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

6. The State of Music in the United States

MARION BAUER: The American composer is a much more serious person today than he was 25 years ago. There are a number of talented composers who are American born. Our young musicians have learned to study and I’m happy to say that great opportunities for their study have developed in this country. But there are not a great many opportunities for our composers to be heard.1

AARON COPLAND: Few music lovers realize to what an extent we are dominated in music by the Romantic tradition of the 19th century.2

HOWARD HANSON: There are a great many things that are very good about music in the 20th century and here in America…3

QUINCY PORTER: There is every indication that the potentialities of musical composition in America are increasing amazingly. More American compositions are getting into the repertory of the leading orchestras each year, and, less obvious to those who are not in a position to see all that is happening, there is a growing wealth of new talent. The musicians of this country, have, I feel, a solemn responsibility to see to it that this talent is given the best possible chance for solid, healthy development.4

AARON COPLAND: Not all listeners, however, are lending their ears as they should.5

MARION BAUER: Most listeners, regarding present-day music as harmful to the continuance of a traditional lineage, dismiss it as the work of fanatics. By avoiding the discomfort of exploring unknown territory, they do not retard progress but only their individual development.6

AARON COPLAND: Very often I get the impression that audiences seem to think that the endless repetition of a small body of entrenched masterworks is all that is required for a ripe musical culture. As a matter of fact, this continual preoccupation with the embalmed masterwork to the exclusion of any lesser music is one of the outstanding signs of our immaturity…7

HOWARD HANSON: That’s one thing that appalls me about modern concert giving – how little we hear.8

MARION BAUER: If audiences demanded American works on every orchestral program, or even on a few of them, our composers would soon be heard more often.9

HOWARD HANSON: I was reading in the New York Times about what Boulez is doing in Paris, probably that’s too far the other way, ’cause he’s probably antagonizing his musical public. But at least it’s kind of refreshing to see somebody take a chance like that.10

MARION BAUER: Often boards of directors stand in the way of too many experiments, and the box office directs the policies of program building.11

AARON COPLAND: There appears to be an unwritten understanding that our musical public is interested in listening only to the best, the greatest, the finest in music. Nothing less than an immortal masterwork penned by an immortal composer seems to be worth their attention. This assumption is fostered by the attitude, almost unconscious by now, of musical conservatories, radio commentators, recording companies; it is reflected in advertisements of all kinds mentioning music, in programs of “official” concert-giving agencies, in free concerts, and so forth. Being alive seems to relegate the composer automatically to the position of an “also-ran.” 12

HARRISON KERR: It is a shabby way to use any well intentioned person and it is crassly stupid that so much potential ability and so much solid learning should be so lightly cast away as being of no conceivable use. No one expects to be paid for good intentions, and it is true that no one requested us to be composers, but the civilized human being needs the composer – although he seems not to realize it – and he needs all composers, even though they may be a little less than great. If a man with the potentialities of a Beethoven were to appear in this country, I, for one, do not believe that the fact would be recognized until he had been swamped under the tidal wave of futile occupations, which in about ninety-eight cases out of a hundred, would be forced upon him, if he happened to have enough self-respect to try to support himself.13

OTTO LUENING: If the symphony orchestras don’t get in touch with the young creative forces, they’re going to be in big trouble, because audiences are fickle. In agriculture we know the story: we know what soil cultivation is, but we don’t yet know about audience cultivation. You need a lot of fertilizer. It grows corn, and you have to have a lot of corn before you get Beethoven.14

HARRISON KERR: When our composers are criticized for failure to produce important works, it might be borne in mind that it takes time to be a composer and that it is time that we lack. Only a man of exceptional physical endurance can work from five to nine hours a day, for five or six days a week, and still have any strength or enthusiasm left for so difficult a job as composing music. Only consider that it may take several hours to orchestrate a single page of a symphonic score (which may run to two or three hundred such pages) and that this labor is in addition to the effort involved in the actual composition of the piece. Add to this the labor of copying the score and the parts for each instrument and you will see in what sort of predicament this lack of leisure places the creative musician.15

QUINCY PORTER: There is a growing conviction among my colleagues that contemporary American music is really of age, and yet that it has suffered considerably by the fact that the recording companies have failed to bring out a representative list of the works that deserve repeated hearing. I am convinced that there are many such works, greatly varied in character, which would win the interest of the public, and if they were brought out in recordings their musical value and meaning would become rapidly more apparent.16

HOWARD HANSON: If it weren’t for recording, we’d be completely musically illiterate.17

AARON COPLAND: …More of it is available on recordings than used to be true, and also it gets played on most serious music stations…18

