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

2. The Pre-History of the Center

When we, a group of American composers, established the American Music Center, creative musicians in the United States were having desperate difficulty bringing their music before the public. Little of it was printed or published, and even people in the music profession seldom knew where to find it when they wanted to.

For that reason, six of us – including Marion Bauer, Aaron Copland, Howard Hanson, Harrison Kerr, Otto Luening and Quincy Porter – decided that a Library and Information Center specifically for American music was very much needed. We drew up by-laws, elected a Board of Directors, found a location for the Library, and had the American Music Center incorporated as a non-profit educational organization.

Though American music has won itself a place in the sun, problems of dissemination continue to exist. Indeed, as more American music is played, need for the American Music Center becomes even more urgent…1


AARON COPLAND: There didn’t seem to be an outlet, or a sufficient number of outlets, for the younger American music…2

MARION BAUER: In 1921, a small group of young American composers founded the American Music Guild. Our object was to learn each other’s music and to present worthy works by other American composers to the New York public. This organization was short-lived because of lack of funds, but it existed long enough to accomplish its purpose and to open the way for other societies with similar aims such as the International Music Guild and the League of Composers . 3

OTTO LUENING: I’ve always tried to be in touch with people who wanted to free this great creative force we have in this country. 4

MARION BAUER: As a member of the American Music Guild, I had the opportunity to measure my powers and my limitations with those of my colleagues, and to profit by the constructive criticism my works received at their hands. The result was a period of study in Europe…Before I had been in New York a week, after my return from Europe, I was made a member of the executive board of the League of Composers…5

AARON COPLAND: Through the good offices of Marion Bauer I was invited to play some of my works for the executive board of the League of Composers. 6

OTTO LUENING: In the Thirties a main problem confronting American composers was the lack of a central reference library and distribution facility. No one knew how to get hold of American music. The WPA material was hard to find, and publishers rarely looked beyond their own limited lists. 7

AARON COPLAND: By 1938 and 1939, American music was thriving and growing, but the infant, represented by several groups, the ACA [American Composers Alliance] among them, was in need of parental authority. Among those publishing and recording American music were New Music Editions and New Music Quarterly Recordings (led by [Otto] Luening after [Henry] Cowell, and the Arrow Music Press, founded in 1938 by [Marc] Blitzstein, [Lehman] Engel, [Virgil] Thomson, and myself. American music being published, but no one knew how to distribute it. Luening had discussed the lack of a central library and distribution service with Quincy Porter and Henry Moe at the Guggenheim Foundation. 8

OTTO LUENING: Quincy Porter, Henry Moe and I had discussed this problem in Bennington in the fall of 1938 and in January 1939. 9

QUINCY PORTER: In practice it has been found that a central agency is best suited for purposes of developing a lasting interest in new styles of music. A central agency is in a position to plan distribution through subsidiary channels on a coordinated basis. 10

HOWARD HANSON: I think that your idea of a central office for the distribution of American music is excellent. 11

QUINCY PORTER: We may go down in history as the worms that over-turned the early Byrds, and stamped out, along with them, all other European music, foreign publishers, recording companies, conductors, and what else have you got except Wagner? 12

OTTO LUENING: I think your idea about making master recordings of some of the works is very good. Last year’s set of Yaddo recordings were used quite a bit here at the college. The records were taken out by 65 people this semester. This compares with 124 for Beethoven and some 69 for Brahms, and shows that there is a real demand. 13

AARON COPLAND: I have no quarrel with masterpieces…But when they are used, unwittingly perhaps, to stifle contemporary effort in our own country, then I am almost tempted to take the most extreme view and say that we should be better off without them! 14

HARRISON KERR: I’m for letting the multitude howl, if they feel so disposed. 15

QUINCY PORTER: Maybe you’d better burn this so we won’t be found out before we’ve been able to accomplish something. 16

OTTO LUENING: Moe, Thomas Whitney Surette, Porter, and I met in New York to found the Council for the Advancement and Diffusion of American Music… The council’s purposes were the advancement and diffusion of knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of music, particularly music by American composers… Moe offered his services as legal adviser and drew up a statement of aims and purposes to facilitate fund raising. 17

HOWARD HANSON: I think that your suggestion of getting Henry Moe to act as counsel is splendid. I do not know of anyone who has a better understanding of the whole filed of the creative artists and the practical problems involved. 18

OTTO LUENING: We came pretty much to the conclusion that what we need very badly at this time is a central distribution office in New York which could serve as a center for all American “art” music publications and recordings… 19

HARRISON KERR: Unfortunately, what little public acclaim our composers have had has contributed but little to the exchequer. This is due, I believe, to the false position in which the composer is placed in regard to performance and publication. Further, this probably reverts back to the topsy-turviness prevailing throughout the interpretive field in music, and to the wholly commercial aspect of music publishing in this country. 20

