Edward T. Cone: Not Theory, Practice…

Teaching and Liberal Education

FRANK J. OTERI: You taught for many years here at Princeton

EDWARD T. CONE: Yes.

FRANK J. OTERI: What did you see as your principal goal as a teacher?

EDWARD T. CONE: I would say that the principal goal was to get them to listen closely. Whether teaching them appreciation or history or composition or just plain counterpoint, it’s really to educate the ear so that they’re listening precisely and intelligently.

FRANK J. OTERI: You had a real mentor for this in Roger Sessions.

EDWARD T. CONE: Yes. That was always his point of view, I think.

FRANK J. OTERI: So what has been Sessions’ chief legacy to you as a musician, using that word once again as a general term to describe everything you have done in your life?

EDWARD T. CONE: First of all, purely in technical terms, he taught me the importance of sheer technique. As he put it, technique means being able to do whatever you want to do. And his idea of going through the drills of counterpoint and harmony and strict composition were exactly that: to give you the opportunity to try many things and experimenting in all of them but always with the intention of finding ways to do what you want to do. That, of course, is something that I can never thank him enough for. Because when I went to him I had all kinds of ideas, but I didn’t know what to do with them.

FRANK J. OTERI: Now, Sessions was a major force on the music department of this university for well over a generation. Is that influence still there?

EDWARD T. CONE: I couldn’t say. I’m really not close enough to the department to be able to say so. But certainly there’s no personal influence there because the generation he taught is now gone.

FRANK J. OTERI: Do you keep up with the music department at Princeton?

EDWARD T. CONE: Yes, but only at a distance. I feel it’s not a good idea to interfere once you’ve retired. I give a lecture occasionally. And I occasionally go to lectures, and most of the concerts, but I can’t really tell you much about the day-to-day activities that go on.

FRANK J. OTERI: At the beginning of our talk you said that you did not want to be described as a theorist because theory is so specialized. I still remember being in graduate school almost twenty years ago and in the middle of reading all these hardcore analyses of pieces, your essays were a breath of fresh air. In the middle of a discussion about a Brahms Intermezzo, you’d bring up Sherlock Holmes, or you would talk about painting. The study of music has become so rarified and specialized, and the general public doesn’t understand it. But this goes both ways. Many of the people who are studying music do not understand the general public.

EDWARD T. CONE: That’s one reason why I think it is important for musicians to get a good liberal education and it’s one of the reasons that I didn’t want to go to a conservatory. I think it’s very important that musicians learn what’s going on in all the other realms of artistic endeavor and cultural life in general. That’s one of the things again that was very important to Sessions. I’ve just been reading this new biography by Frederik Prausnitz and it makes it clear how so much of his earlier life was spent in Europe in the company of artists of all kinds and intellectuals of all kinds. I think that’s very important. And it’s too bad if the current generation is getting away from it.

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