OHAM Composers' Voices CD 2
Music: George Gershwin, An American in Paris; Wei-Yi Ying and Indhuon Srikaranonda, pianos; Yale School of Music
Perlis: It was called the "Roaring Twenties"—glamorous, fast moving, full of creativity and vitality. The arts were exploding with new and experimental ideas: ultra-modernism, dadaism, surrealism, serialism, futurism—and at the same time, jazz was everywhere. Young American composers were in Paris absorbing the lively artistic scene, and Gershwin's songs and Ellington's Cotton Club Orchestra were broadcast by radio, reaching households across the USA.
George Gershwin personified the ebullient spirit of the times. His was a natural talent resulting in an outpouring of memorable songs and musicals that have become classics, unprecedented concert works incorporating jazz elements, and the great American opera, Porgy and Bess. Gershwin became a tremendous success when he was only twenty with a Tin Pan Alley song, "Swanee," composed with lyricist Irving Caesar.
Irving Caesar: He blazed a trail of his own. You just cannot in all honesty put him in with the classic composers, or what we consider the classic composers. He was in a class by himself! Isn't that enough? Of course, "Swanee" happens to be, I think, George's outstanding song. We wrote "Swanee" in about fifteen minutes or less, so it was sheer inspiration, you know. You could write very fast with George. One day [Al] Jolson gave a midnight party. At that party George played "Swanee." And Jolson at once adopted it, and introduced it within three or four days. And the rest is history.
Music: Gershwin and Irving Caesar, "Swanee"; Al Jolson, voice; Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, Victor Young, conductor
Perlis: George's Aunt Kate Wolpin was a close family member and occasional babysitter.
Kate Wolpin: George was very outgoing and he was a wild little boy. He was the one that used to get punished by the father. And, Ira was always very quiet and very loving. George was very sporty as he grew up, a very fine dancer. He'd sit down at the piano and sing, although his voice wasn't much, but everybody was hypnotized by this man. But, I must tell you one thing about him that stood out with me. He was a kind of person, if he took to you at all, when you left him you felt ten feet tall. He made you feel so important unto yourself, and that was a gift that so few people in this world have. He made everybody that he cared for feel good about themselves.
Music: Gershwin, Rhapsody in Blue; George Gershwin, piano; Paul Whiteman and his concert orchestra
Perlis: George had two brothers, Ira and Arthur, and one sister Frances, who had a brief career as singer and dancer before marrying Leopold Godowsky II. She was known to one and all as Frankie.
Frankie Gershwin: Oh, my father was very proud of George; in fact, first I must tell you that my father had a very sweet, naïve and disarming kind of personality. When we'd go to concerts where George was playing or openings of shows, my father would sense if someone was approving of George. He'd go up to someone and say, "You know, I'm George Gershwin's father," just beaming, he was so proud of this. I recall when George was writing the Rhapsody [in Blue], he said to him, "George, make it good. This might be important."
I remember when George wrote the music of "Fascinating Rhythm," and we all listened to it, and we heard this very intricate and very new kind of rhythm at that time. Ira said to George, "My goodness, he said, what kind of a lyric can I write to a tune of that sort?" Well, it turned out very well. He did get around it very well.
Music: Gershwin, "Fascinating Rhythm"; Fred and Adele Astaire, vocalists; George Gershwin, piano
Frankie Gershwin: I remember when Fred Astaire would be rehearsing a show, George would come home and he would show me steps that Fred did, and he did them so ably. It was really wonderful to see the coordination of the way he moved.
The last time I saw George was in California. My husband and I were visiting out there. He was in great spirits. This was about six months, actually, before he died. He said to us, "You know, I don't feel I've really scratched the surface of what I want to do. I'm just out here in California to make enough money that I don't have to think about it, and I want to do all sorts of things, more American opera. I want to do chamber music, all kinds of things." It's amazing that he was so well at that time, and he looked wonderful. And six months later he was gone.
Perlis: Frankie was the first to sing Gershwin's songs in public.
Music: Gershwin, "Someone to Watch Over Me" Frankie Gershwin, voice; Alfred Simon, piano
Frankie Gershwin: He was delighted with what he did; he loved his work, but he wasn't happy, really, I'd say, otherwise. He felt so much music in him, and so much creativeness. But he really wasn't happy. He wanted more from life, in a personal way, but he didn't get it.
Perlis: Ira Gershwin married Leonore Strunsky in 1926. Her brother English, or "Engie," stayed close to the family, and was one of the very few people still alive who knew George Gershwin. Engie was interviewed at age ninety-two.
Strunsky: It was in 1933 that I bought a factory in a small town in New Jersey. Our business was to make tomato juice, ketchup, chili sauce, and some other food products. I was visiting Ira, and Ira said, "But, why are you saying to-MAY-toes? You've always said to-MAH-toes." I said, "Ira, if I said to-MAH-toes to my farmers, they wouldn't know what I was talking about." At which point he said, "Oh, you're just like your sister. I say EE-thur, but she has to say EYE-thur." Sometime later he used that conversation in a song which so many people are familiar with. I think Ira has had a very definite influence on the English language.
Music: Gershwin, "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off"
Strunsky: George was a genius, and he wasn't shy about recognizing that he was. George always had to be the center of attention. Ira always wanted to sit in the background and not be up there at all. He was even too shy to mention his name when he wanted a restaurant reservation.
Perlis: Here is Ira Gershwin, speaking and singing.
Ira Gershwin: "Hi-Ho" by George and Ira Gershwin, the pianist is Harold Arlen.
Music: Gershwin, "Hi-Ho" Ira Gershwin, voice; Harold Arlen, piano (Recorded 1937 or 38 "at an impromptu gathering")
Perlis: Alfred Simon, author and radio personality, worked with Gershwin and later wrote, together with Robert Kimball, an important book on George and Ira called The Gershwins.
