Outing the Atonal Music of Mr. Copland - Gay City News | Gay City News

Outing the Atonal Music of Mr. Copland

Adam Tendler’s January 19 program at (Le) Poisson Rouge showcased the range of his touch and the inventiveness of his phrasing. | GREG PARKINSON

Adam Tendler’s January 19 program at (Le) Poisson Rouge showcased the range of his touch and the inventiveness of his phrasing. | GREG PARKINSON

BY GERALD BUSBY | At a recent concert featuring the serial music of Aaron Copland (1900-1990), Adam Tendler played “Piano Fantasy” — a piece I first heard 60 years ago. William Masselos was the pianist on that occasion, and he hammered home the stiff angularity of the music as if force-feeding the audience something they hated.

So I was surprised and delighted when Tendler made the same notes sound familiar and likable, even delicate. His phrasing turned even the most complex and discontinuous passages into satisfying music. It sounded like a wild, beautiful bird trying to escape from its cage to fly home, deep in the forest. Those thorny textures and complex rhythms I remembered from 1957 became poetic in Tendler’s hands.

The “Serial Copland” program, performed January 19 at Bleecker Street multimedia art cabaret venue (Le) Poisson Rouge, began with a gentle piece: 1921’s “Petit Portrait (ABE).” It created a calm atmosphere that contrasted sharply with the blunt assertiveness of the “Piano Variations” that followed. Third on the program, “Quartet for Piano and Strings,” was a kind of sorbet between “Piano Variations” and “Piano Fantasy.”

Thorny textures rendered poetic by stunning virtuosity in performance by Adam Tendler

Three members of JACK Quartet — Austin Wulliman (violin), John Pickford Richards (viola), and Jay Campbell (cello) — joined Tendler for a precisely intoned, lyrical, and tender reading. Then came the main course, “Piano Fantasy,” Copland’s intense journey into atonality. It wasn’t a strict 12-tone composition (and neither were any of the others), but the effects of atonality were all there. Tendler – who will perform at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music on February 10 – gave this formidable work a shape and momentum that held the audience’s unwavering attention for the duration of the 30-minute piece. There wasn’t a single extraneous sound to be heard in the large room, filled to capacity with people eating and drinking — and not a cough or a whisper from the crowd standing at the bar.

Tendler, a scholar as well as a virtuoso, wrote comprehensive program notes that can be accessed online (bit.ly/serialcoplandprogramnotes). They give a clear and entertaining narrative of Copland’s sporadic affair with serialism.

In 1930, when Copland wrote “Piano Variations,” the influence of Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) was keenly felt in Western classical music. He declared the demise of tonal function and reorganized the way notes could be sequenced in a musical phrase.

No composer could ignore this new concept. Tonal classical music, principally in the German tradition — from the early 18th through early 20th centuries — was the template against which Schoenberg rebelled. Some critics think it was World War II and the Holocaust that provoked this revolution. I give credit for Schoenberg’s becoming a pioneer of music composition to the philosophy of history put forth by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831). Hegel propounded a dialectical scheme in which an idea, a thesis, competes with another idea, its antithesis, until the two merge as a synthesis. That synthesis becomes a new thesis. Schoenberg’s rules for tone rows and the unfamiliar sounds they created, the antithesis of tonal music, resolved in a new synthesis: serialism.

Between pieces on the program at (Le) Poisson Rouge, Tendler played recordings of Aaron Copland’s genteel voice, which described, with quiet earnestness, how Schoenberg’s aesthetics influenced his own method of composition. I think Copland’s voice also communicated the ordeal he experienced in being accepted by the academic establishment, who were the guardians and promulgators of Schoenberg’s ideas.

Being gay and closeted played a role in Copland’s desire to be approved by the music establishment at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. It was his way of finding a place in academic high society that disapproved of homosexual behavior.