MARION BAUER: We are a nation of listeners instead of doers; the radio has helped to make us listeners. A majority of people have an idea that in listening to music they develop a sense of appreciation. But I am very strongly of the belief that it is only by doing things ourselves that we get true appreciation. We used to make fun of the day when the daughter of the house was asked to sing a song or speak a piece or play on the piano. But after all she was participating in the making of music.19

HOWARD HANSON: In this day when through the radio the country is literally flooded with sound it seems logical to assume that music is destined to play an important part in helping to preserve mental sanity on the one hand or, if misused, to add to the emotional strain of an age already over-taxed by disruptive forces.20

QUINCY PORTER: …I am still much worried about the relationship of broadcasting and the union…21

OTTO LUENING: …while there is often a discussion about the “music business,” rarely, if ever, is there a discussion about, or even a recognition that something called the “music industry” exists. In music-related conversations, people are likely to take only an aesthetic perspective: “I prefer pop to Country,” or “I like concerts but hate opera,” and so forth. . . I define the music industry as that huge conglomerate of elements and organizations concerned with and deriving income from music. This would include everyone from the composer (who supplies the industry’s base product, the composition) to the merchandiser and music user and the listener.22

HOWARD HANSON: It is possible to say entirely without prejudice that the orchestras of the United States, the great symphony orchestras, are without question, the greatest in the world! 23

AARON COPLAND: …Several of them are superior to the best orchestras elsewhere in the world.24

HOWARD HANSON: We did as a country what almost every individual does when he reaches a certain stage in his development. If he has acquired a certain amount of wealth, he decides that he wants some culture, and he does the very obvious thing, he goes out and buys it. And that’s exactly what we did. At the end of the 19th century, we said something is lacking in this great country of ours; we haven’t any culture. How can we get it? Well, we have some money. Let’s buy the best. So we bought the best. We imported it and in the importing of it we assumed along with those importations all of the European traditions some of which fitted very well indeed and some to which we are greatly indebted and some of which didn’t fit so well but which we still have with us as a part of the historic fabric…25

AARON COPLAND: If top-notch performances and an active musical life were the only things needed for musical maturity we should by now be at the top of the list of auditory-minded nations. Unfortunately there are large numbers of people, many of them sincere music lovers, who are fooled as to the significance of this showy musical activity. But they must be brought around to understand one thing clearly: first-rate orchestras, brilliant conductors, imported opera singers, child prodigies, and the like cannot by themselves constitute an important musical culture. Don’t let anyone tell you they can. Actually the crux of a mature musical situation is the composer – for it is he who must create the music on which the entire superstructure of the musical world is founded.26

MARION BAUER: The composer is the brain center, the audience the extremities, and the interpreter, the nerve system.27

HOWARD HANSON: …This frightful situation that we’ve gotten into with conductors with one conductor having two or three orchestras and a repertory of twelve pieces and going around and around…28

MARION BAUER: …Few of the foreign conductors and musicians take the trouble to find out about our worth-while compositions, but a more serious trouble is the fact that the public is not interested in the native works.29

AARON COPLAND: In proportion to the number of composers available, and the number of outlets in symphony orchestras, I don’t think the improvement has been too great. In other words, when there were twelve major symphony orchestras in the country, and they played the works of six composers during one season, now there’s double the number of orchestras and many more composers and the proportion still, I think, tends to remain rather modest in terms of the number of works that aren’t played. There’s large room for improvement there. But if you try to see it from a conductor’s standpoint, he has that weekly subscription audience out there every week, and he knows in advance that if he feeds them more than they can take, he’s going to get into trouble. Sometimes serious trouble, when the new contract comes up for signing. So they move carefully. The ones who are interested – and not all of them are – in encouraging the newer composers and playing the less familiar repertoire.30

HARRISON KERR: I feel that I can safely estimate that the average composers chances run as follows: For each symphony he composes, he will have about one performance in a decade, and he will probably have to write four or five such works for each one that will be published. With chamber music his chances for performance are probably about the same and there is a slightly better chance that it will achieve publication. If he writes operas – well, God forbid! His income from his more pretentious works will be non-existent, of course.31

MARION BAUER: The American composer is in a very “bad” way professionally – he cannot make a living out of composing.32

HOWARD HANSON: From the standpoint of the subsidy of the arts, I think they’re all wrong. We’ve established the policy that the greatest, largest grants…go to outfits like the Metropolitan Opera because they’re big, because they’re famous in their own right regardless of what their policy may be. Their policy may be completely stagnant but no one cares.33

OTTO LUENING: We have…a fight…here now that is very serious, I think, about quality plus democracy in the arts. It’s a very serious thing and I don’t know how it’s going to come out.34

MARION BAUER: We have to get away from the idea that only people should study music who intend to be professional musicians. The market has been flooded in the recent past by people who were not prepared, who should have been only amateurs, who found an easy living playing in small theatre orchestras, teaching beginners, or in other ways that have been practically wiped out.35