Alfred Simon: I was out of a job in 1931, so I went to the Music Box Theater in New York. I spoke to George in the theater and he said they already had a rehearsal pianist, but if I would like to sit in and watch I might learn a lot, which I did. He knew how I felt about him, that he was kind of my hero. In those days I don't think that the musical theater was thought of as a significant part of Americana. The fact that Of Thee I Sing got the Pulitzer Prize, I think, really awakened people to the fact that it's a very important form.
Music: Gershwin, Of Thee I Sing; Recorded 9 November 1933 from live broadcast of Rudy Vallee Show
Perlis: Gershwin was generous to younger composers. He gave them opportunities to move ahead with their careers. Among them was a child prodigy, Morton Gould. He worked in the music business when only a teenager. Like Gershwin, his career included popular and concert music.
Morton Gould: I think I met him at one of the parties that used to take place. There were wonderful social events, where you would find George and Ira Gershwin, and you might—Jerry Kern. Everybody was there, including people from Hollywood, from the theater, and society people. What I remember is he had a stand-up writing desk for Porgy and Bess, so that he could write standing up. He was showing me parts of Porgy and Bess as he was writing it. But what he showed me were not the songs—were all the contrapuntal passages. I remember his once saying to me, "I want you to listen to this. There are three voices going at the same time." And he demonstrated it to me. See, I was much younger, very young, and a serious student, grim, and all that. And here was this effervescent genius who—when I say that he showed it to me, he would show it to the elevator operator, as I recall. He was always making music, and he was outgoing, extroverted in the best sense of the word. I was at the first reading of Porgy and Bess when George conducted it. I was playing piano. That was the first time I heard these songs. I mean, I was amazed because I knew some of the complicated passages, and suddenly here were these wonderful songs coming out. You don't realize, especially at my age at that time, that you're participating in an historic event.
Perlis: A sample of George Gershwin's voice. First, the announcer.
Announcer: Mr. George Gershwin is conducting and will announce these portions of his new opera Porgy, recorded for the first time and played for the first time.
George Gershwin: And now we'll have the duet from the first scene of Act II of Porgy, sung by Todd Duncan and Bess, who is played by Ann Brown.
Music: Gershwin, "Bess, You Is My Woman Now" from Porgy and Bess
Perlis: There have been many Porgies through the years, but the first holds a special place in the history of Porgy and Bess. Todd Duncan was Gershwin's choice to be the original Porgy.
Todd Duncan: He had heard a hundred Negro baritones over a year. He said they all sang "Shortnin' Bread" or "Ol' Man River" or something like that, or Negro spirituals. Well, I sang an old Italian aria. He looked up at me and said, "This is strange. Why are you singing this?" I said, "Because I love it." So, he said, "Well, would you sing ten bars of that again?" And he said, "Look straight in my eye as you sing it." And I did. I looked straight at him and sang it. We got through ten measures, that's all, and he looked up at me and said, "Will you be my Porgy?" That's when I said to him, "Well, I've got to hear your music first. I don't know your music." He laughed. He said, "Well, I think we can arrange that."
He and Ira Gershwin played and performed the whole opera, the whole thing. They both sang everybody's parts. That first part, I thought, "Oh my, this is awful. This is not music." And then when it segued into "Summertime," I thought a little bit of heaven had opened up.
Music: Gershwin, "Summertime" from Porgy and Bess; Arthur Gershwin, piano
Perlis: On another occasion, Todd Duncan spoke about his preparation for the role.
Todd Duncan: I went down to South Carolina. I went with Gershwin. I stayed with a wonderful family, a Negro family. Gershwin wanted to stay there too, but he didn't. You know the races were too far apart then. They didn't want him, but Gershwin wanted to stay there because he didn't have any of that in him. And I couldn't stay at the white hotel. He used to say, "You're more Jewish than I am, Todd." I said, "Yes, and you're more Negro than I am." There was a kinship. Oh, there was a kinship.
Music: Todd Duncan singing "Oh Lawd, I'm On My Way" from Porgy and Bess
Perlis: Kay Swift, composer and pianist, was a close collaborator and one of Gershwin's most intimate friends.
Kay Swift: I was lucky enough to be around when George was writing and also when he was orchestrating Porgy and Bess, and he needed people to play it back to him. I'd play it back, and he'd play an involved accompaniment or a counterpoint, and so on. Often, I took it down in pencil, so I did become terribly familiar with it.
One song, for instance, that I think of, which he was very fond of and that we all loved, was called "I Loves You, Porgy," a beautiful flowing melody sung by Bess in the last act. And this he always spoke of as "my Italianate song" from Porgy and Bess because it is so melodic and so flowing.
Music: Gershwin, "I Loves You, Porgy" from Porgy and Bess; Cynthia Haymon, soprano; London Philharmonic; Simon Rattle, conductor
Kay Swift: Last summer, when I got to Los Angeles, I found that this was the number one hit on the "Hit Parade" in a terrifically jazzed up, almost unrecognizable version. I think George would have been extremely tolerant of this and other jazz versions because he would have said, "Well, then perhaps it has a universal quality that reaches out to everyone." And I do believe this is true.
Music: Paul Bley performing solo piano version of "I Loves You Porgy"
Kay Swift: "Love Is Here to Stay" points up the fact that Gershwin is here to stay, that as long as there's a radio station anywhere there will be a program with Gershwin music. I do believe that it is as perfect as his last song should be.
