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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
Interviewer: H. G. Young
Interviewee: Edward Troupin
February 27. 1992
Y: This is February 27, 1992. My name is H. G. Young, and I am interviewing Mr.
Edward Troupin who is professor emeritus in the Department of Music, University
of Florida. [The interview is being conducted for the University of Florida Oral
History Project.] Mr. Troupin, thank you for your time this afternoon and for
sharing information. I would just like to ask you to begin by stating your full
T: Edward C. Troupin.
Y: Mr. Troupin, when were you born?
T: I was born June 22, 1925.
Y: You spent your early years in Boston?
T: Yes. In fact, up to the time that I went away to prep school I was in Boston
Y: Could you tell me about some of your earliest memories of your life in Boston?
T: Well, not too strangely, they are mostly musical. I remember my mother, who
was a very good pianist, practicing and playing and rehearsing with other folks at
home. So music was a part of my life from the earliest times on.
Y: Just on an informal sort of basis, or was there some musical training along with
T: Well, it was informal in the sense that there was no intention that I would become
a musician. There was some training from the age of about four. I was given
piano lessons for two years until I had finally jumped that hurdle and was allowed
to study the violin, which is what I had always wanted to study.
Y: What was it about the violin that appealed to you?
T: I am not sure exactly what it was. There is a story, a true one, that some uncles
of mine took a trip to New York one week and brought back a present. This
present was a little metal violin, a playable one, and I used to pull the bow across
the strings and slide my finger up and down the strings. For some reason that
pleased me. I do not think it would now, but it did then. Of course, I had heard a
lot of very good violinists when they came to rehearse with my mother at home,
and I probably became enamored both with the sound of the instrument and of
the music they were playing, and I wanted to be part of that.
Y: What about early teachers? Who was your first teacher?
T: Well, my first teacher (and I worked with him for about eight years), was a man
from the Boston Symphony [Orchestra] named Joseph Leibovici. He was very
good. He was a Paris Conservatory [of Music] graduate, and of course he
played very well himself. He was not necessarily the best teacher from the
technical point of view. In fact, my own development as a violinist was somewhat
impeded because he let me get away with things that he should not have. But he
did two things for me that were absolutely unsurpassed: he taught me an awful
lot of the violin literature, and he made me a very good sightreader. In every
lesson I used to have to sightread with him playing along beside me--and not
stopping--the study that I was going to have to do for the following week. Of
course, there is no better training than that, to be forced to hold tempo and still
get through the piece. In a professional sense, that was invaluable for me.
Y: He was a Boston Symphony player, so I assume you had some opportunities to
hear him play with the symphony.
T: Oh, yes. I used to get taken to concerts from a very early age. I remember
when I was about seven being taken to some concerts. Of course, anytime there
was a violin soloist I was likely to be taken. I heard [Yehudi] Menuhin, I heard
Fritz Kreisler, and some others.
Y: So you were able not only to study but also to have this inspiration from hearing
some of the great performers with a very fine orchestra.
T: Yes. There is no doubt that with some regularity going to those concerts in
Symphony Hall was very much part of my formative training.
Y: In terms of pieces on the concerts as well, are there any particularly memorable
pieces that you heard when you were growing up that still remain with you?
T: I remember distinctly that Menuhin played the [Ludwig van] Beethoven Concerto
[for Violin and Orchestra in D, Op. 61] with the orchestra. Kreisler played an
unaccompanied [J. S.] Bach sonata on a freezing cold Sunday afternoon in
Symphony Hall. He walked out onto the stage without an accompanist. To me
that has always seemed to be an incredible feat. At least you would normally
have a pianist to rely on, to assist you. But he was a great violinist. Somewhat
later [Jascha] Heifetz became an idol for me, and I heard him play Beethoven,
[Johannes] Brahms, [Sergei] Prokofiev, some of the other great violin concert.
Y: The Boston Symphony has also been responsible for some important new works
in commissions and such. Were there any works that you heard growing up that
you recall that were premieres or significant works that we know later but maybe
were new at the time?
T: I cannot remember any premieres. The atmosphere in Symphony Hall was
different from what one might expect. [Serge] Koussevitzky [the conductor of the
BSO] did a contemporary piece every week, and one simply listened to twentieth-
century music as if it were a part of the normal diet, which I think is probably the
best way to listen to contemporary music. My theory is that if the piece is any
good it deserves to stand beside Beethoven or [Wolfgang A.] Mozart. If it is not
any good it does not deserve to stand at all.
Y: That early exposure to both the great works and the new works side by side I
assume had a very strong bearing on your musical growth as a young person.
T: Oh, yes. I was always fascinated after Koussevitzky would perform one of the
new works that he always gestured toward a seat on the middle aisle, and the
composer would stand up and [acknowledge the applause of the audience]. I
learned that composers are people, that wear clothes like other people and so
Y: But at this point in your life you did not envision yourself as a composer--you
enjoyed playing the violin, and that was where you saw your future.
T: I really had no ambition at all as a professional musician. I played the violin
because it was a nice thing to do, which is an attitude that [Japanese educator
and violinist Shin'ichi] Suzuki has since come up with, and I agree with him
wholeheartedly. It was great fun. I really did not even mind practicing, I am told.
I got to feel differently about practicing later on. But I had no intentions as a
composer or as a conductor or anything [related to music as a profession] for a
long, long time.
Y: In addition to lessons and attending concerts, were there other kinds of musical
activities as you were growing up, school ensembles or otherwise?
T: Oh, sure. We had a school orchestra. At one point it consisted of three violins, a
trombone, and the music teacher playing the piano. It was that sort of thing--not
at all impressive. Once a year, however, all the school orchestras in the town
would get together, and we would play some program as a combined orchestra.
That was much more exciting.
Y: I also understand that when you were growing up you had an exposure to
Tanglewood [the BSO's summer residence]. Is that correct?
