Aaron Copland Meets The Soviet Composers
In this 1959 episode from the ALL ARTS vault, the great American composer Aaron Copland compares and contrasts the music from the two countries with a group of Soviet musicians. Even during the height of the Cold War, Soviet composers learned about and were influenced by American music, and vice versa. They speak of hopes for more musical and cultural exchange.
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Copland: How do you do?
I'm Aaron Copland.
I'm very happy to have this opportunity
to talk with six musician colleagues
visiting from the Soviet Union.
With me is my colleague, the Russian-born
American musicologist Nicolas Slonimsky.
Nicolas, would you like to start the ball rolling
by asking them the first question?
This question is addressed for Mr. Kabalevsky,
"What impression do you have about American music
as you hear it in America,
and as you hear it in the Soviet Union?"
[ Speaking Russian ]
[ Speaking Russian ]
Translator: To begin with, I should like to emphasize
that we have been acquainted with American music
well before we came here.
Of course, in various ways.
40 years ago, when I was studying music,
we knew Dowell from his piano works.
Now the picture has changed.
During the war, there was a considerable change,
in that respect,
and American music wasn't performed in our country,
and Soviet musicians were better acquainted with American music.
Especially in recent years,
our acquaintance with American music was developed.
And this was promoted by the visits
to the Soviet Union of the Boston, Philadelphia,
and New York Philharmonic orchestras.
This was also promoted by the visit of the group
of American composers.
I could cite the names of numerous American composers
who are well-known in our country,
not only by name, but by their works.
Gershwin, whose songs are very popular,
and whose magnificent opera "Porgy and Bess" was performed
as early as the years of the war, with success.
I am thinking of Piston. I am thinking of Aaron Copland.
I'm thinking of Samuel Barber, Kursteiner,
Mennin, Roy Harris, Sessions, Kay,
Leonard Bernstein, and numerous other composers.
We are very interested in a working opera, "Robinson."
A considerable group of composers in the United States
may be be regarded as very varied in their individualities.
They're all of course -- And they all, of course,
have a serious attitude to musical composition.
They are remote from external fashion trends.
And of course, we are profoundly sympathetic
to the creative endeavors of this group of composers.
And we would like to think that the same serious attitude to art
will be developed among young composers of the United States.
I venture to make that point because we have listened to
the work of some younger composers
here in universities and colleges,
and it seemed to us, occasionally,
that the very young composers...
...have an insufficient care
to avoid the seductions of fashion trends,
which are liable to divert the young from serious paths of art,
the paths which their teachers and elder colleagues
have been treading.
This is our impression.
Our general impression is a good one,
and we are happy to have expanded our acquaintance
with American music.
Thank you, Mr. Kabalevsky.
I'm very pleased to see that American music
is not at all a new thing for you.
Now, I'd like to address a question to the musicologist
and historian among the group of visitors, Mr. Yarustovsky.
We know, after all,
that American novelists are much read,
and perhaps have some influence in the Soviet Union.
What about American music?
Can you -- Do you think that American music
may have some influence on Soviet music?
[ Speaking Russian ]
This is an interesting question.
It seems to be that mutual influence,
mutual fertilization of musical cultures
is an important condition of the progress
of universal musical culture.
All the more intolerable would the isolation
of national cultures be these days.
The deeper the roots -- the national roots,
of the musical culture,
the clearer and the more fertile its influence
on general musical progress.
It is a happy coincidence that our coming to the United States
coincided with a jubilee.
100 years ago, the foot of the first Russian musician
stepped on American soil -- Yuri Golitzin.
Shortly after the arrival of this Russian Columbus
to America, Anton Rubinstein,
the first Russian composer, visited the United States.
Among the works he performed here
were piano transformations of American melodies,
such as "Yankee Doodle."
And when he came back to Russia, he had great success
in performing these American melodies
in his own transcription before Russian audiences.
I think this was the first time
when American musical culture became known on Russian soil.
And since that time,
no oceans have been able to sunder our cultures.
All the time, they continued to influence each other,
and to act upon each other.
How about contemporary times?
My colleague Dmitry Kabalevsky spoke good and truthful words
about American composers, and about how,
...our influence from and impressions from
American culture became deeper and better.
The sensitive ear of the composer
isn't just the membrane which hears the compositions.
It harkens to them.
It absorbs them like a sponge for his own needs.
And then, this is recreated in his own compositions,
willingly or otherwise.
It is my impression it's possible,
but perhaps controversial, that this influence was heard
in the works of Aram Khachaturian --
some of the works.
I'm not speaking, of course, of popular culture.
I'm thinking of my 6-year-old son,
who cannot be regarded
as a representative of Soviet musical culture,
but the American song "Mississippi"
happens to be this 6-year-old's favorite song.
Soviet composers have been transcribing a good deal
of American melodies.
For example, there is Kavallia's great collection
of American songs.
The same goes for light music.
The rhythms of American light music
have commanded great popularity in our country.
The youth like that a lot.
And speaking of American good light music,
which we have always listened to with great pleasure,
as performed by various ensembles.
Thank you, Mr. Yarustovsky.
