Don’t Believe the Hype

This represents a very unscientific sample, but I think I’ve worked or studied with seven people who, in turn, studied or worked with Copland, including one who was his assistant and another who was both a close collaborator and a boyfriend. All were very gracious in answering my questions about Copland, but funnily enough, if I asked four of them what Copland actually said about some interpretive problem or notational inconsistency, I often got four different answers, all beginning with “Aaron always told me that…” If I asked five, I might get five answers.


It is now known that one could get completely opposite information out of Shostakovich depending on which question one asked. Almost anytime another musician, composer or critic would say “don’t you think this passage should go faster than you’ve marked it,” he would say, “yes, of course, it should go faster.” However, if asked of the same passage “was this the tempo you intended,” he would always say “yes.” 


Bruckner willingly turned over his scores to the Schalk’s, who butchered them almost beyond recognition. He even allowed them to perform and publish their versions of his pieces. He never once told them not to, or refused one of their “corrections” but always privately insisted that his original versions reflected his true intentions. 


Rachmaninoff let his masterpiece, the Second Symphony, be chopped to pieces with hundreds of cuts, big and small, and even conducted the cut version. Why didn’t he then retract the original version? 


When another musician suggested that Mahler move the 5 minute break in the Second Symphony from its place between the first two movements to between the last two, ironically saying “I marvel at the sensitivity with which you (contrary to my own indications)have recognized the natural caesura in the work.” Surely language worthy of one of Shostakovich’s speeches of public contrition in it’s highly polished insincerity, but many have taken it at face value. 


Just because a friend of the composer says something about the composers work, doesn’t mean it’s true. The could be mistaken, confused or just making it up. Their remarks could be self-serving, or they could be made with the very best of intentions.  Just because a composer “accepts” another musician’s revision doesn’t mean that is how they, the composer, wanted it to hear.

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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

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