T: Yes. I was fourteen at the time--I think that is the right number--and it was the
second year that Tanglewood was operated as a music school. You could check
the exact date, although it is not important. I was a fiddler in the second- string
orchestra up there. Well, I guess it was the third string. The Boston Symphony
Orchestra was number one, the advanced student orchestra was number two,
and mine was the third. But we played under very good conductors in that
orchestra. I remember playing under Stanley Chappell, who was a fine British
conductor, and also a couple of the members of the Boston Symphony who were
conductors as well as players. It was very exciting.
Y: Were there any major personalities that you came into contact with during that
experience, either directly or in terms of attending concerts?
T: Well, in those days--I sort of assume it is the same now--the student body
accepted each other without any attempt to put each other into hierarchies, so
my fellow students were great names, several of them. Leonard Bernstein, for
one. When it came time for the students to sing in a performance of the Missa
Solemnis of Beethoven, he was sitting just down the row in the baritone section
from me. So you see, it was all very informal. I never knew him well. We were
not back-patting kind of acquaintances.
Y: But there were people who at least were there at the same time who went on to
do major things in the musical world, such as Bernstein.
T: Sure. Many of the players held exalted orchestra jobs in later years. A guy that
was the concertmaster in Philadelphia at one point, Jacob Krachmalnik, was a
student at the same time that I was. He played better than I did.
Y: During this time that you were growing up, music was fun, music was something
you loved. It was time to go to college, and music still was not necessarily your
goal. Could you talk about your decision to further your education and what was
T: What was involved mostly was that World War II got in the way. I started college
in the summer of 1942--that sounds like a movie title. We were already in the
war, and the college scene was geared to preparing people to participate in that
experience. So it was sort of natural for me to do something which I had always
enjoyed without any intentions, again, of professional activity. I majored in
mathematics. I studied some mathematics and physics and that sort of thing.
My army career lasted for just a little over two years, and then [I came] back to
college. At that point, for some reason I was particularly interested in finishing up
fast. To stay in mathematics was the fastest way to do it, so I did.
But it was in my senior year in college that I decided that the only way that I really
wanted to spend the rest of my life was in music. My plan then was to do
graduate study in music as soon as I had gotten my bachelor's degree.
Y: Let us back up just a moment. Your college experience was at Harvard, in
Boston. Is that correct?
T: Yes, in Cambridge. They would be very unhappy in Harvard Square to hear you
say that it was in Boston. [laughter]
Y: Could you talk for just a moment about your decision to go to Harvard? The war
was going on; what prompted you to make that decision?
T: Well, Harvard's reputation as a first-rank, if not the first-rank, educational
institution in the country was the main source of interest. Its proximity was very
helpful. I had never really any serious though to going elsewhere, and I was
lucky enough to be admitted, which was easier then than it is now, believe me.
So it was kind of a natural experience.
Harvard at that time felt sort of compelled to take all comers to whatever extent
they could in terms of crowding and so on. The reason for that was essentially
the war effort. It was not a normal college education. Nobody went through in
four years. It was either three or six or something like that. In other words, it was
an upset time, not one of quiet contemplation.
Y: Could you focus a little bit more on that? Because I think this is important in
terms of a context of what Harvard was really like in 1942 and following, when
you were there.
T: It was crowded. We had constant awareness of the military or naval forces,
because there were not only ROTC units, but also the navy V-12 had a program
there, and the Harvard Yard dormitories were all full of these sailor types.
Everybody was accelerating in the courses. It was in effect three terms a year,
because the summer term everybody took, and it was a terribly concentrated
kind of thing. I must say it was very hard work.
After the war things were somewhat relaxed, because at least the war was not
providing pressures. But it was still crowded. Harvard then felt compelled to
educate all the veterans that were coming back, so it was pretty much a jammed-
up sort of thing. One did not get the feeling of having time to take advantage of
all the marvelous things that Harvard Square offered. When I think back on it, I
cannot figure why it was after the war that things seemed rushed, but they did.
Maybe it was just I. It might have been my eagerness to get into music school
and graduate school.
Y: You said earlier that you studied mathematics there and gave some reason for
that. Could you talk a little bit about music at Harvard and how that fits into the
broader picture and your involvement there?
T: The Ivy League schools in general, and Harvard in particular, take a very stern
view of the musical educational experience. They say in effect that it is a
permissible thing that one should study musicology or music theory or even
composition. But when it comes to any other matters, particularly applied music,
they would simply send you down the road to the Longy School of Music or to the
New England Conservatory in Boston. It [applied music] was simply not
considered as a proper function of a college education. The music department
was, however, full of very fine teachers.
The chairman while I was there was a theorist named A. Tilman Merrit. Archibald
Davison, who was sort of responsible for the whole serious glee club movement
in this country, was on the faculty there. Teaching assistants when I first started
there were Donald Grout, of recent fame [as the author of History of Western
Music, the standard music history textbook], and Irving Fine [well known later as
a composer]. These guys were just section men. The leading light of the
department was a composer named Walter Piston. Besides composition he
taught in several areas of music theory--harmony, counterpoint, orchestration.
So it was a small group, but a very high-powered one.
Before I went away to my army service I did not indulge in music department
activities except to play the violin in the orchestra. After I got back I took two
courses, actually, in the department. One was a year's survey of music history;
that was Davison's famous Music 1. At least it was famous in those days. It was
a beautifully organized course which did a terrific job, really, at exposing the
nature of music from, say, the late renaissance to the present. They did not dig
into pre-renaissance music very much. The other course that I had was very
valuable for me in my later experience, and that was a course in the string
quartets of [Franz J.] Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. It was a course that was in
good part analytical, and it was my first experience, really, in analyzing pieces in
terms of structural design. It was taught by a man named Edward Ballantine,
who was a composer and a pianist and a very sharp teacher. He did not let us
get away with anything sloppy.
Y: So those were your primary courses as an undergraduate in conjunction with
T: Well, they were part of my distribution requirements.
Y: Right, the liberal studies.
T: That is right. They were the only courses in music that I had.
Y: Now, you graduated from Harvard and at that point began to think seriously
about music as a career. What was the next step?
