Manuscripts/Mixed Material Letter from Aaron Copland to Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, July 26, 1937.
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July 26, 1937
My dear Mrs Coolidge -
May I thank you most warmly for an unusually interesting 12 days in Mexico City. Without having heard all six programs in that particular setting, it will be difficult for you to appreciate how original in conception and in execution the whole Festival seemed to us. I think you are to be hugely congratulated on the outcome of the entire affair.
Having lived in Mexico before, I think I can understand what a profound influence such a series of concerts is most likely to have on the musical life of the country. Merely hearing the Coolidge Quartet in the series of classics, would have been sufficient to stimulate their interest in the art of chamber music. But what the concerts as a whole did for Mexico, as I see it, was to give the musical life of the country a less provincial aspect. It was as if they might have justly said you see, the outside world takes us seriously as a musical center, therefore we must be more serious about ourselves!
Chavez worked hard and well, under trying circumstances. I do not refer only to the desperate illness of his mother, but also to the quality of the musicians with whom he has to work here. It would be foolish to think for a moment that the orchestral men here are of Philharmonic calibre. Chavez asked me to conduct my own work, so that I was able to attest the fact from personal experience. Some of the men are excellent (certainly the Ruvalcaba Quartet fits into that category) but others, though willing, are simply not able to give finished performances, by American standards. There is no doubt that some of the works for chamber orchestra suffered from this unevenness among the men. But I don't see how this could be avoided in a country like Mexico. And certainly it was far better to have given the Festival here, even with an occasional lapse in performance standard, than not to have given it at all.
The general consensus of opinion seemed to be that the North American and Mexican composers showed to better advantage than the South Americans. I'm not sure that I can be completely impartial in any such judgement. Certainly the prize quartets left much to be desired. But I was glad to become familiar with numerous South American names, to know that they were composing in far off Chile and Paraguay and Argentina, and to have some idea of their present stage of development.
On the whole, from my own standpoint, (which is that of a musician who has closely followed the American and Mexican musical movement for the past 15 years) the most important aspect of the Festival, was the opportunity it gave me for a cross section view of the present status of our own music. I came away feeling strongly encouraged for its future. The music of Harris and Revueltas already show signs of a distinctive American idiom, the works of Sessions and Piston prove that Europe has little to teach us in the matter of expert craftsmanship. I could not help thinking that if our younger men take up the task where these men will have left off, all will be well with us.
I could, of course, continue to write at much greater length, but I have no wish to tire you. Needless to say, one of the most delightful aspects of the Festival was our stay at the Reforma. I was happy to make the acquaintance of your son and daughter-in-law, and though they did all that was humanly possible to make up for your absence, we all felt it most keenly, nonetheless.
I am staying on in this small town in Mexico for the rest of the summer, so it will be easy for me to keep fresh the memory of the impressions of the last 12 days.
Allow me once more to thank you most sincerely for a fascinating and stimulating Festival.