Music: Gershwin, "Love is Here to Stay"; Joan Morris, mezzo-soprano; William Bolcolm, piano
Music: Nadia Boulanger, Vers la Vie Nouvelle; Angela Gassenhuber, piano
Van Cleve: While Gershwin was taking the New York concert world by surprise with his jazz-oriented works, a few young composers discovered the talented teacher Nadia Boulanger in Paris. Among her earliest students were Virgil Thomson, Aaron Copland, Louise Talma, and Roy Harris. They became known as the Boulangerie. This young Frenchwoman became the most influential composition teacher of the twentieth century. On the occasion of her 90th birthday, she was interviewed by Vivian Perlis in her legendary apartment on Rue Ballu where she taught for decades.
Boulanger: I am good when I give a lesson. I talk with the student, or listen to the student. I can make him see. I can be exacting for the quality of the effort he will make to progress, not to become great, but to be a little more himself, a little better, a little more understanding. And so I say to my student, "Pay attention. Do what you do with great attention."
If the student asks me, "Is this want you want?" I will always say, "No, I want nothing. I want to answer your questions. The teacher who becomes influencing the student is, I think, very dangerous. One must respect the personality of the other, and the other must submit to what makes life possible: order, rigor, and freedom.
You remember what say Stravinsky: "If everything would be permitted to me, I would feel lost in this abyss of freedom." So, we have all through education, through religion, through art, through everything we have limits. And it is in limits that we must find our freedom.
Music: Boulanger, Three Compositions for Violoncello and Piano; Friedemann Kupsa, cello; Angela Gassenhuber, piano
Boulanger: You must be aware, that [the] more the student is gifted, [the] more you must be careful not to invade his self. To let him develop was my great concern when [a] very long time ago Copland was my student. And since have come generation after generation. Copland is such [a] faithful human being. That we knew in 1921. And we have not remained one year without to have one connection or another, but always something. He is today as warm as he was when he was a youngster.
You know the words of St. Paul remain always true whatever we are, if we are practicing religion or not: "Even if you have hope and faith, if you have no love, you have seen nothing." We have not organized a society where life of the spirit counts.
I don't believe that [it] is too easy to express in words what is felt with feelings because I am unable to explain anything. Because I cannot explain love, I cannot explain music, I cannot explain art. I feel it, but I can't explain it. I can explain the means employed to do what we do.
Music: Boulanger, "Soir d'Hiver" from Sept Mélodies; Melinda Paulsen, mezzo-soprano; Angela Gassenhuber, piano
|Text by Nadia Boulanger|
| Une jeune femme berce son enfant
Elle est seule, elle pleure,
Mais elle chante,
Car il faut bien qu'il entende la chanson douce et tendre...
|A young woman is rocking her child.
She is alone, she cries,
but she sings,
for he needs to hear the song, sweet and tender...
Music: Virgil Thomson, Symphony No. 3, Movement II; New Hampshire Symphony Orchestra; James Bolle, conductor
Perlis: Virgil Thomson was one of the first American students of Nadia Boulanger. He would go on to become a celebrated composer particularly known for his operas and vocal settings. Here is a taped excerpt from a seminar entitled "Words and Music," which he conducted at Yale University in 1980.
Virgil Thomson: [Sings "Tiger! Tiger!" Text by William Blake]
Tiger! Tiger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
You see, it's just as dramatic as you can make it, because it's a very dramatic text.
Music: Thomson, "Tiger! Tiger!" from Fives Songs of William Blake; Mack Harrell, baritone; The Philadelphia Orchestra; Eugene Ormandy, conductor
Perlis: Virgil Thomson lived in Paris until the Second World War. After his return to New York, he became music critic for the Herald Tribune. His unique qualities of personality, wit, and intellect made him an integral part of the New York music scene and an unforgettable character.
Thomson: Composition isn't something you decide. Composition is something you have a compulsion about. You can decide that you're going to learn to play the piano because that requires a method and work. You can decide that you are going to master the techniques of composition. But you cannot decide that you are going to be a composer because the inspiration or the development may not occur.
If it doesn't come, you're out of luck. But you have to keep on waiting, and if it keeps on not coming, then you give up the profession.
What am I in business for except to do good work? And by good work I mean work that pleases me. There is no point in being more or less poor all your life if you have to be also bored.
Music: Thomson, Solitude: A Portrait of Lou Harrison; David Del Tredici, piano
Thomson: Everybody, I think, has to learn his own best working methods. People don't have the same kind of working methods, and they don't have the same kind of lives. The reason, I think, why artists of all kinds are most at home in great art centers is because there they see other artists all the time, and find out what the various methods of work are; what kind of food life, exercise life, sex life, reading life, boozing or not boozing, drugs or not drugs. You have to find out for yourself what is a good creative hygiene.
You have to do your practice, keep your health, keep your inspiration, keep your intellectual contents and your energies, and above all keep relaxed because it can't come through unless you've relaxed.
When I was younger I found that I worked awfully well in bed. As they say in France, the nervous system is only in repose in bed. I can work either in bed or sitting at a table, but I wait for the moment when I sort of automatically reach for a pencil.
Music: Thomson, "Before Sleeping"; Betty Allen, mezzo-soprano; Virgil Thomson, piano
Thomson: If you can put the surface of your mind at rest and let the deeper parts come up spontaneously then you get a deeper and more vivid result. Any poet knows that, and any composer knows it. I am not a theologian. It might be the Holy Ghost. It might be your unconscious memory of all the music you ever heard in your life. In any case, it's something a little deeper than the surface of your mind.
I've been something of an éminence gris. I haven't invented anything. Well, yes, maybe I have. I haven't created the career of Philip Glass, but as he pointed out to me, I was doing minimalist music fifty years before he did.
Music: Philip Glass, Einstein on the Beach; The Philip Glass Ensemble
One, two, three, four.
One, two, three, four, five, six.
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.
One, two, three, four
One, two, three, four, five, six ...
Thomson: I also pointed out to him, as a joke, that he'd had considerable success at writing operas in Sanskrit, and I'd done perfectly well writing operas in Gertrude Stein.