OTTO LUENING: Commercial publishers of course are interested primarily in their commercial productions and don’t seem to do very much for American “art” music. 21

HARRISON KERR: There is no need to go into the justification, or lack of it, for the publishing policy in force in this country. 22

OTTO LUENING: I saw Copland in New York, also Kerr, Bill Schuman, and the NMQR committee. Everybody is most enthusiastic about the American Music Center. 23

HARRISON KERR: I had several conversations with Mr. Otto Luening… 24

AARON COPLAND: At their suggestion, in March 1939 a group met at my studio to incorporate the American Music Center. I represented Arrow Music Press and ACA; Howard Hanson, Eastman School Publications and Recordings; Marion Bauer, the Society for the Publication of American Music; and Porter, Yaddo and the New England Conservatory Recordings. 25

OTTO LUENING: In March 1939 we met at Copland’s 63rd Street studio to incorporate the American Music Center as a nonprofit educational corporation. The charter members were Marion Bauer, Copland, Hanson, Porter, and myself. Porter and I were appointed fund raisers. Our budget was set at $2,695 for the first year. 26

HARRISON KERR: A committee was formed consisting of Marion Bauer, Aaron Copland, Howard Hanson, Otto Luening as chairman, Quincy Porter and myself… 27

UNIDENTIFIED: Otto Luening was elected temporary chairman on the motion of Aaron Copland, seconded by Quincy Porter…It was moved by Aaron Copland, seconded by Marion Bauer, the [sic] Otto Luening and Quincy Porter be empowered to seek funds for the establishment of a distribution center for American music. The motion was carried.28

OTTO LUENING: A small office…serving the needs of American music as a whole…yet allowing each group represented or individual represented their complete independence and identity, would certainly help matters a lot, we believe. 29

QUINCY PORTER: I had a long conversation with [Richard] Dana… He came here for lunch and spent over half the afternoon talking things over. He seemed to be all steamed up about the affair, and if only he didn’t catch cold after he left I felt there was a chance he might take it on. He knew perfectly well that it would be a question of doing either the new or the old. He had a lot of practical ideas, and the one point that bothered him was the question of selection. He thought the value of it would be much more impaired if we were in for putting everything into the store. There might not be room to turn around, and the customers would be confused if they had to wade through a pile of 150 manuscripts in order to find a masterpiece. We can do it under the influence of French Vermouth, but not everyone knows the trick, and they’d never come back if they didn’t buy before they got the hangover the next day. 30

OTTO LUENING: We don’t propose to do anything new, but to coordinate in one place existing American music which has been published or recorded by other organizations. We feel that nobody can lose by such an arrangement and that we all might gain… We hope and believe that there is a demand for American music of the serious type. 31

AARON COPLAND: The idea was for the center to be a nonprofit dealer for distributing published music by American composers at list price. 32

OTTO LUENING: The council believed after three years the center would be a self-supporting enterprise. 33

OTTO LUENING and QUINCY PORTER: We are extremely anxious to get things underway as soon as possible, and hope it is not too late to have a grand opening of the center in the fall. 34

AARON COPLAND: Bravo on the good work…Am really quite excited at the prospects of seeing all that Amurican music under one roof. In all innocence, Mrs. Reis writes asking me where she should send people who want to know how to get hold of American music. Now (or soon) I will know how to answer her. 35

OTTO LUENING: In August the Weyman Trust in Boston granted us $2,500, renewable in 1940. 36

QUINCY PORTER: We must get the automatic American music – pooping – did I say pooping? – I meant popping-machine working as soon as possible. And the more butter we can afford to sprinkle on the stuff, the better it will go. 37



1. Cited from the American Music Center’s Solicitation Letter of May 15, 1962, signed by Aaron Copland, Howard Hanson, Otto Luening and Quincy Porter; from the archives of the American Music Center.

2. Cited from the transcript of Vivian Perlis’s Interview with Aaron Copland in Peekskill NY on February 12, 1976, Reel H. Archived in the offices of Oral History, American Music, Yale University.

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

4. Cited from Otto Luening quote in “An Influential Musician at 80″ by John Rockwell, New York Times, Sunday, June 5, 1980.

5. Cited from Marion Bauer quotes in American Composers Today by David Ewen [New York: H. W. Wilson and Co., 1949].

6. Cited from “Composer from Brooklyn: An Autobiographical Sketch” by Aaron Copland, Magazine of Art, 1939, later collected in The New Music: 1900-1960 by Aaron Copland [New York: Norton, 1968], Order From Amazon.

7. Cited from The Odyssey of an American Composer: the Autobiography of Otto Luening [New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1980] Order From Amazon.

