A “Virtual Séance” with the Founders of the American Music Center
In celebration of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the American Music Center, the history of the AMC is here presented exclusively in the words of its six founders–Aaron Copland, Howard Hanson, Otto Luening, Quincy Porter, Marion Bauer, and Harrison Kerr–culled from archival interviews, books and letters and then shuffled and re-organized to emulate a conversation.
8. On Other Composers and Other Forms of Music
HOWARD HANSON: The propaganda for the music of Schoenberg<http://www.schoenberg.org> is unbelievable… but they can’t make it go. The public will not accept it. As soon as he hit what I call…mechanistic streak, then the inspiration seemed to go down the drain. All the propaganda and adulation about what a great man he is and what a genius does not go over even with musicians, because they don’t play it. They don’t find music in it… 1
AARON COPLAND: I remember being considerably troubled when I first heard of this new theory of total control. But then, of course, one should not be over concerned with the theories expounded by artists – it is the music they write that must hold us… An ironic fact soon became evident: music under complete serialization often produced a chaotic impression on the listener. The control was entirely behind the scenes, so to speak… With reckless regard for what players like to play, and for the practicalities of the instruments, composers have been providing music that is, at times, playable only by a handful of specialists in contemporary music. At some point on that particular road a halt would seem inevitable. 2
MARION BAUER: I haven’t any use for modernists who deny tradition and the things of the past, but I hope I am walking forward into the future. 4
QUINCY PORTER: I am not much of a believer in the purely mathematical approach to the art – and this is something which seems to be intriguing a great many of the youngsters nowadays. 5
OTTO LUENING: I believe in cooperation, but then I’m out of line with a lot of it nowadays. It’s all very competitive and that’s the way it goes… I was always interested in other people’s work… 6
QUINCY PORTER: It is my belief that a composer has to have a real working knowledge of the various forms of the past, if only to understand better the music of those who used those forms. It may also happen that an intimate knowledge of one of these forms will suggest a new path which the composer will want to follow in his own work. Progress in music is made by following out some of the lower branches on the tree of music, as well as by trying to extend some of the more fragile twigs at the top of the tree. 8
MARION BAUER: The old forms fail to satisfy the newly aroused sensibilities. Contemporary experiences demand contemporary expression, and the old machinery is inadequate. 9
HARRISON KERR: …I am not speaking of the composer of lighter, popular and semi-popular music. These charming people have their own important place in the scheme of things, and are properly rewarded for any efforts that they may make. This is as it should be, but the loss of one of them, through lack of recognition or support would be unlikely to affect the progress of music. 10
MARION BAUER: Music does not “progress,” and in no sense can one call old music inferior to the new or vice versa. 11
AARON COPLAND: The serious composer needs freshening occasionally from the less conscious and more naÏve springhead of popular or folk music. Otherwise there is the danger that he may dry up, become academic and unimaginative. 12
MARION BAUER: We do lead the world in popular music…13
HOWARD HANSON: The music is frequently crass, raucous and common-place, and could be dismissed without comment if it were not for the radio whereby hour after hour, night after night, American homes are flooded with vast quantities of the material. To its accompaniment our youngsters dance, play and even study. Perhaps they have developed an immunity to its effects – but if they have not, and if the mass production of this aura drug is not curtailed, we may find ourselves a nation of neurotics…14
OTTO LUENING: …There are different kinds of music for different purposes… 15
AARON COPLAND: You can cross the borderline more easily now than you could then. 16
HOWARD HANSON: The contrast is so great with the what they call it…certain kinds of hard rock. It has no form. It has no melody. It has no rhythm. It doesn’t even have harmony. I mean it’s just banal. The only thing you can say about it is it’s awfully loud. If there’s any virtue in turning up the electricity, why in an age where we’re trying to save energy, I can’t see it! 17
OTTO LUENING: Hanson was a strange man. He was a hard man to define. He was a chauvanist, in a sense… His own tastes were sort of post-Romantic. He was a skillful composer, a good musician, and a heavy conductor who plowed through everything. But when it came to taste that was another thing. 18
AARON COPLAND: …I’ve never been very sensitive, unfortunately, to the visual arts…20
HOWARD HANSON: …The spirit of Chicago is portrayed by Frenchmen who have never been to Chicago. That’s a dumb city, in that respect, otherwise not. 21
2. Cited from The New Music: 1900-1960 by Aaron Copland [New York: Norton, 1968], Order From Amazon.
9. Cited from Twentieth Century Music; How It Developed, How To Listen To It by Marion Bauer [New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1947] Order from Amazon.
11. Cited from Twentieth Century Music; How It Developed, How To Listen To It by Marion Bauer [New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1947] Order from Amazon.
12. Cited from The New Music: 1900-1960 by Aaron Copland [New York: Norton, 1968], Order From Amazon.
14. Cited from The Marxist Minstrels: A Handbook on Communist Subversion of Music by David A. Nobel [Tulsa: American Christian College Press, 1971], pp. 50-51, quoting “Some Objective Studies of Rhythm in Music” by Howard Hanson, The American Journal of Psychiatry, Volume 101, Number 3, November 1944.
18. Cited from “Otto Luening at 85” an interview with Otto Luening by Brooke Wentz, broadcast on WKCR-FM 89.9 New York NY on June 11, 1985 and subsequently published in Musical America (November 1985).