Music: Thomson, Four Saints in Three Acts; Orchestra of Our Time; Joel Thome, conductor
Text by Gertrude Stein
One, two, three as one, one and one
One, one to be,
One with them, one with them, one with them.
With are with are with with it.
Thomson: Gertrude Stein said it so simply—she said, "If you remember the history of your art while you are working, your work comes out dead. If you can keep your mind on what you're writing about, then it comes out live." Well, it's as simple as that, really as simple as that.
Music: Thomson, Four Saints in Three Acts; Orchestra of Our Time; Joel Thome, conductor
Text by Gertrude Stein
There are as many saints as there are saints in it.
How many saints are there in it?
There are saints in it.
Saint Celestine, Saint Lawrence.
There are as many saints
There are as many saints as there are as many saints as there are in it.
Thank you very much.
Music: Aaron Copland, Latin American Sketches; New Music New Haven, Yale School of Music
Perlis: It was Virgil Thomson who introduced Aaron Copland to Nadia Boulanger. Copland became the most celebrated of her students. He was one of the first major figures to be included in the Yale oral history archive, and the extensive interviews I made with him became the basis of his autobiography. While working together, we examined his sketches and early studies for his teacher, Rubin Goldmark. Copland's reactions, preserved on this unique tape, capture the composer in an informal moment.
Copland: [Sings] Too much "dee da dee da dum" I'm sorry to say. [Laughs] Too late now. [Reading] "Avoid parallel fourths. Do not let voices be more than an octave apart. Avoid unisons and octaves as much as possible."
Perlis: This is Goldmark?
Copland: That's Goldmark. You realize that I did a lot of that stuff with tongue in cheek. That is to say, I did it 'cause I thought I had to, in order to get a—acquire a technique. And, he said it was necessary, so I took his word for it.
Oh, that I published. That's one of the blues. [Sings] This thing keeps coming back all the time. [Sings] I was apparently fascinated with that little tune!
And this is Four Motets. [Sings] There it is again. It's everywhere! [Laughs] These are the Four Motets.
That's pretty wild. Gee Lucifer, I haven't looked at this in sixty years. It's wild to have kept all these things.
Music: Copland, "Jazzy" from Three Moods; Ramon Salvatore, piano
Perlis: "Holy Moses!", as Copland might say, what was accomplished in those sixty years was extraordinary. He had two main goals in life — to write the best works he could, and to establish and promote contemporary American music. His success is demonstrated by works such as Lincoln Portrait and Appalachian Spring which helped to define an American sound, as well as compositions such as Piano Variations and the Short Symphony, recognized as masterworks of the twentieth century.
Copland: I had the idea of going to Paris around 1919 or '20. I went to Paris because that's where the new thing was happening. You see, the old thing was Brahms and [Max] Reger—they were the German composers—and Wagner of course. But, the new music was being written by Debussy and Ravel, and that's where I wanted to be, where the new stuff was coming from.
I had sensed that in music we could reflect in some way the life that we had lived, that music needn't be so high-falutin' that it becomes abstract and just pure notes, you know. I was very anxious in some way to express the kind of life I knew in Brooklyn, or American life, you might say, in our serious music. You see, we had done it in the jazz field and ragtime. That was absolutely American, but we hadn't had any American composers—Gershwin wasn't known yet, don't forget—who had reflected the kind of serious music that I was interested in, in terms of our American experience.
Music: Copland, Piano Concerto
Copland: Jazz was hopelessly American, and to use elements from jazz in a more—what I thought of as a more serious context was almost—well, it was automatic that the music would sound American because there were jazz rhythms we always connected with America; they were invented here.
Perlis: Copland's teacher, Nadia Boulanger, recognized the vitality of Copland's jazz rhythms and encouraged his modernist tendencies.
Aaron Copland: I took a lot of battling with myself to convince myself that I ought to study composition with her because the idea was just too revolutionary. I couldn't think of a single composer in the history of music who had ever studied composition with a woman teacher. One had the feeling in her studio, and being her student that you were sitting in the center of the live musical life of Paris, 1921. You weren't just studying a thing that had happened in the past. You'd find the latest score of Stravinsky on her piano, still in manuscript, or of Milhaud, or of Honegger. Paris, from the standpoint of Brooklyn, seemed to be where all of the new things were happening in music.
Music: Copland, Dance Symphony; Japan Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra; Akeo Watanabe, conductor
Copland: I had won over a real friend in Koussevitzky. The kind of enthusiasm with which he surrounded any performance of my new work was the really exciting thing of the event for me. Perhaps Leonard Bernstein could create something of the same excitement. But, Koussevitzky took this attitude that you're the coming thing, and every piece you write is going to create excitement. You see, he had gone through the whole Stravinsky period in Paris and he just carried that over to Boston.
We were very rhythm-conscious in the twenties, I'd say. Stravinsky was partly responsible. He was writing rhythms that were not familiar, and the jazz thing was very present in our minds. That was enough. Those two things were enough to make you think about rhythms in a kind of fresh way, or hope to think about them in a fresh way.
"Polyrhythms" was a magic word—having more than one rhythm at the same time—juxtaposing them, mixing them. That seemed very fascinating because it gave a whole piece a rhythmic life that you wouldn't find in Chopin.
Music: Copland, Music for the Theatre; Yale Philharmonia
Copland: I was always much more sympathetic to Stravinsky than to Schoenberg. You see, the trouble with Schoenberg from my standpoint was that though I realized the twelve-tone thing was an important development, the feeling behind the music still seemed to be that old German Weltschmertzy kind of expression, which was exactly what we were trying to get away from.
The Piano Quartet is rather twelve-toney. By lending oneself to the twelve semitones rather than the diatonic scale you'd dream new up tunes and new harmonies, and enlarge one's possibilities. But I was intent on staying away from that romantic afflatus that it seemed always to have.