T: I took a year off in a way, except that it was not really off. I began studying the
violin again, and worked very hard at it. I audited courses in harmony,
counterpoint, and orchestration at Harvard. They were very nice and let me
come and just sit in classes. That was terrifically valuable. I read a great of deal
of music history at the same time, because my intention was to go to graduate
school in music, and I wanted to be able to avoid having to take all those
undergraduate courses. That is actually what transpired.
A casual conversation with Irving Fine, who was letting me sit in on his courses
on harmony and counterpoint, led me to the University of Michigan. He had been
out there, I think, on a job interview or something and had been very much
impressed with the place. That is where I went the following year for graduate
Y: Let me back up for just a moment before we leave Harvard. You also sat in on
courses with Walter Piston. Is that correct?
T: Only the orchestration course.
Y: Could you tell me what you remember about that particular course with Walter
T: The content of the course you can determine from his book on orchestration
[Orchestration], because that book really was his own syllabus for the class. It
was wonderful in the sense that Piston's sense of humor made even the boring
stuff come to life, so to speak. He would sit very quietly and make wry,
preposterous statements about things just trying to make sure that everybody
was staying awake. But always in a monotone. He was not bombastic in the
way he said anything at all. I find that his book as well as his teaching in that
class are wonderful, because everything that is in them is not only mechanically
accurate but is there for some musical purpose. That, unfortunately, is
something that one cannot always say for textbooks. But his, I think, are really
exceptions in that sense.
I am reminded of one hot spring day when all the windows in the room were
open--they did not have air conditioning in that building--and an airplane went by
flying rather low, and the engines really drowned out the quiet tones of Piston's
voice. He had been showing us something on the piano, and of course it was
impossible to hear anything musically subtle while that plane was going over.
Finally it got off in the distance far enough that he could make himself heard, and
he turned around and hit a low note on the piano and said, "Hmm. Airplane in B-
flat." He was that kind of guy.
Y: What about his music? In terms of being a student in his class, did you see
compositions in process or analyze pieces he had previously written?
T: He never did that to his class; he never used his own music as examples. His
examples from the twentieth century were [Maurice] Ravel and [Igor] Stravinsky.
They were not Walter Piston's music. He did, with a flute player from the Boston
Symphony, perform his Sonata for Flute and Piano, which had already been
completed and published. But he was using that as an example of how flutes
can sound. But that is the only time that he ever used his own music in that
Y: If there were one thing that you would remember about Walter Piston that
influenced you as either a teacher or a composer or even a conductor, what
might that be?
T: I think more than anything else it was a terrific technical competence. He was a
nice guy and all that sort of thing, but he was an intensely practical musician, and
in everything that he wrote and in his thinking. .in his textbooks one finds that he
was intensely practical about everything. He had not only played the piano but
also the violin and the saxophone when he was younger. He had been for a
short time, a year or so, a conductor of the Harvard Orchestra, so he was a
conductor, too. But there was that marvelous craftsman-like approach to the
whole music thing.
Later on, while I was at Michigan, he came out on a visit, and I happened to have
in hand his Sonata for Violin and Piano, which was on my master's recital when I
finally gave it, and he was nice enough to be willing to listen to the woman that I
played the recital with and me play that sonata. It was really a wonderful
session. He was able to make a few very specific suggestions about bowing
styles and the use of vibrato way the heck up high on the E string and so on,
which was very exciting, very enlightening for me.
At the same time, he attended a rehearsal for a piece that the string quartet at
Michigan had commissioned him to write--that is the Quintet for Piano and
Strings--and the last movement, as most Piston pieces did, has a fugue or a
fugato sort of thing in it. At the rehearsal that Piston sat in on, the people in the
quartet were saying, "I am not sure that we can make the different entrances in
this fugato come clear to the listener." Piston said: "Oh, do not worry about that.
Fugues are just for composers." In other words, he looked at it for what it was.
This is a device which he used at a certain point for some aesthetic purpose, but
he was not concerned that the audience be terribly aware that this was a fuguing
Y: You mentioned Donald J. Grout. Could you clarify what his role was at that time?
T: He was a section man, that is, a teaching assistant, for Davison and Music 1 at
that time. I had no contact with him. He was not my section man.
Y: In terms of other colleagues at Harvard at that time, are there other people who
were there as students that have gone on to some fame, particularly as
T: Well, in my class there was a guy named Noel Lee. Lee has achieved quite a
substantial reputation as a pianist and composer. Shortly after we graduated he
moved to Paris and has lived there ever since. That was after the war--World
War II. He has established a substantial reputation in Europe.
A couple of years ahead of me--and I had known him in prep school at Andover--
was Daniel Pinkham. He and I had played some clavicord and violin and then
harpsicord and violin duos from time to time. That was really before Pinkham
turned into a composer. Pinkham did major in music at Harvard, and I knew him,
although we were not really close friends. He had not written very much except
as classroom exercises at that time.
Y: Do you have any particular remembrances of him, just as a fellow student?
T: Well, in those days he was very much preoccupied with old keyboard
instruments--harpsichords and clavichords and the organ. It was an interest that
I did not really share, but I did not find polite ways of saying, "No, I do not want to
play those old sonatas with you and the clavichord." So you can see our
relationship was not strained but at least not of the most familiar variety.
Y: Daniel Pinkham was at Harvard while you were at Harvard. At that time was he
planing to become a performer? If he was not at the composition stage, what
was his role as a student at Harvard at that time?
T: He majored in music, but I do not really remember what specific goals he had at
that time. He had studied the organ, and shortly after he graduated from college
he became organist at one of the big Boston churches. He held that post for a lot
of years. I do not really recall what his ambitions were.
Of course, for a music major the program was pretty much totally prescribed.
One did not specialize in one thing or another. One did the music history and
music theory courses, and I am sure that if not as an undergraduate then as a
graduate student Pinkham went on to study some composition with Piston.
Y: Do you have any remembrances of him just going to school with him? I do not
know if he was someone you were close to or just a classmate, but do you have
T: Not really. I always had a certain impatience with Dan because he loved old
keyboard instruments, and I did not--and I still do not. So we were never really
that close, although we did make music together from time to time.
Y: Do you have any other memories of your years at Harvard that you want to share
before we move forward?