Neither Copland nor Virgil Thomson (1896-1989) ever said publicly that they were gay, even though it was obvious. “You don’t rub their noses in it,” Thomson told me when I asked why he wouldn’t support efforts to stop the spread of AIDS.

In the early ’70s, I had dinner with Copland in his home upstate, with Michael Tilson Thomas, David Del Tredici, and Robert Helps. Copland couldn’t have been nicer. A short time later I attended a concert of his music and afterwards approached him. “Aaron, I loved your music.” He looked at me without smiling and replied, “Call me Mr. Copland.”

Robert Helps, a brilliant pianist who played complex modern music with uncanny ease, had a deep fear of being “discovered” as gay. He studied music composition with Roger Sessions and was famous for his performances with Bethany Beardslee of Schoenberg’s “Pierrot Lunaire” and Milton Babbitt’s “Partitions.” Whenever Babbitt came to hear him play at Yale, Helps warned me not to say anything remotely gay in Babbitt’s presence. Denial was a major part of our lives back then, and it was a source of excitement as well, to see what we could get away with in such austere company. Our conversations were loaded with gay allusions and innuendos. One might say that Copland alluded to serialism in his music more than he employed it methodically — Schoenberg’s sounds seeped into Copland’s music.

Ivy League composers, theorists, and teachers back in the ’50s were the bastion of propriety with regard to Schoenberg’s theory. Copland, despite his failure to fully embrace the technique, was nevertheless accepted as a practitioner of it in the elite coterie of academic serialists. I think it was because of his enormous popular success with pieces like “Appalachian Spring” and “Fanfare for the Common Man.” Maybe a musicologist will someday write about how some gay composers absorbed the aesthetics of 12-tone music without really committing to its formal demands.

Every time I’ve heard Adam Tendler play modern American piano music, he has surprised me with the range of his touch and the inventiveness of his phrasing. His performance at (Le) Poisson Rouge was no exception. A few months ago, in a recital of John Cage’s piano (and toy piano) music at Lincoln Center, Tendler talked about Cage’s indications in the score to play as soft as possible. It reminded me of sitting in the top balcony at Carnegie Hall, hearing Vladimir Horowitz play pianissimo; every note had a “ping” that carried to the back of the house.

The strings in the first and third movements of Copland’s “Quartet for Piano and Strings” also had gossamer moments. Most impressive was their perfect intonation of delicate phrases. Tendler, Austin Wulliman, John Pickford Richards, and Jay Campbell seemed to breathe together. Aaron Copland was a gentle genius, and his atonal music, meticulously performed by this ensemble, demonstrated that humanity.

Visit adamtendler.com and jackquartet.com for upcoming performance dates, music, and other information.

37 Responses to Outing the Atonal Music of Mr. Copland

  1. David Shengold February 8, 2017 at 2:27 pm

    Hi Gerald

    Thanks for the REALLY interesting piece. I am just reading the latest Thomson compilation. What a combination of honesty and duplicity in re heir gay selves those guys maintained.

    I would take serious issue with this:

    "Tonal classical music, principally in the German tradition — from the early 18th through early 20th centuries — was the template against which Schoenberg rebelled. Some critics think it was World War II and the Holocaust that provoked this revolution."

    Schoenberg's revolution took place even before World War *One*! Possible that the horrors of *that* war gave more credence to his theory that a break from tradition was needed.

    More columns, please!

    All best.

  2. tubidy February 17, 2017 at 3:50 pm

    I am waiting in curiosity

  3. Fildo Music March 8, 2017 at 6:24 am

    I am waiting eagerly to listen to this on fildo or spotify app.

  4. aptoideappdownload May 28, 2017 at 10:22 pm

    Click here to get
    aptoide for android

  5. Wimbledon live May 29, 2017 at 5:35 am

    Amazing work. Visit:
    Wimbledon 2017 live

  6. us open stream May 30, 2017 at 12:05 am

    News that you serve a very nice and interesting to see, hopefully this news can be useful for everything
    us open stream

  7. Emma Gloor June 15, 2017 at 11:25 am

    It is one of the best posts on music.Hopefully, everyone enjoys this post.