Music: Copland, Piano Quartet; Gilbert Kalish, piano; Boston Symphony Chamber Players
Copland: Most music is based on kind of a kernel of ideas—musical ideas, not mental ones, musical ones—that occur to you without your having felt that you in any way forced it. Naturally, if you accept a commission to do a work for a certain orchestra and you're pressed for time, then you sort of force yourself to think musically whether you feel in the mood or not. But, the really good pieces are those which are based, I think, on a kind of spontaneous combustion.
You have to be pretty convinced about what you're doing, otherwise there are many, many reasons for not doing it: no financial gain, no good criticisms in the paper the next morning. You really have to be brave in that sense, and really the bravery comes from the conviction. If you are absolutely sure this is what you want to do and it's meaningful to you, then you just assume it's going to take time before other people get around to it. That's been the history of new efforts in music. It doesn't always—people don't fall in love with a new thing. If they do, it's a rare event.
Music: Copland, Piano Sonata; Sara Laimon, piano
Copland: I think I got the idea of writing a piece using the text from Lincoln from a biography by an English Lord. Can you imagine that? I remember one performance very vividly; this was, I think, in Venezuela. The speaker was a Venezuelan actress, and she was a fiery thing. About five minutes before the concert was to start there was an announcement that the local dictator was coming to the concert. This amazed everybody because he had always been afraid to appear in public for fear that someone would take a shot at him. He was well hated, particularly by this fiery actress, and boy she was going to give it to him. When she got to the end of the piece with the lines, "A government of the people. Por el pueblo, e para—" I never heard the end of The Lincoln Portrait. The whole audience of about six thousand people stood up and started screaming and yelling and applauding. Then, they told me six months later, he was out. [Laughs] Deposed. I was given credit for helping that revolution. I'm sorry to say that they also told me that two years later, he was back! [Laughs]
Music: Copland, Lincoln Portrait
And that this nation, under God,
Shall have a new birth of freedom,
And that government of the people,
By the people, and for the people,
Shall not perish from the earth.
Perlis: Copland often described composing as a lonely business. He enjoyed working with artists in other fields, particularly film and dance.
Copland: A composer is in a special position to appreciate what music does to a film, because you see it without the music. You realize how much more human the screen seems when there is music going on, even if nobody is paying any attention to it. It just seems to warm up the whole atmosphere around you.
I enjoyed doing "The Heiress," of course, because it was a very well done picture. There's a scene in the film where the young lovers decide they're going to suddenly go and get married right there and then, so he dashes off in a carriage. When that scene was played and she walked back into the house dejected with the idea that he is not coming, the audience burst into laughter. They just thought it was funny that she'd been jilted. That was murder! The director came up to me after the show and said, "Copland, you've got to stop the audience from laughing." I wrote a completely different sort of music, much more dissonant than you normally hear in a moving picture theater. They played the same scene. There wasn't a sound in the house. And I am sure the audience didn't know they were listening to music, but it worked on them anyhow. Nothing could have been funny with this rather dissonant, unpleasant-sounding music going on. There was nothing to laugh at. [Laughs]
Music: Copland, The Heiress
Copland: I certainly remember when I had a telephone call from Martha Graham, and she said, "I have an idea for a ballet that I'd like to discuss with you." I went down there to her studio and we had a long discussion. I was always anxious to write for her, of course. I'd always admired her dancing, and I knew her personally; she's a wonderful gal. So, I was very pleased. She gave me an outline of what the ballet was supposed to represent, more or less, not in a realistic sense, but rather in a sort of general artistic sense. Some would be a very bright and exciting and somewhat athletic dance, others would be more moody. Then, at the end of that summer season I came back to town and I went and played it for her. The ballet had no name, and of course the first thing I said to her when I saw her and the thing was finished—I said, "What have you called the ballet?" She said, "Appalachian Spring." "Oh," I said, "What a nice name. Where did you get it?" She said, "It's the name of a poem by Hart Crane." I said, "Does your ballet action have anything to do with the poem?" She said, "No, I just like the title." But I can't tell you how many times people have come up to me and said, "When I hear your score for Appalachian Spring, I just see the Appalachians and feel spring." They naturally assume I had that in mind when I was writing the work.
Music: Copland, Appalachian Spring; New Music New Haven, Yale School of Music
I think basically you compose because you want to somehow summarize in some permanent form your most basic feelings about being alive. Life seems so transitory that it seems very attractive to be able to set down in either words, or tones, or paint, or some way some sort of permanent statement about the way it feels to live now today. So, that when it's all gone people will be able to go to the art work of the time and get some sense of what it felt like to be alive.
Music: Roy Harris, Third Symphony
Van Cleve: Born on a farm in Oklahoma, Roy Harris was an unlikely character to study in Paris and to be included in the Boulangerie. He shared Copland's determination to find an American sound. The bold musical gestures and open harmonies of his Third Symphony were thought to epitomize the American west. He often incorporated folk music into his compositions.
Roy Harris: [Sings]
Oh, there was a moaning lady,
who lived in a moaning land.
And she had a moaning daughter,
who played in a moaning band.
That's what some of the pioneers used to tease their wives with when they were getting a little sorry for themselves because they had a rough time. There's no doubt that folk songs of any country are better than the melodies which are made by individual composers. There's a much greater creative process in the making of folk songs. They are sung in many different places and are changed a little bit here and there as they are developed over the years.
[Sings] La da la dadada... I chose that folksong for sort of a little "Pastorale" in my Violin Sonata. [Sings]
Music: Harris, Violin Sonata
Harris: I didn't decide to be a composer. I don't think any of us can decide to be a composer any more than Sandy Koufax could decide he was going to be a pitcher. I was a truck driver, so I used to whistle tunes and stuff. Then, I started writing them down. First thing I knew I'd written a piece. One thing leads to another.