T: There is only one other that was, in a funny sort of way, prophetic. In my last
semester of residence over there I was rooming next door to a guy named Martin
Mayer, who has since gotten involved with writing books on the banking industry
and Wall Street and also a history of the Metropolitan Opera. Martin very much
loved music. I was rooming alone, so I did not have much hesitation in pulling
out my fiddle from time to time and practicing. One of the things that I really
loved was to play the unaccompanied Bach sonatas. Very often Mayer would
come in and bang on the door. I was always afraid that I was disturbing him and
his studies. But really he just wanted to sit and listen, and he sat and listened to
me. They must have been horrible performances, because I really began to play
the violin on a reasonable level after I got out of college. But he would sit and
listen a great deal, and that was something that maybe showed me that going
into music was not so stupid after all.
Y: So you graduated from Harvard and spent another year at Harvard doing some
preparatory work, and the University of Michigan was the next step. You said
earlier that Irving Fine had some influence on your selection of Michigan. Is that
T: Yes. He had recommended that I go there, and I think it was one of the best
things that I ever did. He had not given me any reason except that he thought
that it was a good school, and he knew, of course, that my interest in music was
a practical one. I was a violinist, and he realized that at the Ivy League schools
that practical approach to making music was not part of the scene at all.
But Michigan was really quite marvelous in the vitality that music was treated with
there. My violin teacher, a man named Gilbert Ross, had been a student of
Leopold Auer, who was Heifetz's teacher and several other of the great violinists.
In very significant ways he combined the musical and technical aspects of
things, so it was very valuable for me. I did chamber music with a very
experienced cellist named Oliver Edel. His teaching was very helpful later on
when I had to be part of the string quartet.
The teacher who probably influenced me most was Ross Lee Finney. Finney
was nice enough to allow me to study composition with him, although he usually
taught only composition majors. I was a totally inexperienced composer, but I
liked the way he thought about music in general. I had been playing in a student
string quartet that played his students' works, and I had become acquainted with
his musical awareness, and I liked what he said. So I asked him if he would
teach me, and he allowed me to start. I did three semester's worth of
composition study with him, and it was very good.
Y: But your intent, going to Michigan, was to study violin and applied music. Is that
T: Yes, that is correct.
Y: The composition was something that was just an added benefit?
T: Yes, that is correct. I had not been able to eliminate completely all the
undergraduate courses that I never had by passing examinations, so I had to be
around anyhow for various other courses. Since I had hours to spend on the
schedule and the GI Bill to support me, I was able to work with Finney for those
Y: What years were you at Michigan?
T: [I was there from] 1948 through 1950.
Y: At this point you still did not consider yourself an aspiring composer, although
you had the opportunity at least to begin studying the process.
T: Yes. As a matter of fact, the piece that Finney had me working on when I left
was a string quartet, of which I had finished the middle movement, the slow
movement, and about half of the first movement. The entire piece, which is a
three-movement piece, I finished seven years later. That was the extent to which
I was involved in composition. There were other things that simply were more
important at that time.
Y: Ross Lee Finney is one of the very distinguished American composers of the
middle part of the century. Could you describe a little bit more your association
with him and what he was like as a teacher?
T: Finney has the knack of stating in very few words very complicated and profound
musical thoughts. At one point when he was setting me to work on that string
quartet that I just mentioned, I was over-awed when he told me that that was
what I should be doing next, because I had always heard that string quartets
were what you did in your most mature years as a composer. I said, "How do
you begin?" and he said, "Well, let's look at how Beethoven began." He pulled a
score of Opus 59, Number 1 off of his piano, and in his typically inept pianistic
style hacked through the first twenty or so measures of the piece. He said: "See,
that's how you begin. Beethoven gets his motor going, and then he writes a
There is a very profound truth to that, and it has led me to my thinking right now,
for example, that music thrives on melody. It does not matter whether it is
melody from Beethoven or [Franz] Schubert or Stravinsky or Ross Lee Finney,
but there has to be a tune. It took him four or five minutes to put across this
concept to me. I think a teacher like that has a great gift.
He is probably better known as a teacher than for his music. His own music has
had a lot of success, but his students have had more. Leslie Bassett has a
Pulitzer Prize to his credit. George Crumb is looked at now as one of the bright
guys among American composers. There are others who have achieved a
certain degree of recognition. Donald Erb is another one.
Y: Did you have any association with any of those composers as colleagues or
fellow students while you were at Michigan?
T: Well, Erb and Crumb are both too young to have been at school at that time. Les
Bassett was an undergraduate when I was in graduate school. As a matter of
fact, I played as part of my assistantship duties first performances of a string
quartet of Bassett's and also the Sonata for Viola and Piano. I do not know if
those pieces have ever been published or get played nowadays, but they were
early Bassett works that were very competently done.
Y: What kinds of remembrances do you have of Leslie Bassett as a student?
T: A nice guy. He really was always very genial and very pleasant. He was a pretty
good trombonist. We had a "Little Symphony," it was called, in which I played,
and Bassett was one of the trombonists. I enjoyed making music with him that
Y: Are there any other remembrances of your years at Michigan that you would like
T: Well, there was when I was there a rather healthy extroversion about the
university that I really enjoyed. I would be impatient with it now, but in those days
I liked the fact that the whole town sort of zipped up the sidewalks to go to a
football game on a Saturday afternoon. I really enjoyed that, as different from
Harvard, because it certainly was very different. I met a lot of good people that
were, again, different from the Harvard Square types, and that I found very
pleasant. If you asked me to be specific I would be in terrible shape to name
names and that sort of thing, but it was an important kind of broadening
experience for me to be there instead of in New England.
Y: So you were very happy there. You graduated, and it was time to think about the
future. What happens next?
T: Well, what I had come to was the recognition that my future as a musician would
be in the teaching field. There were no teaching jobs that I could land at that
time. In fact, there were very few vacancies of which I was notified.