Now, Mr. Khrennikov, we would like to know very much,
what was the reaction toward the music
and the personalities of the group of four American composers
who visited the Soviet Union just about a year ago?
[ Speaking Russian ]
We were very happy
when our American colleagues visited our soil.
I am thinking of composers Mennin, Sessions, Harris, Kay.
These American composers visited a number of Soviet cities.
They were given the opportunity of becoming acquainted with
the work of Soviet musical institutions.
They visited theaters and concert halls.
In Moscow, there was a large, great concert,
in which the works of American composers were performed.
Now, this concert of American music
had tremendous success among Moscow listeners.
The visit of American composers to the Soviet Union
promoted the establishment of closer and friendlier contacts
between American and Soviet composers.
And I should like to express the hope
that the visits of American composers to the Soviet Union,
and of Soviet composers to America,
will, in the future, proliferate.
Thank you so much.
Mr. Shostakovich, you know that we hear in our country
a great deal of jazz.
What about jazz in the Soviet Union,
and how do you feel about its possible symphonic use?
...that Aaron Copland himself
produced quite a shock 32 years ago here,
when he played his celebrated so-called "Jazz Concerto"
with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
[ Speaking Russian ]
I have a favorable attitude to good American jazz.
Now, what is the meaning of "good American jazz"?
Good jazz is the kind of jazz which executes well good music.
As has been said, Aaron Copland,
our prominent American colleague,
has felt jazz influences, having written a jazz concerto.
Also, there is the prominent opera of Gershwin,
a genius of an American composer,
who wrote "Porgy and Bess."
This also shows jazz influence.
It seems to me that good jazz music
will continue to exert influence
on the creativeness of American composers, and Soviet composers,
and other composers of other countries, as well.
Thank you, Mr. Shostakovich.
Mr. Dankevych, you know that I am very interested
in the younger generation,
both of my own country and in other countries.
We would like to know who you think of
as the most important members of the younger Soviet composers,
and what they're writing, and why we don't hear their work
in the United States more than we do?
[ Speaking Russian ]
The great October Socialist Revolution gave freedom
and self-determination to all the peoples
of our great fatherland, and created especially --
exceptionally favorable conditions
for the flowering of the culture and art of these peoples.
The young, talented,
gifted tribe in all fraternal republics of the Soviet Union,
including the field of musical culture,
is developing, is growing, and is gathering strength.
Young, talented colleagues of ours
are creating music in all genres of musical work --
opera, ballet, symphonic creation, chamber music,
songs, moving pictures, musical comedies.
I must add that our talented composers,
if they were to be listed,
this would take a good deal of time.
But since I was asked this courteous question by you,
and since I'm enjoying your hospitality,
I should like to cite some names --
Eshpai, Shchedrin, Andrei, Volkonsky,
In the Ukraine, Kiraiko Shurovsky.
In Armenia, Djivan, Ter-Tatevosian.
In Georgia, Taktakishvili Tsintsadze.
In Estonia, Tamberg.
In Lithuania, Balsys.
Burkhanov in Uzbekistan.
And then, [indistinct] in Azerbaijan.
Now, this is a spring garden of young talent.
And you're quite right, my dear colleague,
Aaron Copland, that we...
that, in America, you have known the music
of our younger talented composers much too little.
We, the delegation of Soviet composers,
are merely the first swallows from beyond the ocean.
Of course, I -- It is difficult to call me,
personally, a swallow,
but I'm confident that we will be followed
by flights of younger Soviet composers
from all the fraternal republics of our fatherland.
They will follow us to this land,
and this will be the harbinger of the happy comradeship
of the cultures of our two great countries in the musical realm.
I'm very glad to hear you say that, Mr. Dankevych,
because I, too, believe
it is just as important to have the less well-known composers,
both from the United States, go to your country
and to have return visits
on that level of the younger people, also.
Nicolas, haven't you a question perhaps?
Well, I should like to ask this question of Mr. Amirov.
How can native materials be transposed
into serious symphonic and other music?
[ Speaking Russian ]
Translator: As you are aware,
utilization of popular folklore by professional composers
has a worldwide history of its own.
The Russian classics -- Glinka, Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky.
Our Azerbaijanian classics -- Hajibeyov, Glière,
the Russian composer, has lived and worked in Azerbaijan,
and has done a good deal for Azerbaijanian musical culture.
Their compositions have demonstrated
not just the possibility,
but even the interesting potentialities of popular music
when transformed into general European forms.
I'm thinking of operas, symphonies, quartets, et cetera.
I'm thinking of the year before last,
when I visited Egypt and Syria,
and I noted with what pleasure the Arabs
named the name of "Rimsky-Korsakov."
And in Arab lands, Rimsky-Korsakov
is the most popular of all composers --
of all Russian composers,
especially because of his "Sheherazade," of course.
They spoke of him with great pleasure and admiration.
He said that he did a good deal for Arab musical culture.
And he pointed the way to Arab composers.
You may, perhaps, be interested in the fact
that yesterday and today,
mugham was -- will be performed.
Now, mugham is a highly developed popular music,
as a genre and as a form.
