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Reviewed by:
  • The Selected Correspondence of Aaron Copland
  • G. Dale Vargason
The Selected Correspondence of Aaron Copland. Edited by Elizabeth B. Crist and Wayne Shirley. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006. [xv, 269 p. ISBN 0-300-11121-5. $45.] Indexes, bibliographical notes, photographs.

The life of Aaron Copland (1900–1990), one of the leading musical figures of his era, has been and continues to be well documented through publications and recordings. Many of these works quote from and use his letters, but until now, a volume of his correspondence did not exist. The current work under review is the first published book dedicated to the letters of Copland. Drawing from the archives of the Library of Congress, the New York Public Library, Yale University, Columbia University, and others, the editors pieced together the life of Copland through his correspondence, representing an exceptional letter writer who often reveals much about his life not found in his other writings. Editorial choices and the selection process are defined in the preface:

The letters in this collection have been selected for their readability, their interest, and the light they cast on Copland's thoughts about his career. There has been some attempt to represent the general flow of his life from the 1920s through the 1970s, but we have preferred to let the richer periods of the correspondence (especially the early 1920s and early 1940s) take up more space rather than to seek an equal representation of all years. . . . We have not excluded letters because they are available elsewhere or have already been widely excerpted.

(pp. vii–viii.) [End Page 617]

Letters are published in their entirety, editing is kept to a minimum, and annotations are added only to clarify meaning, making for an easily readable text. The editors keep the original flavor of the letters intact, including Copland's slang, mistakes, and misspellings.

Arranged chronologically, the letters cover Copland's life from his childhood to just before his death. Each chapter of the book represents important periods in the composer's life, beginning with the Brooklyn and Paris years (1909–24), continuing through the Depression, musical triumphs from 1937–42, the war years, post war, and a last chapter entitled "1958 and beyond." Correspondents include not only numerous colleagues and other important figures involved in twentieth century music, but also family and friends. Of course there are many letters to his famous teacher, Nadia Boulanger, which shift from a student/teacher relationship, to a colleague/ friend tone as the century progresses. Copland frequently tells Boulanger the importance she played in his life during the years he studied with her in Paris in the 1920s. Many letters show Copland's relationships with the two foremost conductors who promoted his works during their influential careers: Serge Koussevitzky and Leonard Bernstein. His letters to Bernstein are sometimes comical, with their Koussevitzkyisms, imitating Koussevitzky's Russian accent. Other notable correspondents include Carlos Chavez, Roger Sessions, William Schumann, Virgil Thomson, Irving and Verna Fine, Israel Citkowitz, Eugene Ormandy, Paul Bowels, Harold Spivacke, Arthur Berger, and Charles Ives, to name a few.

It is worth noting that Copland identifies early on the different types of letters he writes. In a letter to his brother Ralph in 1922, Copland says that he writes two kinds of letters: "one like I write home, having as its main type of interest what I had for supper last night and the other like I write to Schaffer, for instance, telling of the marvels of the 'Group of Six' " (p. 25). Unfortunately, the letters to Aaron Schaffer referenced above, which today would be of great value for their specific musical content, are lost.

The letters in this collection answer many questions concerning Copland's life, revealing the inner man and some of his most personal thoughts. His early relationship with artist Prentiss Taylor is clearly shown when he writes in 1929, "I wish you were here to be my sole diversion" (p. 69), and later that year in another letter says "I am most disappointed because it ruins the possibility of our being alone together for a goodly spell. Oh HELL [ink blot], and love, Aaron" (p. 71). We...


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