8. Cited from Copland: 1900 Through 1942 by Aaron Copland and Vivian Perlis [New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1984] Order From Amazon.

9. Cited from The Odyssey of an American Composer: the Autobiography of Otto Luening [New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1980] Order From Amazon.

10. Cited from Quincy Porter’s comments contained in Information for Reference in Connection with a Proposed Recording Project. Collected at the AMC May 19, 1949. Archived in the Quincy Porter Papers at the Yale University Music Library.

11. Cited from Howard Hanson’s Letter to Otto Luening, January 18, 1939. Archived in Otto Luening’s American Music Center Papers at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, JPB 94-7 Series 4 Box 4.

12. Cited from Quincy Porter’s Letter to Otto Luening, January 3, 1938. Archived in Otto Luening’s American Music Center Papers at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, JPB 94-7 Series 4 Box 4.

13. Cited from Otto Luening’s Letter from Bennington College VT to Quincy Porter, June 13, 1938. Archived in the Quincy Porter Papers at the Yale University Music Library.

14. Cited from “Composers without a Halo,” originally written in the 1930s and later collected in The New Music: 1900-1960 by Aaron Copland [New York: Norton, 1968], Order From Amazon.

15. Cited from Harrison Kerr’s Letter to Otto Luening, March 28, 1938. Archived in Otto Luening’s American Music Center Papers at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, JPB 94-7 Series 4 Box 4.

16. Cited from Quincy Porter’s Letter to Otto Luening, January 3, 1938. Archived in Otto Luening’s American Music Center Papers at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, JPB 94-7 Series 4 Box 4.

17. Cited from The Odyssey of an American Composer: the Autobiography of Otto Luening [New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1980] Order From Amazon.

18. Cited from Howard Hanson’s Letter to Otto Luening, April 14, 1939. Archived in Otto Luening’s American Music Center Papers at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, JPB 94-7 Series 4 Box 4.

19. Cited from Otto Luening’s Letter to Howard Hanson, January 13, 1939. Archived in Otto Luening’s American Music Center Papers at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, JPB 94-7 Series 4 Box 4.

20. Cited from “The Composer’s Lot is ‘Not A Happy One'” by Harrison Kerr, Musical America, February 1934.

21. Cited from Otto Luening’s Letter to Howard Hanson, January 13, 1939. Archived in Otto Luening’s American Music Center Papers at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, JPB 94-7 Series 4 Box 4.

22. 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.

23. Cited from Otto Luening’s Letter to Quincy Porter, March 24, 1939. Archived in Otto Luening’s American Music Center Papers at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, JPB 94-7 Series 4 Box 4.

24. 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.

25. Cited from Copland: 1900 Through 1942 by Aaron Copland and Vivian Perlis [New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1984] Order From Amazon.

26. Cited from The Odyssey of an American Composer: the Autobiography of Otto Luening [New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1980] Order From Amazon.

27. 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.

28. Cited from the Board Minutes of the Council for the Advancement and Diffusion of American Music, April 29, 1939. Members present: Aaron Copland, Marion Bauer, Howard Hanson, Otto Luening and Quincy Porter. From Otto Luening’s American Music Center Papers at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, JPB 94-7 Series 4 Box 4.

29. Cited from Otto Luening’s Letter to Howard Hanson, January 13, 1939. Archived in Otto Luening’s American Music Center Papers at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, JPB 94-7 Series 4 Box 4.

30. Cited from Quincy Porter’s Letter to Otto Luening, March 29, 1939. Archived in Otto Luening’s American Music Center Papers at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, JPB 94-7 Series 4 Box 4.

31. Cited from Otto Luening’s Letter to Walter Kramer of Galaxy Music Corp., May 2, 1939. Archived in Otto Luening’s American Music Center Papers at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, JPB 94-7 Series 4 Box 4.

32. Cited from Copland: 1900 Through 1942 by Aaron Copland and Vivian Perlis [New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1984] Order From Amazon.

33. Cited from The Odyssey of an American Composer: the Autobiography of Otto Luening [New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1980] Order From Amazon.

34. Cited from a letter to Mary Howe co-signed by Otto Luening and Quincy Porter, August 9, 1939. Archived in Otto Luening’s American Music Center Papers at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, JPB 94-7 Series 4 Box 4.

35. Cited from Aaron Copland’s letter to Otto Luening, August 11, 1939. Archived in Otto Luening’s American Music Center Papers at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, JPB 94-7 Series 4 Box 4.

36. Cited from The Odyssey of an American Composer: the Autobiography of Otto Luening [New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1980] Order From Amazon.

37. Cited from Quincy Porter’s letter to Otto Luening, July 10, 1939. Archived in Otto Luening’s American Music Center Papers at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, JPB 94-7 Series 4 Box 4.