ALL ARTS Vault Selects

FULL EPISODE

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.

AIRED: February 23, 2020 | 0:29:36
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TRANSCRIPT

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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?

Indeed.

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.

Tell us...

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,

especially recently...

...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,

choral 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,

Vasner, Petrov.

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...

...that...

...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.

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Announcer: Simultaneous interpretation by George L. Sherry.

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This is National Educational Television.

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