My wife and I were sitting behind two of these little old ladies on a Friday afternoon, and one of them said, "It says here in the program notes that the man who wrote this symphony was a truck driver. What possible emotions could a truck driver have?" [Laughs]
Music: Harris, "Elegy" from Elegy and Dance; Portland Youth Philharmonic; Jacob Avshalomov, conductor
Harris: You know, a creative artist doesn't examine himself. It'd be sort of like digging up the potatoes to see if they're growing. He must not examine his own processes.
In 1933, I made a decision that I wouldn't write anything that wasn't commissioned, that I would not write works into the air and not know whether they were going to be performed, or what groups would perform them. All these commissions came because the people wanted them, and because they were willing to pay money for them: good, solid, cash.
Music: Harris, "Dance" from Elegy and Dance; Portland Youth Philharmonic; Jacob Avshalomov, conductor
Harris: I would have to say that the Third Symphony is a war symphony. It was at a time—1939—when Hitler was taking over one country after another. Things looked bad for democracy. I was deeply depressed, and I felt that I want to write a work which would be maybe my last work and probably would never be performed. And so I wrote the highest, best that I knew how. There was this terrific excitement in the time period in which we were living. We all felt that we were sort of living on a volcano.
Music: Harris, Third Symphony
Harris: My father and I brought in a beautiful wagonload of potatoes, which we had grown. I'd helped plant these potatoes; I'd seen them grow in beautiful green foliage, and helped dig them up and sack them. And we brought them in to the Los Angeles market. I remember stopping and watering the horses. And then coming on through the hills and getting in there about five in the morning. And we were offered such a little price that the old man loaded them up and took them back home. I don't by any means believe that my music is as good as those potatoes were, but I had better luck.
Music: Harris, Contemplation; Johana Harris, piano
Music: Duke Ellington, "The Mooche"; Dwike Mitchell, piano, Willie Ruff, horn
Van Cleve: Duke Ellington was born in 1899, one year after Gershwin and one year before Copland. Elegant, refined, witty and charming, he is one of the most appealing personalities in the history of American music. He wrote hundreds of tunes, many of which have become jazz standards, and he led one of the most legendary and long-lasting bands of the century. Audiences adored the man and his music, and believed it when he told them, "We love you madly."
Ellington: When I was a kid I became interested in this jazz and ragtime bit, and I tried to get a lot of people to teach me what they were doing around Washington, but I never could learn anything anybody taught me. And so, I was sick and had to stay in the house for a couple of weeks and I finally came up with this out of my head.
Music: Ellington, "Soda Fountain Rag"; Duke Ellington, piano
Ellington: Then, it got around that I was playing the piano, and when you play the piano you get exposed to the ladies, girls. You become aware of them. A lot of people think I got bags under my eyes writing music late at night, but it's not really true. No, actually what the bags under the eyes are, that's an accumulation of virtues.
Music: Ellington, Mitchell Parish, and Irving Mills, " Sophisticated Lady"
Ellington: I'm extremely partial to extremely pretty people
Edgar McEntree, he was a boyhood pal of mine, and he was a pretty elegant cat. He was very well dressed, you know, and I'm naturally the sloppy type. But then I had to keep up with him, so I began to tag on little things when dressing and so on. And I think he felt that in order for me to be eligible for his constant companionship that I should have a title, and so with that he called me "Duke." And it sort of stayed there.
Music: Ellington, "Informal Blues"
Ellington: I think our first recording was on a Gennett Record. But the first one I think that we have a record of since that was when we started with Brunswick in 1925 or '6 when we recorded the "East St. Louis Toodle-o."
Music: Ellington and Bubber Miley, "East St. Louis Toodle-o"
Ellington: "Todalo," you know, is a broken walk. Practically everything we wrote was supposed to be a picture of something, or it represented a character or something. We were walking up Broadway one night after playing the Kentucky Club, and we were talking about, "This is an old man after a hard day's work in the field. He and his broken walk are coming up the road."
They were having auditions for a band to go in the Cotton Club. About five or six bands or so auditioned. I think the audition was set for noon. When we got there about two o'clock everybody else had auditioned and gone home. So, we went on with our audition and when we got through the man said, "You're hired." I later discovered that the man who said that was the big boss, and he wasn't there when the other guys were there. He only heard us. [Laughs] So, some of the fellows around there didn't have very high hopes for our staying there. The waiters were giving odds on us getting thrown out after three or four days. And we stayed there five years.
Music: Ellington, "Tootin' Through the Roof"
Ellington: Radio was first catching on and we had a transcontinental wire out of the Cotton Club. We were broadcasting almost every night across the country. And, at the same time all the other big bands in the world were imitating Paul Whiteman and playing big grandiose fanfares and that sort of thing. And we had a very plaintive style. As a matter of fact, we were contrasted by all these other people imitating Whiteman.
Music: Ellington and Miley, "Black and Tan Fantasy"
Ellington: Solitude," yeah. I wrote that in twenty minutes, standing up. That came out in '35, I think. It was written in '34; it came out in '35, yes. Yeah, it's another one of those things. We were in Chicago, in the Victor studio, and someone else was late getting out of the recording studio, and I needed a fourth number. So, I was leaning up against one of those glass office enclosures, and I wrote it out, what orchestration there was of it.
It had no foundation, no emotional foundation. And we recorded it, and when we got through recording it, the first take, the engineer had tears running down his eyes. And Whetsol says, "That's solitude." Oh, Arthur Whetsol made that title.