As a result of peculiar combinations of circumstances and people that I talked to
and friends of my mother's and so forth, I wound up going to New York, where I
studied the piano and opera literature with a woman named Alberta Masiello,
who was a Juilliard [School of Music] graduate pianist, former mezzo [soprano]
with the City Center Opera Company who has since gone on to do coaching and
be sort of assistant conductor at the Metropolitan Opera.
You might have heard her on "The Opera Quiz" from the Met on Saturday
afternoons; she used to be on quite frequently. You could tell she was a mezzo.
She has a voice like a basso profundo. Anyway, she had me playing the opera
scores on the piano, that is, the piano scores, after which, when I could play
them with some competence, I would conduct, and she would sing and play the
piano. It was really a wonderful kind of instruction. She is an extremely
Meanwhile, as part of my operatic education, and because I had never really
known opera terribly well, I was going to the Metropolitan and buying standing-
room for two dollars a couple nights a week and that sort of thing. I immersed
myself for a couple of years in the whole opera thing.
I wound up, in 1953, touring around the whole country-- including Gainesville, by
the way--with the Charles Wagner Opera Company, which was a professional-
level performance group. On that tour we did fifty-nine performances of //
Trovatore [By Giuseppe Verdi] in sixty-three days. It was enough to teach me
that that was not the way I wanted to spend my musical life.
Y: Were you a conductor or a violinist?
T: I played the violin in the orchestra and I did the backstage conducting. You
remember the "Miserere" chorus, and there is a chorus of nuns in the second act,
I think it is.
Anyway, that was, in a sense, the culmination of my operatic training. But I knew
that ultimately I would want to get a teaching job, and I kept my oar in the water.
Finally, in 1954, I applied for a vacancy at Ithaca College in Ithaca, New York,
and I spent six years up there teaching violin, teaching a music history and
literature course, and conducting the orchestra for the last three years that I was
Y: What was Ithaca College like by comparison to Harvard and Michigan, where you
T: Well, it represented a facet of the music business that I had never been
acquainted with before, and that is music education. Well over half of the
students in the School of Music at Ithaca were music ed. majors. Some of the
fundamental concepts of the whole music education profession I learned for the
first time there--the idea, for instance, that my child going to a public school might
be taught to play the clarinet in the band by somebody whose instrument was the
trombone. That I found appalling! and still do, in a funny sort of way. But that
whole music ed. attitude was something I had never experienced before. There
were some fine faculty people there, and many of the students were of high
competence. But it was a new and strange experience for me.
Y: Now, right across town is Cornell University, and I assume that Cornell was
similar to your Harvard experience in terms of its program and structure.
T: Yes, very similar indeed, although they did have a good violinist and a good
cellist on their faculty in addition to the other people. Your friend Donald Grout,
by the way, had now become a member of the Cornell faculty. Anyhow, you are
right. Applied music had little place at Cornell. They were interested in the
composition and the musicology and so on. They had two composers on the
faculty that were very good people. One was a man named Robert Palmer, who
came through the Eastman School of Music, and the other one was Karel Husa.
Husa had just come from France to this country at that time, and he was
conductor of the orchestra at Cornell in addition to teaching some theory courses
and things of that sort. He later on, after Bob Palmer retired became the
professor of composition there.
I do not know why it is, but almost all of the composers that I have ever met, the
well-known ones, have been nice guys. I enjoyed both Palmer and Husa. Husa
was sort of a mad middle European. Palmer was a very quiet, soft-spoken
American, and I enjoyed them both. They were good fellows. In fact, all the
composers in Ithaca used to get together from time to time and listen to music
and talk about compositional problems and so on. It was quite a nice group.
Besides the Cornell people, there was Warren Benson from Ithaca College, and
some of the Cornell graduate students would come. I really enjoyed it. I still was
not a composer, but for some reason they knew that I liked new music, so they
let me come and sit in the sessions.
Y: Now, you said Karel Husa was the conductor of the orchestra at Cornell. Is that
Y: Did you have an opportunity to play with the orchestra under his direction?
T: Yes. I cannot remember how many programs we did, but I do remember one
performance of the [Johannes] Brahms Requiem that he conducted that was
really a very good experience.
Y: Did you ever have an opportunity to perform any of his music with the orchestra?
T: I never did. The only orchestral piece of his that I heard during that time was
performed by the Ithaca Chamber Orchestra, the small group, and I did not play
in that. I simply did not have time to do it.
Y: Was there anything that you learned from your association with him that might
have some bearing on your own thinking about composition and music in
T: Not really. Husa's music at that time--it has changed since then--was really very
Czech-sounding music. It was attractive, but for me it was not natural at all, so I
really learned little from it specifically. Now, Palmer's music, on the other hand,
had a kind of rhythmic energy which I have since come to admire. There were
certain parts of a string quartet of Palmer's that I remember hearing at a concert
one Sunday afternoon, and it was good. It was very rememberable--voicings and
Y: Now, Ithaca apparently was a good place to be. There were composers, there
was musical life there, there was a job, but for one reason or another there
apparently was a need for a change [in terms of your professional career]. What
transpired [that caused you] to leave Ithaca?
T: Well, all jobs have the minuses as well as the pluses, and some of the minuses
were getting to me a little bit. One of the things about Ithaca that most
depressed me--literally-- was the fact that we never saw the sun from November
to May. Those winters up there are just abysmal. I did not like it. Even Boston
and Ann Arbor had not been like that. You would see the sunshine once in a
while. So I wanted to leave. I did not have the feeling that I would get much
farther. So actually, through some Michigan people I heard of the vacancy here
at the University of Florida. One thing led to another, and in 1960 I came down
Y: So you were at Ithaca for six years, and in 1960 the opening was here, and you
came for an interview.
T: I have been here ever since.
Y: What was the University of Florida looking for when you came and were hired in
terms of a new professor?
T: Well, my predecessor here was a man named Ed Preodor, and he had taught
and played the violin and also conducted the orchestra. They were looking
essentially for somebody to replace him. When I came I was an associate
conductor of the orchestra officially, I believe, and also I was scheduled to teach
"other courses as required." Well, the "other courses" in the first few years that I
was here wound up numbering something like seventeen. But be that as it may,
that is what I was here for.
