A “Virtual Séance” with the Founders of the American Music Center

1. Personal & Musical Backgrounds of the Founders

HARRISON KERR: All of this is very obvious, of course, but when the state of contemporary music is being considered, the importance of the extra element involved is apt to be overlooked…1

AARON COPLAND: One has to be very careful with one’s memory, because one tends to forget things and choose without even knowing you are doing it. 2

MARION BAUER: I was born in Walla Walla, Washington, on August 15, 1887 [sic], the youngest of seven children, only four of whom were living when I came into the world. 3

OTTO LUENING: I was born nine years after Wounded Knee, and the Indians used to come to my grandparents’ house in Milwaukee. 4

AARON COPLAND: I was always pleased in later years that I had been born in the 20th century. Some person, said, oh no, the 20th century began in 1901. The idea of being born in the 19th century was rather upsetting, but I must say over the years I’ve gotten used to it. 5

QUINCY PORTER: I was born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1897, coming of a long line of New England ancestors. 6

MARION BAUER: My parents were French. 7

HOWARD HANSON: [Wahoo] had sort of a bi-ethnic population. About half were Swedes or of Swedish descent, most of whom were Lutherans, and most of the other half were Bohemian and Catholic… The Swedes were there because everyone felt there was a similarity between Minnesota and Nebraska and it was more like the country they came from and I think they had an affinity for the land. So it was kind of an interesting duality there, those two quite different peoples… 8

AARON COPLAND: I was born in Brooklyn, New York, on a street called Washington Avenue. And…I don’t think I would have picked Brooklyn as a place for a composer to be born if I were picking places. 9

OTTO LUENING: Copland was the prairie boy from Brooklyn… 10

MARION BAUER: The gift for musical composition did not assert itself until after I had begun my theoretical studies in New York. I had improvised melodies from the time I was a little girl, but always complained that I didn’t know what to do with my left hand! 11

OTTO LUENING: I just liked composing… I had things that I wrote when I was six – they’re not bad, when I played piano and then I decided I’d write something for myself and did that. But I did it because I was interested in it. I liked the whole idea of it… 12

AARON COPLAND: Where I got this notion of being a composer, not of jazz music or popular music, but in the field of serious music, is even a mystery to me. 13

MARION BAUER: My mother was a linguist and a scholar, who spent most of her life with her books. But it was from my father that I inherited my talent and love for music. He had a beautiful natural tenor voice and had the ability to play any of the instruments of the military band… 14

OTTO LUENING: [Father] never encouraged me when I was very young to be a musician. He tried to keep me from being a musician. He prevented me, he tried to stop me… He said the life is too hard. He told me when I was, I guess, nine – he gave me piano lessons. I did it all myself. I just practiced by myself and everything. Then I’d play for him and he’d say, “Well, you’re too old to be a soloist. You don’t want to be a soloist.” …At nine years old because I wasn’t as good as Mozart, you see? He gave me that line, but he’d say, “You can be a good accompanist” or something – that you could do, but not a soloist. That, of course, was a little hard, but actually when I was in Munich he introduced me to Schoenberg‘s Harmony book when I was very young – I was only twelve or thirteen, and I worked on it. He’d started me and then I worked it out myself and I did other things. Then finally, my mother said, “Well, you ought to get that kid some music lessons.” 15

AARON COPLAND: Someplace in that family, which was very large on both sides, there must have been music somewhere, because it couldn’t have come from nowhere. No one ever taught music. My sister went to the opera, I remember, she had something equivalent to a subscription, and she took singing lessons, I remember that. 16

HOWARD HANSON: [There was] the tremendous influence of the Swedish Lutheran Church which I attended as a youngster… 17

AARON COPLAND: I’d go to New York, to Carnegie Hall as I grew up. 18

HOWARD HANSON: I heard more Scandinavian music than I did American…19

AARON COPLAND: There was a phonograph, but they didn’t have any classical music in those days. 20

MARION BAUER: It was somewhat of a problem to decide what career I should follow, for I showed aptness for drawing, for teaching and for writing, as well as for music. 21

HOWARD HANSON: I was…struck with a kind of Lutheran discipline as to what you could do by strictly limiting yourself. 22

OTTO LUENING: I wasn’t educated much formally. I had to do a lot of it by reading in libraries and finding out and so on. 23

