Three American Composers

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Bernstein delivered this pre-concert lecture before a performance of Copland's Third Symphony in Tel Aviv, Israel in October of 1948:

The conflict within the dual personality of Copland has never been better exemplified than in this Third Symphony. As a composer of the "twenties" - those days of wild originality and jazzy experiment - Copland showed a kind of expressionistic modernism, combining acrid, harsh dissonance, broken, stumbling rhythms, exaggerated melodic intervals, and a grandiosity of purpose that one could connect only with the Hebrew prophets. With the thirties, on the other hand, came a remarkable change: Copland was suddenly basing his music on the principle of simplicity.

The turning point was the writing of an opera for high-school children, "The Second Hurricane." In this remarkable and revolutionary work, Copland revealed new meanings of C-major triads, of four-bar phrases, of the simplest "times." From this point he went on investigating this strange new realm of C-major triads, producing thereby the loveliest film - and ballet - music we have in America. But - more remarkable - he was able, in this realm, to produce a truly great Piano Sonata (1942) and the present Third Symphony.

In listening to this formidable work, we can perceive immediately that the old Copland never really died. This is a work in the large manner, full of climaxes, orchestrated to the hilt, eloquent, evocative, moody, brilliant, and on a very grand scale. There are moments of biting acidity and jazzy rhythms. But one could never mistake this symphony for a work of the twenties. The themes are extremely simple, tonal, "singable" - so much so that they have been criticized as "ordinary." On the contrary; I challenge any composer except Stravinsky to write tonal themes of this utter simplicity, while preserving such freshness.

One may, perhaps, justifiably, criticize the finale, in which the grandiosity becomes almost too much. But this is more than atoned for by a noble and touching first movement (slow), a rousing, brilliant scherzo, and a third slow movement of such original pathos that it ranks with the great adagios of our century. And one must not forget that the symphony was written expressly for Serge Koussevitzky, and the grandeur of that magnificent conductor must have had great influence on the shape and manner of the symphony. It is truly a symphony in the "Koussevitzky Manner."



Bernstein's introduction to Christopher Rouse's biography of William Schuman:

Bill Schuman and I have been close friends through four decades, and I have come to know this man and his music in a way that can be described only as loving. I have rarely met a composer who is so faithfully mirrored in his music; the man is the music. We are all familiar with the attributes generally ascribed to his compositions: vitality, optimism, enthusiasm, long lyrical line, rhythmic impetuosity, bristling counterpoint, brilliant textures, dynamic tension. But what is not so often remarked is what I treasure most: the human qualities that flow directly from the man into the works - compassion, fidelity, insight and total honesty. Compassion is the keynote; it is the mark of a man, and, for me, the mark of this man's music.




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