FRANK J. OTERI: I wanted to talk with you about the duality of being a composer and someone who is an advocate for other composers. For me, the most interesting writers about music have always been composers. And ironically enough, the most interesting composers are the ones who have also written about other people’s music. I always like to respond to people who say, “Schoenberg killed contemporary music” by asking, “You mean Harold?”
EDWARD T. CONE: [laughs]
FRANK J. OTERI: The idea he promulgated about practitioners having a conflict of interest if they are writing about music, which is still widely believed in critical circles, seems antithetical to really insightful writing. It seems to be a conflict of interest if you’re not a practitioner.
EDWARD T. CONE: Which is why of all the critics that we’ve had in the 20th century in this country, the one who was always the most interesting, even though you disagreed with him on many things, was Virgil Thomson. I’m talking about professional critics, not people who write occasionally about music. Of all the professional critics, he was the one who always brought the point of view of a practicing musician.
FRANK J. OTERI: So are there negative aspects of being a composer and a critic?
EDWARD T. CONE: I think one thing that one has to constantly guard against is making generalizations and then feeling that one ought to apply them to one’s own music. If, for example, I had been writing about contemporary music at a certain period in my life, I might well have taken an anti-twelve-tone stance and then I’d have cut myself off from a very important influence on my own music because at a certain period I became aware that there was a lot that twelve-tone composition had to offer me and I began to use it in my own way. Although I never became strictly a twelve-tone composer and haven’t used it for some time now… Nevertheless, it was very important for me. But had I been writing too much before that, I might well have taken a stand on twelve-tone composition. And once you put it in words, in print, it’s very hard to go back on. [laughs]
FRANK J. OTERI: It’s an interesting thing, getting to your own music now. You’ve written quite a lot of music but only a tiny bit of it is available on one CRI recording, the status of which is up in the air now…
EDWARD T. CONE: Yes…
FRANK J. OTERI: But it’s out there in the world, and presumably it will be out there again at some point as an imprint of New World Records. So in a sense your music becomes a part of the larger music history, which you’ve been writing about your whole life. Where do you see your music in this history?
EDWARD T. CONE: I couldn’t answer that, really…
FRANK J. OTERI: Where would you want to see it?
EDWARD T. CONE: That’s another question! [laughs] I would like to see it as contributing to trying to make sense out of the huge number of styles that became available in the 20th century and trying to put some sort of order into them, making connections between the best music of the past and the best music of the present. And I would like to hope that I’ve made some contribution to that.
FRANK J. OTERI: Well, certainly, that Serenade for Flute and Strings is a gorgeous piece…
EDWARD T. CONE: Thank you. There’s one you see that was “commissioned” and yet the Contemporary Music Ensemble has never done it again.
FRANK J. OTERI: Well, other ensembles should be doing it! It should be promoted to all the groups that attend the conference of Chamber Music America.