Y: What was the music department like at that time in terms of number of faculty,
facilities, those sorts of things?
T: My recollection is that we were seventeen in number, and it was really a very
close-knit group, partly because the facilities that we were in were among the
most primitive that you could imagine. It was an old wooden gymnasium that had
been converted to music department use. [Building R was located at the present
site of the Student Recreation Center, adjacent to the Women's Gym. Ed.]
Fortunately, it no longer exists. Reid Poole, who became chairman of the
department when I first arrived, used to say that the building would collapse if the
termites stopped holding hands. I am not ready to disbelieve that. Anyhow,
those circumstances in this climate made for misery, and misery loves company,
so the faculty was a very unified sort of thing. Everybody went to all the
concerts, student recitals, everything else. It was that sort of tight-knit ensemble.
When we moved into this building in (I think) 1971, the picture changed. The
building itself was palatial, comfortable. The one thing that seems to have
happened--I do not know how many people share this view--is that since people
did not mind staying in their studios and offices the department faculty has
become more fragmented. We do not know each other as well. The faculty now
is about twice as large as it was in those days, and of course we have many
more music majors now than we did then.
Y: Let us back up and talk about the orchestra, first of all. When you arrived what
was the general state of the orchestra?
T: It was a "town-and-gown" orchestra. I think that undergraduate students were
probably less than half of the orchestra. The rest were townspeople, faculty
people, faculty wives. Many of the string players that were terribly helpful were
the wives of faculty in other disciplines. But because of the continuity of all those
adult members of the orchestra, there was a kind of esprit de corps that is hard to
find in an orchestra in which people graduate after four years. I rather enjoyed
the diversity of age groups and so forth within the group. Now, of course, the
orchestra is almost entirely student, which is as it should be, except that I know a
lot of nice people in town who perhaps would like to have kept playing. In any
case, those things change.
Y: Was it the sort of orchestra you expected when you came, or did you expect a
more primarily student composition?
T: I confess to have expected that students would have been a larger percentage of
the group. On the other hand, I did know that it was a town-and-gown orchestra;
I was prepared for that. As far as its level of competence is concerned, I have
always taken the attitude--I did at Ithaca, too--that these are the people who want
to play, and my job was to help them play as well as possible. I was not in any
sense being overcritical of what I found.
Y: Are there any particularly memorable performances or pieces that you can
remember during your tenure as the conductor of the orchestra?
T: Oh, yes, a lot of them. One of the ones that was most important for me was the
performance of the [Ludwig van] Beethoven Ninth Symphony that we did in the
old gym. I cannot even remember the year, but that piece is one of the
monuments. It is probably the first real monument that I had ever turned my
hand to as a conductor, and I really enjoyed that.
Later on we took to hiring soloists to come and play a concert or two with us.
That was done at first in order to be able to charge some admission to raise
scholarship money. So I got to work with some musicians that I really enjoyed
working with. There was a violinist named Joseph Fuchs, a pianist named
Leonard Pennario, and several others that I cannot really think of at this point. I
can remember every note of those performances. Pennario played the [Serge]
Rachmaninoff Second Concerto [for Piano and Orchestra] with us, and he was
good at that big, romantic sort of piece. Fuchs played the [Felix] Mendelssohn
Concerto [for Violin and Orchestra] and also the Introduction and Rondo
Capriccioso of [Camille] Saint-Saens.
I think that we accompanied those folks well. They always said nice things, and
that gave me a lot of pride, because when teaching conducting, which is one of
the things that I used to do, I always wound up with the feeling that
accompanying well is the hardest job of a conductor. Playing symphonies is a
cinch compared to having to rely on a performer to do things always the same
way twice. So I was very proud of those accompaniments that we did.
Y: And you conducted the orchestra how many years?
Y: Nineteen years, from 1960 to 1979.
T: That is just about right.
Y: I would like to talk about the move from the old building to the new building,
occurring about 1971. In 1972 there was a special celebration planned to
dedicate the new building. Maybe you could comment a little bit about what you
remember about that event.
T: We wanted to do something memorable in commemoration of moving into the
[new] building. As a result of a lot of chat among the faculty people and in the
faculty meetings themselves, we finally decided to try to mount a festival, and we
wanted a figurehead. I cannot really recall the process, but it was determined
that Aaron Copland would be a good figurehead. Finally a date was determined,
and Copland was agreeable.
I think there were several reasons that Copland was chosen. First of all, he was
one of those nice guys that I talked about. There were plenty of composers who
would not be so sympathetic with our aims and accomplishments as Copland
was. Also, his music was of a nature that we could perform a great deal of it,
whereas some people write music that is just too darn difficult. That was it. He
came, he conducted the orchestra in a concert, he attended other concerts of his
own music, and he gave a talk. He was given an honorary doctorate. He was a
nice guy. He was really very pleasant, not difficult to deal with at all. The
orchestra people liked him quite well. I think they were scared to death to have a
well-known composer to come and conduct them in his own music, but they did
very well indeed, and I was very happy for them.
Y: Let us back up just a moment. The planning of the event was done by the music
faculty and committees and those sorts of things, but there was a determination
that the orchestra was going to be a major portion of the event. How was the
music itself selected? Did you do that, did Aaron Copland do that, or was that
some sort of committee decision?
T: It was sort of mutually agreed upon. He made some suggestions, [and] we made
some suggestions. There were some phone calls back and forth to New York,
and we finally decided on the music that would be played. He wanted to do the
piece that finally was on the program, the Canticle of Freedom. We had had it in
mind to do some excerpts from The Tender Land, Copland's opera. We
compromised, doing the Canticle of Freedom, but he gave way on some other
things that he had wanted to do--the Third Symphony, for example. I do not think
that our orchestra could have played the thing mechanically successfully, so I
just vetoed that one. But it was arrived at in that very agreeable fashion.
As a matter of fact, the abilities of the orchestra precluded our playing the
Canticle of Freedom from the beginning, and what we actually performed was the
last ten or twelve minutes of the piece. But there is a rather long orchestral
prelude that simply was not done. Copland found a good place for us to start in
the middle of the piece, and we went to the end.
