Friday, November 14, 2008
AARON COPLAND AND A FAMOUS WHALE
On this day in 1900, the ultimate American composer was born. This of course was Aaron Copland the composer of 1944's "Appalachian Spring", 1952's "The Tender Land" "A Lincoln Portrait composed in 1942, (which I really want to hear) "Music and Imagination of 1952 and "Fanfare" of 1940. "Billy The Kid" being perhaps the most famous along with 1940's "Fanfare For The Common Man". Amazingly he even musicalized twelve poem of Emily Dickinson, one of my all time favorite poets.Aaron was a moral conservative by nature, a calm, affable, modest and mild-mannered man, who masked his feelings. Even friends found it hard to crack his facade. Though shy, he preferred to be in a crowd than alone. He lived simply, and approached composing in the same manner. He was an avid reader. He always remained thrifty, even after he achieved substantial wealth. In company, Copland could be “almost devilishly droll” and fun-loving. His tact served him well in his private life and in his public life as a moderator, committee man, and teacher. Copland was a constant and diligent worker and a night owl, who composed primarily at the piano and at a relatively slow pace. He was careful in assembling and storing his documents and scores, as well, so he could later find and re-use earlier ideas and themes. Deciding not to follow the example of his father, a solid Democrat, Copland never enrolled as a member of any political party; but he espoused a general progressive view and had strong ties with numerous colleagues and friends in the Popular Front, including Odetts. Copland supported the Communist Party USA ticket during the 1936 presidential election, at the height of his involvement with The Group Theater and remained a committed opponent of militarism and the Cold War, which he regarded as having been instigated by the United States. He condemned it as, "almost worse for art than the real thing". Throw the artist "into a mood of suspicion, ill-will, and dread that typifies the cold war attitude and he'll create nothing". In keeping with these attitudes, Copland was a strong supporter of the Presidential candidacy of Henry A. Wallace on the Progressive Party ticket. As a result, he was later investigated by the FBI during the Red scare of the 1950s and found himself blacklisted. Copland was included on an FBI list of 151 artists thought to have Communist associations. Joseph McCarthy and Roy Cohn questioned Copland about his lecturing abroad, neglecting completely Copland’s works which made a virtue of American values. Outraged by the accusations, many members of the musical community held up Copland's music as a banner of his patriotism. The investigations ceased in 1955 and were closed in 1975. That means he was under some kind of suspicion for two decades! Though taxing of his time, energy, and emotional state, Copland’s career and international artistic reputation were not seriously affected by the McCarthy probes In any case, beginning in 1950, Copland, who had been appalled at Stalin's persecution of Shostakovich and other artists, began resigning from participation in leftist groups. He decried the lack of artistic freedom in the Soviet Union and in his 1954 Norton lecture, asserted that loss of freedom under Soviet Communism deprived artists of "the immemorial right of the artist to be wrong". He began to vote Democratic, first for Stevenson and then Kennedy. Copland is documented as a gay man in author Howard Pollack's biography, Aaron Copland: The Life and Work of an Uncommon Man. Like many of his contemporaries he guarded his privacy, especially in regard to his homosexuality, providing very few written details about his private life. However, he was one of the few composers of his stature to live openly and travel with his lovers, most of whom were talented, much younger men. Among Copland's love affairs, most of which lasted for only a few years yet became enduring friendships, were ones with photographer Viktor Kraft, artist Alvin Ross, pianist Paul Moor, dancer Erik Johns and composer John Brodbin Kennedy. My insurance study classes continue and its very odd being out of work in a Christmas holiday retail season. But I am writing like crazy with John Nugent and it is very satisfying. I have just completed the books and lyrics of another musical (that's seven with John now) called "THE REVENGE OF ICHABOD CRANE". Because I am always asking questions like "Wouldn't it be funny if..." Wouldn't it be crazy if..." and one day, because it happened to be the birthday of Washington Irving, (and I loved his story of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow) I asked myself out loud "What might really have become of Ichabod Crane?" Assuming he wasn't killed (a thrown pumpkin doesn't make a great murder weapon) What if got a chance to come back and get revenge. I was reading that Washington Irving had invented the phrase "The Almighty Dollar". How often had my father used that expression. That set off a catalyst: what happened if good old Sleepy Hollow had become a money hungry town called "Dollarville" So that's where the idea took off from. The creative process is sometimes a mysterious one. And lastly today was the day that one of my favorite novels was published-- Dear old "Moby Dick" by Herman Melvile in 1851. When I subbed once for a teacher friend of mine the assignment was "Moby Dick". Since I had to make up the test, I told the kids that if they didn't read the book, they would never pass the test because the first question was a pass or fail. The question: How does the novel "Moby Dick" begin. It's one of the most famous openings in literature: "Call Me Ishmael." How many of you knew that one?