Music: Ellington, Mills, and Edgar DeLange, "Solitude"
Ellington: I always say that we are primitive artists: we only employ the materials at hand. We never go looking for anybody, really. If we need a musician and somebody's available, let him play a couple of nights. If we like them, we say, "Well, why don't you stay around and see whether you like us or not?" And this is very important, whether they like us or not because if they don't, then we can't use them as a thing in the band, as a device. The band is an accumulation of personalities, tonal devices. As a result of a certain musician applied to a certain instrument, you get a definite tonal character.
Van Cleve: In 1939, Duke Ellington met Billy Strayhorn, a musician who was to have a huge impact on his career. The slim, shy Strayhorn became Ellington's writing partner, and they were so close he was sometime referred to as Ellington's alter ego.
Ellington: I heard Strayhorn—somebody brought him to the theater and said, "This young man has got a lot of talent and I think you should hear him." And he sat down and played some of his music and the lyrics. And he had such perfect wedding of words and music. I said, "Gee, I'm going to bring you to New York and let you write lyrics for me." And one day we had a small band date. And I got stuck for a number. I said, "Write this. Do something." He did it and everybody's eye's popped when they heard what he played because, you know, it was wonderful—the first thing.
Ellington: [From a live performance. Applause] Billy Strayhorn, ah, Billy Strayhorn is going to sing "Lush Life."
Music: Billy Strayhorn, "Lush Life"; Billy Strayhorn, voice
Ellington: The music—you go further and further back in the music that I have become a part of. I mean, it's strongly American Negro. Now, this is separated from the African Negro music. There is a lot of difference. I mean the African Negro music is so sophisticated that nobody can dig it but them. Nobody can duplicate it. It is the most sophisticated rhythm in the world.
Ideas? Oh, man, I got a million dreams. That's all I do is dream, all the time. This is not piano. This is dreaming. [Plays piano.]
All right then, all the kids in the band want you to know that we do love you madly.
Music: Ellington, "One More Time"
Van Cleve: Ellington was known to prefer lively and eccentric performers. His band members were extremely loyal, often staying with Ellington for decades. Here's drummer Sonny Greer, who worked with Ellington from 1920 to 1951.
Sonny Greer: We were a living legend. We are today. Every tick of the clock, baby, twenty-four hours a day, somewhere in the world—not only in the United States, all over the world—somewhere in the world they are playing some of our tunes.
When we went on the road, they'd never seen nobody like us because we were the first colored band to broadcast on a national network from coast to coast, six o'clock to seven. Like I tell you from the Cotton Club, we used to broadcast every night. Everybody was waiting for that from New York to California, from coast to coast. Of course, that's suppertime. Ain't nobody get nothing to eat till we come off. Dad's working all day, he starve to death till we got through. What the hell could he do? Everybody loved us, you know.
Music: Ellington, "Tootin' Through the Roof"
Van Cleve: Ruth Ellington, Duke's younger sister.
Ruth Ellington: It was on radio when I was still in Washington. I may have been about eight years old, somewhere—nine. And I remember that I turned on the radio and this music came, and the announcer said, "Jungle music!" [Laughs] It was incredible. I remember my shock! Jungle music?! Edward was playing jungle music?! [Laughs] Because my experience with the jungle was, you know, tigers and lions, elephants. [Laughs]
Many people thought that he was an enigma, and I've often described him as having veils behind veils, behind veils. I think that he developed that kind of facade because he was so hypersensitive, that he knew that he was vulnerable to injury. Therefore, he did not expose large areas of himself at the same time, just opened up small little facets here and there. He was always extremely aware of what was going on about him and he could look at people and see straight through them.
Music: Ellington, "Blues"
Van Cleve: Ellington's first manager, Irving Mills.
Irving Mills: We gave every man in the band an opportunity to write, to encourage them. You'll notice there's three names, practically, on all the songs. They came in with ideas, and Duke helped to develop it and give it the style.
Duke always knew his position, and he was always very grateful for everything that was being done because he knew he was getting all the best of everything because everything around we created "from the pen of Duke Ellington," whether he wrote it or he didn't write it. He had the boys so trained that when he had something, they knew the harmony and they knew the trick. They rehearsed it until they got it right.
Duke, all of a sudden, got religious. The fifty thousand dollars that he got to do the book [Music is My Mistress] he put into a religious album ["Sacred Concert"] which isn't worth fifty cents. And I don't want to be the one to criticize it if he went on a religious binge, to write that kind of thing. That was his objective. He got a kick out of it.
As fast as he got the money, that's how fast he spent the money. He couldn't go to a town where they didn't nab him for this, that, and the other thing, for charities. He was good to his men, and his men were with him for a lifetime, practically.
Music: Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh, "Diga Diga Do"; Irving Mills, voice
Van Cleve: Juan Tizol played trombone in the Ellington orchestra, and he also wrote such popular tunes as "Caravan" and "Perdido."
Juan Tizol: I just write the melody, you know. Duke write the arrangement so I give him credit. Like, for instance, "Caravan" written by Duke Ellington and Juan Tizol. The only thing I used to get mad when on television I hear all the time, "Now, ladies and gentlemen, we're gonna play "Caravan" by Duke Ellington," and they didn't mention my name. That's why I used to get mad. And still they're doing it.
Music: Ellington and Juan Tizol, "Caravan"; Princeton University Jazz Ensemble; Anthony Branker, conductor
Van Cleve: One of Ellington's star vocalists, Betty Roché.
Betty Roché: If he was teaching me a new song, he would teach me the melody. Then, he would give me a piece of paper with the lyrics on it, and I would run that through my mind. Then, he would have me rehearse it with the music, and he and Johnny Hodges and "Sweetpea"—Billy Strayhorn—would get with me. Then, it was up to me to learn the lyrics. Whenever I did a number, he'd say to me, "Just do it any way that it comes out in your mind. If you sing off, it's perfectly all right." And when I would sing, I had a fashion of holding my hand out, like a person was going to give me some skin. Like, [sings] "Give it up, give it up, give it up, body and soul." And he said, "Don't take that gesture out. Keep it in. Anything you feel, you do it." Then, he let me do little dance steps between numbers, or in between the instrumental and the vocal. And I did it.