AARON COPLAND: Libraries were very important. The Brooklyn Public Library had a music section; they had opera scores, and you could take them home – that too was very important…Then I discovered the 58th Street Music Library in Manhattan with Miss Dorothy Lacuton… her heart was in the right place… She had more contemporary scores. The Brooklyn Public Library was rather dusty and darkish…I was always on the watch out for the latest things. I don’t know where I got this interest in the latest things, because neither [Rubin] Goldmark nor my piano teacher ever said one single word about the latest. I mean Wagner was it; so that Stravinsky , Debussy and the French school came as a big revelation. Brahms and Beethoven I sort of took for granted, but these other guys in France, with their amusing, daring harmonies. 24

MARION BAUER: My musical education began seriously after I was graduated from high school and went to New York with my sister, Emile Frances, who had established herself as a music critic. 25

AARON COPLAND: The music teachers were dull, dull, dull…Music was very much of a side issue in high school anyway. It was a joke, you know, the class was a joke… I don’t remember discussing my compositional efforts in high school with anybody. 26

OTTO LUENING: I did have pretty good teachers then because I started very young – I was fifteen. I was a pro. I played in and around Munich and various places. I actually got a little bit job accompanying in a very fashionable bordello. I didn’t know what I was getting into. I used to play soft accompaniments as the guests arrived. My mother, when she finally heard about that said, “I think you better get another job.” 27

AARON COPLAND: I wasn’t at the head of the class, but I wasn’t at the bottom either. It never seemed like a big problem, I never had any dramatic feelings, like “I can’t do it,” or “I wish I were someplace else,” Nothing like that. But I managed to blot it out pretty well, so maybe it wasn’t as nice as I tend to think now! (laughs) I wasn’t a toughie at all as a youngster. I must have run into kids who were much tougher than I was. You had to sort of be careful of what you said and did to stay out of trouble, that kind of thing. That was a kind of vague atmosphere around. Not all the kids. There were some proper kids from the brownstone houses who were all right…it wasn’t all misery. On the other hand you had to be careful. It wasn’t all sweetness and light with the tough guys around… I was never good with my fists…and I wasn’t anxious to get into any fisticuffs. 28

OTTO LUENING: We grew up a certain way in Europe but I didn’t like it. It’s funny. I felt very much drawn to come over here and try my luck in this way… I felt that they had done everything…They had all these big shots who were already functioning, including Stravinsky and Schoenberg who were the “enfants terribles,” at the time… 29

AARON COPLAND: Stravinsky was a big name. We hadn’t heard so much of the music, but the name was big. 30

HARRISON KERR: …The European composer seldom had any difficulty… 31

OTTO LUENING: To make your way along as a composer and a conductor along that – I don’t know, it seemed to me to be a tough job. The field seemed crowded. Over here, it seemed as though they need us…32

MARION BAUER: I was the only woman member of the American Music Guild, formulated by a group of composers…with the idea of playing and criticizing each other’s music as well as giving hearings to new compositions. And believe me, they really ripped my music apart, and yet it was very helpful… 33

OTTO LUENING: I went to Eastman in 1925 because of my opera work in Chicago. Hanson thought I was an enterprising young man, and he hired me as a coach of the opera department, and I ran the whole show. Now, in the beginning of 1925 his contribution was that he insisted that American composers must be heard to be judged. 34



1. Cited from “The American Music Center” by Harrison Kerr, Music Librarians Association Notes 2nd Series I/3, June 1944; archived at the American Music Center.

2. Cited from the transcript of Vivian Perlis’s Interview with Aaron Copland in Peekskill NY on December 23, 1975, Reel A. Archived in the offices of Oral History, American Music, Yale University.

3. Cited from Marion Bauer quote in American Composers Today by David Ewen [New York: H. W. Wilson & Co., 1949].

4. Cited from Otto Luening quote in “‘Inner picture’ spurs Otto Luening’s music” by Karen Monson, Baltimore Sun, Sunday, November 25, 1984.

5. Cited from the transcript of the VHS Tape of Aaron Copland’s Self-Portrait Documentary, December 18, 1979. Archived in the offices of Oral History, American Music, Yale University.

6. Combined from Quincy Porter’s Letter to Fred Wilkins, March 12, 1965 and his letter to Senor Antonio Iglesias, Instituto de Cultura Hispanica Madrid May 12, 1964. Both archived in the Quincy Porter Papers at the Yale University Music Library.

7. Cited from Marion Bauer quote in American Composers Today by David Ewen [New York: H. W. Wilson & Co., 1949].

8. Transcribed by Frank J. Oteri from the audiotape 3 side 2 of David R. Williams’s interview with Howard Hanson, June 9, 1978. Audiotape archived at the Eastman School of Music.