  8. aptoide Alternative June 28, 2017 at 3:31 am

    Click here to get
    aptoide Alternative

  9. wimble June 28, 2017 at 4:48 pm

    I want you to thank for your time of this wonderful read!!! I definately enjoy every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff of your blog a must read blog!!!!
    wimbledon 2017 results
    eid mubarak wishes

  10. game guardian apk July 6, 2017 at 2:43 am

    game guardian apk

  11. badmanlive July 9, 2017 at 1:45 pm

    Game Guardian is an amazing game hack/alteration tool. Game guardian helps you modify money, HP, Sp and more aspects of the game.
    game guardian

  12. SSC JE Admit Card July 10, 2017 at 1:17 am

    SSC JE Admit Card

  13. game guardian apk July 22, 2017 at 5:18 am

    game guardian apk

  14. You TV Player July 22, 2017 at 5:29 am

    You TV Player

  15. akshi July 24, 2017 at 4:08 am

    most importNT NEWS FOR SSC CGL 2017….

  16. jio phone 1500 August 16, 2017 at 3:09 am

    jio phone 1500 booking

  17. My Boy August 22, 2017 at 1:12 am

    There has to be an easy method you are able to remove me from that service? Kudos!
    my boy apk
    download my boy

  18. Freaking man August 25, 2017 at 3:48 am

    An intriguing discussion is worth comment. I think that you ought to publish more on this subject matter.
    Fly Gps Apk
    fly gps download

  19. Game Guardian APK August 31, 2017 at 2:54 pm

    Nice post

  20. Game Guardian September 1, 2017 at 9:02 am

    Cool one.

  21. Game Guardian APK September 30, 2017 at 10:56 am

    Great job.

  22. Game killer October 23, 2017 at 2:35 pm

    Game Killer apk is an android application which helps you hack your favorite android games or applications without any issues.
    download game killer

  23. Game Guardian Download November 11, 2017 at 1:55 am

    Game Guardian is an amazing game hack/alteration tool. Game guardian helps you modify money, HP, Sp and more aspects of the game.

  24. Bark Bell November 14, 2017 at 4:13 am

    Thanks for such a great useful work
    keep it up admin

  25. Leet Liker Apk December 27, 2017 at 10:18 pm

    cool post keep it up.

  26. Lt Liker Apk December 27, 2017 at 10:19 pm

    Wonderful site dear i just liked it.

  27. Guardian January 5, 2018 at 1:14 am

    An intriguing discussion is worth comment. To the next! Kind regards!!
    ipl auction 2018
    live telecast of ipl

  28. IPL 2018 auction January 17, 2018 at 4:00 pm

    nice one

  29. Ben January 29, 2018 at 12:22 am

    Gangstar Vegas is an open world action-adventure video game developed by Gameloft for Android, iOS.
    download gangstar vegas mod apk

  30. Rudhr February 5, 2018 at 10:18 am

    I regularly visit this site to check out the events and functions and sometimes for resources. However, it has been a while that you have shared some news about latest or upcoming events.
    Hotstar IPL Live Streaming 2018 .

  31. KD Liker February 26, 2018 at 4:12 am

    its cool

  32. leet liker apk February 27, 2018 at 6:39 am

    great post

  33. Spotify music April 26, 2018 at 11:50 am

    Great job admin keep up the good work thanks for sharing

  34. Samir May 23, 2018 at 8:08 am

    fifa world cup 2018 live score

  35. asphalt June 10, 2018 at 5:56 am

    https://asphaltnitromodapk.com Latest version free

  36. God Photos June 12, 2018 at 4:37 am

    Awesome work you have done here, I am very happy to read this nice post. You are a great writer and give us much information.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

five + = fourteen