Music: Ellington, "Blues" segment from world premiere of Black, Brown and Beige; Betty Roché, voice
Van Cleve: Clark Terry contributed his brilliant trumpet sound to the band from 1951 to 1959.
Clark Terry: The only thing I ever heard him use in the form of musical discipline is sometimes he would remind us to "Listen!" And sometimes rather vehemently, he was really mean. "Listen, goddammit, listen!" You know, and for a while you would begin to wonder, well what the hell is wrong with this cat? Does he think we're deaf? We got cotton in our ears or something? But then what actually what he meant was to listen totally, to listen to the timbre and the texture. Listen what your section meant to the overall piece. Listen to the type of vibrato that was being used. Follow the lead man. Listen to what your segment is contributing contrapuntally to the rest of the sections of the band. And then I began to find out what listening means. I usually refer to my stint with the Ellington band as having attended the "University of Ellingtonia" for close to ten years.
We did an album called "The Drum Is A Woman" and he suggested to me that I should portray the role of Buddy Bolden. And of course I had never heard any records by Buddy Bolden—there are no records by Buddy Bolden! So, he says, "Oh sure, Sweetie, you are Buddy Bolden. He was suave and dapper and clean and he bent notes, and the ladies had a great feel for him, and he loved ladies. And when he blew with such a big, powerful, strong tone in New Orleans, you could hear him across the river and he would break glasses on the shelves over there." And when he gets through psyching you, you believe you are Buddy Bolden. So he says, "Come on, play me some Buddy Bolden." So I thought about all these things, you know, I felt myself being surrounded by a bevy of beauties, you know, and I could picture a bunch of glasses over there on the other side of the river. I'm gonna try to break these glasses. I'm gonna bend some notes. [Sings] "Daaaaaaaaadoodaaaat." He says, "That's it, that's Buddy Bolden. And that's what came off on the record.
Music: Ellington and Strayhorn, "Hey Buddy Bolden"
Van Cleve: Art Baron played trombone with the Duke Ellington orchestra in 1973 and 1974.
Art Baron: It was interesting to see the whole creative process. Sometimes he might give a clarinet part to a trumpet. He would just try anything. If it sounded good he'd just leave it in. I really think some of the stuff just kind of happened.
I want to tell you, probably in six weeks we had three nights off. And, two of them were, like, going from one end of Europe to the other, which in those days was maybe a train and a plane, and I'm talking about all day travelling. And it was really hectic. Like the first night we played in Brussels, then we also went to Holland. We flew from Brussels to Ethiopia. He didn't like to be dormant on the road, you know. If we had a night off, he'd probably go out and find another gig. And we rehearsed after the gig. [Laughs] It was funny. We rehearsed, like, two in the morning.
Music: Ellington, Third Sacred Concert; excerpt from live recording featuring Art Baron, recorder
Van Cleve: Alvin Ailey choreographed a ballet called The River to the music of Duke Ellington.
Alvin Ailey: I expected, of course, from having worked with Mr. Bernstein, and Mr. Barber and Virgil Thomson, all these people, that I was going to get a score. I received a tape with several versions of the same piece of music. So, the next day arrives another tape. Same piece, different version of the same music with different structure and all that, you know. So, then I worked on that one for a couple days. Then the next day came another one, this time with a band playing the first version and snatches of other tunes. I literally threw up my hands. I said, "Look, I cannot do this. Every day the music is different. I cannot go on with this. We should just postpone it." The door opens and in walks Mr. Ellington with his entourage. It was a magical moment, with white coats and with hat and everything. He had come up to see how the rehearsal was going. I sat down with him and said, "Look, I cannot do this like this. I have to have the whole piece, so I can see what I'm doing from beginning to end." He said to me, "Look man, if you'd just worry a little bit more about this choreography and stop worrying about the music, you'd be better off." [Laughs] I said, "But this choreography is the music. I have to have it structured the way you want it structured." So, he finally understood.
Music: Ellington, The River; Duke Ellington and his orchestra
Van Cleve: Ellington had a very close relationship with his physician, Dr. Arthur Logan, and his wife, Marian.
Marian Logan: Ellington was a very special kind of person. Anything that was painful, he rose above it. He never accepted the fact that it was there. He just couldn't deal with pain or anything that was troublesome or anything that interfered with him and his music. Ellington also was quite a hypochondriac. He didn't think he could swallow a glass of water without checking it with his doctor.
Music: Ellington and Strayhorn, "Tonk"; Double Edge, pianos
Van Cleve: John Gensel, the longtime pastor to the New York jazz community, had insight into the spiritual life of Duke Ellington.
John Gensel: I was his pastor, one of his pastors. He had rabbis and Episcopal priests. So he was, theologically, not zooming in on any denomination. There in his Sacred Concerts–which as I said before he claimed was his most important work–that there's where he did his preaching and not directly himself but in the mouth of others and in the title of the tunes and what he did. He certainly wasn't denominational. He claimed all of us, you know.
Music: Ellington, "Come Sunday" from Black, Brown, and Beige; featuring Johnny Hodges, saxophone
We are grateful to the following record labels, institutions, and individuals for granting permission to reproduce recorded excerpts of music:
Composers Recordings, Inc.
Improvising Artists, Inc.
Ira & Leonore Gershwin Trusts
Marc George Gershwin
Trouba Disc Records
Yale Music Library, Historical Sound Recordings
Yale School of Music
Additional label and catalogue information can be found in the credits portion of the book that accompanies this CD.