Y: What about the rest of the program, other selections?
T: Well, I wanted to do the Fanfare for the Common Man, because I think that is a
heck of a fine way to start a program. The other thing I wanted to do, because I
think in a lot of ways it is Copland's best work, was Appalachian Spring. I also
knew that that is a piece that the orchestra could play. He came up with the idea
of doing the Danz6n Cubano, which is a dance piece originally for piano, I
believe, which he then arranged for orchestra. It makes for a very effective
orchestra piece. What else was on there? A piece called Statements for
Orchestra, which is rather early Copland. It is five aphoristic kinds of pieces. We
did only four of them, as it happened; I cannot remember why we omitted one,
nor can I remember whether it was Copland's idea or mine to omit one. In any
case, we did not do the entire set.
Y: When you performed the Appalachian Spring you did the orchestral version
rather than the original version for thirteen instruments. Is that correct?
Y: The program itself, once it was selected, really was the right program given the
capability of the orchestra and the event itself, do you think?
T: I think it worked very well indeed. The Canticle of Freedom involved the
choruses, too, which made things all that much more exciting for a lot of people.
Y: Let us talk about the whole event. All the planning is done, the rehearsal has
been done with the orchestra, and it is time for Aaron Copland to arrive. Can you
describe what you remember, starting at that point?
T: I really do not recall details particularly. I was--probably the best word is
nervous. Here I had tried to prepare the orchestra for the composer to come and
conduct his piece, and this is not a chopped liver composer. This is Aaron
Copland! I was apprehensive because I did not know how the orchestra would
react to him--I really did not know an awful lot about his conducting technique at
that point--and I did not know how he would react to the orchestra. I mean, I
knew he was a nice guy, because loads of people had told me that. I had met
him, but only briefly. But I did not know [how he would react] when the chips
were down and his music was at stake. Would he still be a nice guy if somebody
In any case, he did something which I think is absolutely the only proper way to
do things. He came in--somebody introduced him to the orchestra (I do not
remember whether I did or the chairman of the committee, Dr. [John] Grigsby
did)--and he simply took off his coat and got up on the podium and said, "OK.
Why not start with . .," and then he named whatever it was and began to
rehearse. In other words, [there were] no great romanticized self-gratifications in
the whole process. He simply worked. Because he had had so many
professional performances of his own music and opportunities to conduct
professional orchestras, he took the posture that he simply assumed that
everything was going to be fine. Fortunately it was. He never stooped to
condescension or to the pose of a school marm in all of this. He did make a
couple of rather profound musical remarks in the course of rehearsing, but, hell,
you could say the same things to the New York Philharmonic and few of the
people in the orchestra would understand.
I remember one of the things involved a rather dumb musical problem.
Copland's music in many places begins a measure with two quick notes--bump-
bump." At one point in one of those pieces (I wish I could remember the
specifics of it) he begins "bump-bump-bump." He stopped because whoever was
playing it somehow mangled the rhythm. You would not think it would be hard,
but under the pressures it can be hard. He stopped and looked at the music for a
while. Then he looked up and said: "Look. What difference does it make if it
goes 'bump-bump' or 'bump-bump-bump?' The first note is the important one."
For a musician that is a very profound remark, the idea that you locate what is
important, and then not throw away the rest but at least not make a big issue of
it. I learned a lot from hearing him say that. Anyway, it was a tolerably
Y: Are there any other things that you learned about his music through that
T: Not really, because his own conducting of his pieces was very standard. With
Appalachian Spring and with the Fanfare, for example, which were the two
pieces that I had known for a long time, nothing surprised me whatsoever. His
tempos and so on were all very straight. I did learn something about Danz6n.
When I looked at the music it was sort of full of black ink, which indicates or
impels me to play it rather briskly. But he wanted to play it substantially slower--
that made it easier, of course, which was nice for the orchestra--and with a
certain kind of sensual deliberateness that was very attractive compared to this
break-neck speed at which I had been trying to teach the orchestra to play it. So
I did learn about Danz6n. But that is not particularly Copland; that is just the
Cuban form in general.
Y: What about the students in the orchestra? What kinds of reactions [did you
notice] in terms of the rehearsal itself?
T: I heard very little from them. Nobody went around saying, "Was not it was
marvelous to have him here," or anything like that, probably because I had
created an attitude in them that they were being treated like professional
musicians and therefore they should behave like professional musicians. So
nobody went around with a self-congratulatory kind of grin on his face.
Y: Describe the concert. All the preparations have been made, [especially] the
rehearsal. What was the concert like?
T: It was in the University Auditorium. I was playing in the orchestra, so I was really
scrambling to play all the notes.
Y: You were playing violin?
T: No, I was playing viola, as it happened, because that is where we needed some
help. We had quite a viola section. Dr. [Elwood "Woody"] Keister, who was the
conductor of the choir and had trained the chorus for the Canticle, was also
playing viola. He is a very good violist. In any event, I was playing the viola.
The concert seemed to go off swimmingly. I sat in the green room with Mr.
Copland during intermission just in case he should want something, but he was
sitting back very relaxed. We talked about the commissioning of the wartime
fanfares, of which the Fanfare for the Common Man is one. Walter Piston did
one, Fanfare for the Fighting French, and I think Howard Hanson did one. But in
any case, he was talking about that, and he confessed to being a little surprised
every now and then when some television theme song comes across that bears
a startling resemblance to the Fanfare for the Common Man, because I do not
think he got any royalties for that. In any case, he was very calm and had not
been surprised. So everything seemed to work very well.
Y: So you were very proud of the students and the concert in general?
T: Yes. I was happy for the students, because my strong suspicion is that not many
of them realized the experience that they had had, but they had it, and they
acquitted themselves well. I think that is true a lot of times when you have a
visiting dignitary come in. I can look back now at playing the violin sonata for
Piston that I told you about a little while ago, and now I am inclined to think how
extraordinary that he was willing to sit and listen to some broken-down graduate
student amateur fiddle player play his piece. But then I thought it was just very
nice and expected it, because I did not understand. Well, I think that that
happens with students, and I hope that many of them look back at having played
under Aaron Copland with a good bit of satisfaction.