It is homophonic, essentially.
But since a symphony orchestra was to perform it,
I sought to make it possible
for a contemporary symphony orchestra...
...to perform it in a manner which would be appropriate.
I'm thinking of Glinka's words,
who said that music is composed by the people.
We, the composers, merely arrange it.
So, perhaps it is proper to recall
that I am utilizing Azerbaijan folklore.
I play the tar -- an Azerbaijani instrument --
and I continue to do so.
Love and admiration for popular music --
which in my case means Azerbaijani music, of course --
have made it possible for me to absorb...
...and be filled with that music,
and, in turn, to yield it in my composition.
So, I think that we, the Soviet composers,
are obligated not only to support,
but to develop this so generous form of musical creation.
Mr. Amirov, we are very glad
that you came with the delegation
because one thing is certain --
in the United States, we simply do not know enough
about the other part of the Soviet Union,
where I am sure there are many very gifted,
younger composers working in a folk idiom
which itself is not sufficiently well-known here.
Now, Nicolas, you're a musicologist.
We have a musicologist here.
Wouldn't you like to ask him
some specific question on that subject?
Yes, I should like to ask Mr. Yarustovsky this question.
In the United States,
musicologists usually concentrate their labors
on the music of the past.
Now, is the same true in the Soviet Union,
or is contemporary music given also consideration?
[ Speaking Russian ]
Well, speaking of our size and style,
of course there is no shortage in the Soviet Union,
either, of musicologists who are cabinet rats.
But of course, the time of the ivory tower science is passed.
One cannot, in fact, understand the problems of the past
without feeling the pulse of contemporary life.
One cannot correctly understand numerous events
of the contemporary scene without, for example,
being acquainted with the whole industry
and background of musical culture.
Now, in this connection,
I should like to add the following --
it seems to me that the question asked can be solved
by way of the correct education of young musicologists.
In the Moscow Conservatory, where I teach,
in addition to an academic course
where student musicologists are acquainted with
contemporary musical culture in the Soviet Union in the past,
in addition to that, there are a number of,
it seems to me, interesting factors which make it easier
to bring musicologists closer to the contemporary scene.
For example, there is the Student Scientific Society
in our conservatory,
which periodically listens to contemporary music --
both Soviet and Western, I repeat.
At meetings of the student society,
young musicologists present papers
or written reports devoted to individual problems
of contemporary musical creation.
Moreover, our newspapers and periodicals act correctly
when senior student musicologists
are drawn into that work,
and ask to discuss contemporary music.
This type of education, which makes it possible
to interest musicologists
in contemporary music, and musical problems --
this type of education I see as an important factor
in resolving the sort of problem
which you so interestingly, and so aptly, raised.
Thank you, sir.
We have only about 4 minutes left.
Mr. Shostakovich, you know, I'm sure,
how very popular your music is in our country.
Tell me, do you feel that your music is well understood here?
Do you think there is any difference in the way
it is understood here from the way
it is understood in the Soviet Union?
[ Speaking Russian ]
For me, it is a great joy that my music
is performed before audiences in the United States of America.
It seems to me that, if it is performed,
it stands to reason that it is understood by the audiences.
I do not think...
...the question of the distinction
between the understanding of my music in the Soviet Union
and the United States is not apt.
Quite the contrary.
My music is, of course,
heard and played a good deal in the Soviet Union.
And please don't misunderstand me,
but occasionally, it does enjoy considerable success
in the Soviet Union.
Therefore, that, too, can only occasion joy on my part.
Thank you. And as a final question
in this too-brief seance we have together,
Mr. Khrennikov, how do you feel that Soviet-American
exchange in music can be encouraged still further?
[ Speaking Russian ]
The present cultural agreement
between the United States of America and the Soviet Union
has made it possible to institute closer
and more friendly relations between those active in culture
and music in our countries.
Over the past year and a half or two,
this cultural exchange has been intensified.
Musical ensembles and soloists have come to the Soviet Union.
Soviet artistic groups, musicians, soloists
have come to the United States.
I should like to express the hope, on this occasion,
that the conclusion of subsequent cultural agreements
will provide for an abiding expansion
and intensification of our contacts and mutual visits.
This is our common desire.
Surely, it is common ground between musical leaders
and musicians in the United States,
and those of the Soviet Union.
Thank you very much, Mr. Khrennikov.
I wish there was more time,
so that we could continue with this discussion.
There are, obviously, many questions
we would like to ask you.
We have many different kinds of curiosities
concerning musical culture in your country,
and we would also like to tell you
about all the different phases of music in America --
including some young composers
who do not write in the most advanced forms,
and whose music I feel sure you would find sympathetic.
Thank you so much, Nicolas,
for having helped us here, with your Russian background
and your good collegial feeling.
I hope that you've enjoyed, as much as I have,
this brief yet unique meeting
with these distinguished musicians from the Soviet Union.
I want, again, to thank Mr. Slonimsky,
and I'm glad that we've had this opportunity to share with you
a portion of the experience
of this important musical cultural exchange.
Announcer: Simultaneous interpretation by George L. Sherry.
This is National Educational Television.