collections in the Music Division at the Library of Congress. A timeline of important events in Copland's life is offered along with the complete, revised finding aid to the collection. An essay on Copland's music places many of his best-known and most significant works in the context of his development as a composer. This essay and a Works List have been prepared by Wayne Shirley, a music specialist in the Music Division.
To preserve the look of the original documents in the electronic version, the black-and-white photographic materials have been scanned in a grayscale format, and the other materials, including color photographic materials, were scanned in color to capture the various tones of the different pencils and ink in the music sketches, correspondence and writings. One notable exception is the previously scanned correspondence to Leonard Bernstein from Copland provided by a link to the existing online Leonard Bernstein Collection, which was originally scanned in grayscale.
The complete Aaron Copland Collection of about 400,000 items was acquired by the Library in 1989. Before this time, Copland had periodically donated the original manuscripts to some of his music beginning in the mid-1950s, all of which became gifts to the Library. The collection encompasses the full and rich career of this composer, performer, teacher, writer, conductor, commentator, lecturer and administrator, and is one of the most extensive and comprehensive collections in the Music Division. It spans the dates 1884-1991, with the bulk of the materials covering the 1920s through the 1970s. The collection is the primary resource for research on Aaron Copland and a major resource for the study of musical life in 20th century America.
Boosey and Hawkes has granted permission for the online publication of the unpublished music sketches for 31 works by Copland. The manuscripts of these sketches provide insights into the origins of these compositions. The final, finished works are published and available only in print form. The online selected music sketches encompass the spectrum of styles and media -- ballet, orchestra, stage, film, chamber, piano and voice -- in which Copland composed. On his return from Paris in 1924, Copland searched for a musical expression that was distinctively American and did not resemble or duplicate European traditions. To this end during his composing years, he incorporated various elements of jazz, Latin American rhythms, folk music, tunes of the American West, "modernism," and even "serialism" in different works. Copland's popularity today centers on the easily accessible music, such as the ballets, Appalachian Spring, Rodeo and Billy the Kid, and the patriotic Lincoln Portrait and Fanfare for the Common Man. The sampling of Copland's music sketches on the Web site will acquaint users with less familiar and often neglected works to broaden their appreciation.
The site also contains more than 800 letters, telegrams and postcards of Aaron Copland, spanning the years 1921-1986. Many of these come from other Library collections, including the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Collection, the Irving Fine Collection, the Serge Koussevitzky Collection, the Modern Music Magazine Archives and the Leonard Bernstein Collection. The texts of the correspondence have also been digitized and, therefore, are searchable by word. Not only are the early letters to his "Ma & Pa" from his first trip to France digitized; also online are letters to his Parisian teacher, Nadia Boulanger, and fellow composers Arthur Berger, Leonard Bernstein, Paul Bowles, Benjamin Britten, Carlos Chavez, Israel Citkowitz, Irving Fine, Walter Piston, Roger Sessions and William Strickland. The other letters are to people who were important to Copland and supported him in his career, such as Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, who commissioned two works from Copland through the foundation she established at the Library of Congress; Serge Koussevitzky, who also commissioned a work by Copland through his foundation; Minna Lederman, to whom Copland contributed numerous magazine articles for Modern Music; and the famous lexiconist Nicolas Slonimsky.
Even though Copland wrote many letters to many people and wrote many articles, in an amusing 1927 letter to Slonimsky he bemoaned writing: "Dear Kolya [a nickname], -- I'm a pig! I'm a pig and a sinner and a wretch. But apparently I'd rather be all those things than write a letter. I detest writing letters and it is my great ambition in this world to find a friend who'll love me so that he'll be willing to write me letters without ever expecting an answer. (Did ever selfishness go further?) But even a pig has a conscience and my conscience has been giving me no rest for the past week saying 'Aaron, my boy, you simply got to write to your old friend Kolya.'"
For the first time, Copland's unpublished writings, representing drafts for articles, lectures and speeches, are available online. Although the text is not searchable by word, the selected items show the divergent subjects on which Copland wrote or lectured and, in some cases, display his literary, editorial processes. Besides the two autobiographical titles, in one of which he writes on "the creation of an art music" as one of "humanity's truly unique achievements," he wrote about his own music and about other composers and their music.
On his own music, he describes his collaboration with Martha Graham on Appalachian Spring, which was commissioned by the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation for the Library of Congress and received the Pulitzer Prize for music in 1945, as well as his three major solo piano works, his film music and other works. He frequently presented his personal viewpoints and reflections not only about his American contemporaries, but also about Mozart, Berlioz, Pierre Boulez, Michael Tippett, Darius Milhaud, Dmitri Shostakovitch, Gabriel Faure, Franz Liszt, Gustav Mahler, Igor Stravinsky, Serge Prokofiev, Benjamin Britten and Zoltán Kodály. For example, in his tribute to Benjamin Britten on his 50th birthday, he recalled his visit to the composer's place, the Old Mill at Snape, in Suffolk, England, in which he remembered best "the exchange of musical impressions of all sorts." About Leonard Bernstein's gifts, he said it was "impossible to imagine the American musical scene in the last quarter century without him." Copland also wrote about other people who had influenced his life. His 1960 tribute to his teacher, Nadia Boulanger, who, more than anyone, made a lasting impression, begins "It is almost forty years since first I rang the bell at Nadia Boulanger's Paris apartment."
The online Copland collection includes a Photo Gallery of around 100 photographs selected from the more than 12,000 photographic materials in the Aaron Copland Collection. The digitized images fall into five broad categories: "Family," "Copland Alone," "Copland's Music," "Copland with Other Composers and People" and "Places and Events." The more unusual or, perhaps, amusing and less familiar online photographs show Copland in informal settings such as raking leaves, posing with cows and eating an ice cream cone at Interlaken, Switzerland, in 1970. The more serious ones capture Copland with family members and fellow composers, during performances of his music, with notable cultural figures and during his travels throughout the world.
The online Aaron Copland Collection presents a sampling of materials from a life devoted to music as a composer, performer, teacher, writer or conductor. In the conclusion of the second volume of his autobiography, co-written with Vivian Perlis, Copland commented on his "good fortune" to spend his life "with the art of music" by saying: "Perhaps the answer to why a man such as myself composes is that art summarizes the most basic feelings about being alive. ... By reflecting the time in which one lives, the creative artist gives substance and meaning to life as we live it. Life seems so transitory! It is very attractive to set down some sort of permanent statement about the way we feel, so that when it's all gone, people will be able to go to our art works to see what it was like to be alive in our time and place -- 20th century America."
Ms. Heiss is a music specialist and co-curator of the Aaron Copland Collection in the Music Division.