9. Cited from the transcript of the VHS Tape of Aaron Copland’s Self-Portrait Documentary, December 18, 1979. Archived in the offices of Oral History, American Music, Yale University.

10. Cited from “Otto Luening at 85″ an interview with Otto Luening by Brooke Wentz, broadcast on WKCR-FM 89.9 New York NY on June 11, 1985 and subsequently published in Musical America (November 1985).

11. Cited from Marion Bauer quote in American Composers Today by David Ewen [New York: H. W. Wilson & Co., 1949].

12. Cited from the transcript of Joan Thomson’s Interview with Otto Luening in New York City on December 15, 1978. Archived in the offices of Oral History, American Music, Yale University.

13. Cited from the transcript of the VHS Tape of Aaron Copland’s Self-Portrait Documentary, December 18, 1979. Archived in the offices of Oral History, American Music, Yale University.

14. Cited from Marion Bauer quote in American Composers Today by David Ewen [New York: H. W. Wilson & Co., 1949].

15. Cited from the transcript of Joan Thomson’s Interview with Otto Luening in New York City on December 15, 1978. Archived in the offices of Oral History, American Music, Yale University.

16. Cited from the transcript of Vivian Perlis’s Interview with Aaron Copland in Peekskill NY on December 23, 1975, Reel A. Archived in the offices of Oral History, American Music, Yale University.

17 Transcribed by Frank J. Oteri from the audiotape 3 side 2 of David R. Williams’s interview with Howard Hanson, June 9, 1978. Audiotape archived at the Eastman School of Music.

18. Cited from the transcript of Vivian Perlis’s Interview with Aaron Copland in Peekskill NY on December 23, 1975, Reel B. Archived in the offices of Oral History, American Music, Yale University.

19 Transcribed by Frank J. Oteri from the audiotape 5 side 1 of David R. Williams’s interview with Howard Hanson, June 9, 1978. Audiotape archived at the Eastman School of Music.

20. Cited from the transcript of Vivian Perlis’s Interview with Aaron Copland in Peekskill NY on December 23, 1975, Reel A. Archived in the offices of Oral History, American Music, Yale University.

21. Cited from Marion Bauer quote in American Composers Today by David Ewen [New York: H. W. Wilson & Co., 1949].

22. Transcribed by Frank J. Oteri from the audiotape 1 side 1 of David R. Williams’s interview with Howard Hanson, June 9, 1978. Audiotape archived at the Eastman School of Music.

23. Cited from the transcript of Joan Thomson’s Interview with Otto Luening in New York City on December 15, 1978. Archived in the offices of Oral History, American Music, Yale University.

24. Cited from the transcript of Vivian Perlis’s Interview with Aaron Copland in Peekskill NY on December 23, 1975, Reel B. Archived in the offices of Oral History, American Music, Yale University.

25. Cited from Marion Bauer quote in “”Woman with a Symphony” by Irwin Bazelon, The Baton of Phi Beta Fraternity, Volume XXX, Number 3, 1951.

26. Cited from the transcript of Vivian Perlis’s Interview with Aaron Copland in Peekskill NY on December 23, 1975, Reel C. Archived in the offices of Oral History, American Music, Yale University.

27. Cited from the transcript of Joan Thomson’s Interview with Otto Luening in New York City on December 15, 1978. Archived in the offices of Oral History, American Music, Yale University.

28. Cited from the transcript of Vivian Perlis’s Interview with Aaron Copland in Peekskill NY on December 23, 1975, Reel A. Archived in the offices of Oral History, American Music, Yale University.

29. Cited from the transcript of Joan Thomson’s Interview with Otto Luening in New York City on December 15, 1978. Archived in the offices of Oral History, American Music, Yale University.

30. Cited from the transcript of Vivian Perlis’s Interview with Aaron Copland in Peekskill NY on December 23, 1975, Reel B. Archived in the offices of Oral History, American Music, Yale University.

31. Cited from “The American Music Center” by Harrison Kerr, Music Librarians Association Notes 2nd Series I/3, June 1944; archived at the American Music Center.

32. Cited from the transcript of Joan Thomson’s Interview with Otto Luening in New York City on December 15, 1978. Archived in the offices of Oral History, American Music, Yale University.

33. Cited from Marion Bauer quotes in “Woman With A Symphony” by Irwin Bazelon, The Baton of Phil Beta Fraternity Cincinnati OH, Volume XXX, Number 3, March 1951.

34. Cited from “Otto Luening at 85″ an interview with Otto Luening by Brooke Wentz, broadcast on WKCR-FM 89.9 New York NY on June 11, 1985 and subsequently published in Musical America (November 1985)