HOWARD HANSON: I know that this is a dangerous thing to say but sometimes I wonder if the future of music in this country isn’t in the hands of the quasi-amateurs. I’ve had more fun conducting outstanding student orchestras or outstanding quasi-amateur groups where they’re anxious to make music. They may miss a note once in a while but you don’t really care… The atmosphere is so exciting, so exhilarating.36

MARION BAUER: The people have regarded music as a luxury, so the minute the depression hit us, it was decided that little Johnny and little Mary didn’t need to have their music lessons…We have to recognize the fact that instead of its being a luxury, music is a great necessity. No doubt there are many thousands of persons who can attest that in the years of depression, the fact they could turn on a radio or play a record or sit down at the piano has helped to bridge over many unhappy hours.37



1. Cited from Marion Bauer column for the Oregonian, June 4, 1934.

2. Cited from The New Music: 1900-1960 by Aaron Copland [New York: Norton, 1968], Order From Amazon.

3. Transcribed by Frank J. Oteri from the audiotape of “Musical Pioneering in the 20th century,” Howard Hanson’s address to the City Club of Rochester Chamber of Commerce, broadcast on WHAM Radio. Audiotape archived at the Eastman School of Music.

4. Cited from “The Education of the American Composer” by Quincy Porter, Musicology Volume 1 No. 1 Autumn 1945.

5. 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.

6. Cited from Twentieth Century Music; How It Developed, How To Listen To It by Marion Bauer [New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1947] Order from Amazon.

7. 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.

8. Transcribed by Frank J. Oteri from the audiotape 4 side 1 of David R. Williams’s interview with Howard Hanson, June 9, 1978. Audiotape archived at the Eastman School of Music.

9. Cited from Marion Bauer column for the Oregonian, June 4, 1934.

10. Transcribed by Frank J. Oteri from the audiotape 4 side 1 of David R. Williams’s interview with Howard Hanson, June 9, 1978. Audiotape archived at the Eastman School of Music.

11. Cited from Twentieth Century Music; How It Developed, How To Listen To It by Marion Bauer [New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1947] Order From Amazon.

12. 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.

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

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

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

16. Cited from Quincy Porter’s Letter to Karl Kruger, November 12, 1950. Archived in the Quincy Porter Papers at the Yale University Music Library.

17. Transcribed by Frank J. Oteri from the audiotape 4 side 1 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 March 9, 1976, Reel I. Archived in the offices of Oral History, American Music, Yale University.

19. Cited from Marion Bauer column for the Oregonian, June 4, 1934.

20. Cited from The Marxist Minstrels: A Handbook on Communist Subversion of Music by David A. Nobel [Tulsa: American Christian College Press, 1971], pp. 50-51, quoting Howard Hanson in The American Journal of Psychiatry, Volume 99, Number 3, November 1942.

21. Cited from Quincy Porter’s Letter to Otto Luening, August 15, 1938. Archived in the Quincy Porter Papers at the Yale University Music Library.

22. Cited from “R&D&Music” by Otto Luening.

23. Transcribed by Frank J. Oteri from the audiotape of “Musical Pioneering in the 20th century,” Howard Hanson’s address to the City Club of Rochester Chamber of Commerce, broadcast on WHAM Radio. Audiotape archived at the Eastman School of Music.

24. 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.

25. Transcribed by Frank J. Oteri from the audiotape of “Musical Pioneering in the 20th century,” Howard Hanson’s address to the City Club of Rochester Chamber of Commerce, broadcast on WHAM Radio. Audiotape archived at the Eastman School of Music.

26. 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.

27. Cited from Twentieth Century Music; How It Developed, How To Listen To It by Marion Bauer [New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1947] Order from Amazon.

28. Transcribed by Frank J. Oteri from the audiotape 4 side 1 of David R. Williams’s interview with Howard Hanson, June 9, 1978. Audiotape archived at the Eastman School of Music.

29. Cited from Marion Bauer column for the Oregonian, June 4, 1934.

30. Cited from the transcript of Aaron Copland’s Composers Seminar, January 24, 1977. Achived in the offices of Oral History, American Music, Yale University.

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

32. Cited from Marion Bauer column for the Oregonian, June 4, 1934.

33. Transcribed by Frank J. Oteri from the audiotape 4 side 1 of David R. Williams’s interview with Howard Hanson, June 9, 1978. Audiotape archived at the Eastman School of Music.

34. 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.

35. Cited from Marion Bauer column for the Oregonian, June 4, 1934.

36. Transcribed by Frank J. Oteri from the audiotape 4 side 2 of David R. Williams’s interview with Howard Hanson, June 9, 1978. Audiotape archived at the Eastman School of Music.

37. Cited from Marion Bauer column for the Oregonian, June 4, 1934.