Notes 60.2 (2003) 450-452
[Access article in PDF]
Copland Connotations: Studies and Interviews. Edited by Peter Dickinson.Foreword by H. Wiley Hitchcock. Rochester, NY: Boydell Press, 2002. [xviii, 210 p. ISBN 0-85115-902-8. $60.] Music examples, index.
This compendium of studies comes from two conferences in 2000—Copland's centennial year—held in Toronto and London. The indefatigable Peter Dickinson is the engine behind the work. The articles fall into four major categories, which seem to have been devised after the fact to accommodate the resulting mix, rather than guiding the initial submissions.
The first group is "Copland and Context," which speaks to influences on the composer's development, and the diverse range of styles and media within which he labored. Mark DeVoto launches the set with a historical summary of Copland's Paris years at the "Boulangerie." A succinct overview of Copland's career, this paper also gives concrete analytic explanation of the distinctive characteristics of his ballet Grogh and the Organ Symphony, effectively setting them apart from the immediately succeeding works with which they are often grouped. David Schiff provides one of the most provocative articles in his examination of Copland's relationship to jazz. His approach is more confrontational, viewing Copland's attitudes as essentially condescending toward the medium, with his relationship being that of a modernist composer who used "tics" of jazz as metaphors in his music rather than embracing its essence. On the other hand, Schiff sees the Piano Sonata as the most successful blending of these genres because it more deeply and sincerely embraces the triste quality of jazz and blues, transforming it into a personal idiom.
Jessica Burr explores the relationship of the American West and its imagery to Copland's music, and reveals that the fit between the two was less inevitable than one might assume. Copland's own western experiences were limited and not always positive; indeed, his best experiences west of the Mississippi occurred in Mexico! Rather, she suggests, the presence of the West in the American imagination led Copland to accept commissions dealing with the topic and to allow listeners to read their own associations into his work, whether he had originally conceived it as frontier imagery or not. Marta Robertson discusses the collaborative relationship of the composer and Martha Graham in the creation of Appalachian Spring. The point of the article is to raise questions about how to approach such a creative partnership, and, as a call to developing a new methodology the essay has merit. The only problem for me is that it is almost all questions and too few actual solutions are proposed.
Sally Bick performs a critical service to Copland scholarship with her article on his film music. Rather than analyze his scores, she instead scrutinizes Copland's writings on film (which are surprisingly large) to extract his personal theory of film scoring. Copland looks ever more important in this regard, reflected in his belief in film music's neutral relationship to the image, its service to continuity, and its ability to underline characters' psychological development (as well as his opposition to overblown romanticism and leitmotiv technique).
The next section, "Copland, Performers, and Other Composers" explores his relationships with selected contemporaries. Vivian Perlis, best known as the coauthor of Copland's volumes of memoirs through her oral history interviews, provides a useful portrait of the relationship between Copland and the pianist John Kirkpatrick, who turns out to have been a major proponent of his music from the 1920s on, and even made piano and chamber arrangements of a number of earlier works. Howard Pollack, whose recent magisterial biography has set the bar for all future Copland scholarship (Aaron Copland: The Life and Work of an Uncommon Man [New York: Henry Holt, 1999]), contributes a succinct comparisonof Copland and George Gershwin, citing parallels of theme and execution between a number of works from each. In his eyes, the two mirror one another as a classical composer reaching out to the popular world and a popular composer reaching toward the classical, meeting [End Page 450] in a variety of ways. Finally, Larry...