Y: There was a ceremony for the awarding of the honorary doctorate. Do you have
any remembrances of that particular event?
T: That was the next day. The band was the featured musical attraction; they
played Copland's Emblems. Emblems is not one of Copland's greater pieces, so
there was a certain kind of unsatisfying effect from that. The band did it OK; it
was not that. It was simply that it is really not a good piece. Whoever was
presiding, and my recollection is that it was President [Stephen C.] O'Connell,
asked Copland to give some remarks. He had not expected that at all, so he sort
of improvised a brief autobiographical kind of commentary. But outside of that it
was perfectly all right.
Y: So there was nothing profound in his statements as we might find in his writings.
It was impromptu and appropriate for the [occasion].
T: Yes. I think really he had not expected to have to speak.
Y: What about some of the other events? Are there any other recollections you
have? There was a student concert and a symposium to talk about composition.
Do you have any particular stories or remembrances from any of the other
T: Well, what I remember most is the party at my house after the orchestra concert.
It happened to by on my wife's birthday, and Copland sang "Happy Birthday" to
my wife and autographed her recording of Appalachian Spring, allowing as how
he admired William Steinberg [associate to Arturo Toscanini with the NBC
Orchestra and later music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra] as
conductor of the piece, or something like that. He was very pleasant.
It was at that party, actually, that the whole idea of the "president's festival"
started. One of our graduate students talked to Vice-President [Harry] Sisler
about the idea of doing something like this every year. Sisler, who was an
amateur fiddle player, thought that this was an interesting idea and [said that] he
would talk to the president and see if he could get his support for it. That is the
way it worked out, and for a lot of years we have had the President's music
festival, which now has become the President's Visiting Artist Series, so that the
focus is not on one particular "visiting fireman," but on several. But that is the
way these things started out--in my kitchen.
Y: Let me back up for just a moment. You said it was your wife's birthday when you
had the orchestra concert, and I understand she is playing for the upcoming
festival on her birthday as well. Is that correct?
T: Yes, that is right. She is doing the Four Piano Blues on the program next
Tuesday night. [Copland died, December 2, 1990, and in his will he bequeathed
to the University of Florida Department of Music a copy of all of his published
works. In honor of that bequest, the Department of Music held another Aaron
Copland Festival on March 2, 3, 4, 1992, on the twentieth anniversary of the
original celebration. Ed.]
Y: Before we leave Copland, I want to talk a little bit about the president's festival
series. But before we do that, there is one other connection of Aaron Copland
with the University of Florida. There was a student dissertation written on the
symphonies for which you were the dissertation advisor, and I wonder if you
could comment a bit on that.
T: Yes. We had a graduate student named Quincy Hilliard who did that
dissertation. He dug into pieces that one does not hear very much--the early
symphonies and the so-called "Organ Symphony." There is also a ballet which
became Symphony No. 1. My recollection is slightly fuzzy on these things. But
he did a pretty good job combining historical with music-theoretical analysis of
these pieces. Without coming up with any startling conclusions, it was a very
competent survey of what was going on. In the course of [his dissertation] he
went to New York and spent half to three-quarters of an hour interviewing Mr.
Copland, who very kindly consented to see him. It turned out that Copland had
very little recollection of having been here or of me or any of that. In other words,
he seemed to have aged considerably in that space of time that intervened.
Y: The dissertation was completed in 1984, so Mr. Hilliard apparently was not a
student when Copland was here.
T: Oh, no.
Y: So he just asked about that because of the connection, I guess.
T: Yes. Copland was born in 1900, I think, which made him eighty-four years old at
the time Hilliard spoke with him. He had already stopped composing, and I do
not think that he was even doing any conducting at that stage anymore.
T: I would like to go back to the president's festival again. That got off the ground in
your kitchen and apparently was something that was thriving, at least for several
years. As a result of that other noted American composers were at the University
of Florida. Could you name those that were here?
T: I think the year after Copland [was here] Vincent Persichetti came. Copland is a
tough act to follow, and his music is very ingratiating to play, Persichetti's
somewhat less so. I think that in a way Persichetti's visit suffered somewhat,
because Persichetti was not a Copland. He was a nice guy. He certainly was a
competent composer. He came out of Philadelphia, the Curtis Institute of Music.
I am embarrassed because I cannot remember all the pieces that we did, but we
did a symphony of his--I think it was the Fourth Symphony. In any case it was for
strings only. Then there were some other pieces on the program as well. It was
I suppose inevitably a letdown after the initial excitement of Copland's visit. It
was not that it was not successful, but it was just a different kettle of fish.
Later on, Ross Lee Finney, my composition teacher, came down, and we played
some music of his on a program--the Slow Piece for string orchestra and a piece
called Spaces. Slow Piece was a very early piece, and Spaces was a very
recent piece. That was a rather exciting time for me, especially because this was
the first time that I had ever performed a Finney piece for Finney.
Y: Could you comment on that a little bit? How did you go about preparing these for
your former teacher? This was someone you knew well, and you probably had
some idea of what to expect. What sorts of preparations [did you undertake]?
T: Well, as far as Slow Piece was concerned, I had remembered Finney singing it
and thumping the chords on the piano to demonstrate something or other for a
composition seminar one time when I was at Michigan. It is a rather romantic
piece. This is not meant derogatorily; its intention is obvious. It had been the
slow movement of a cello sonata, so you can get an immediate impression of the
kind of work that it was.
Spaces was a different story. In the many years in between Finney had
embraced twelve-tone methodology, and Spaces is largely a twelve-tone piece.
Finney is very clever in his use of the tone rows and all of the mathematical
manipulations so that you are not somehow conscious of the twelve-tonishness
of the music the way you would be were it a piece by Milton Babbitt or [Anton]
Webern or somebody like that. When I got the score from the publisher--we had
to rent that music--I began studying the thing, trying to play little bits and pieces
of it on the piano so that I could get acquainted with the sonorities. There were
certain of the chordal structures that really sounded sort of strange to me for a
twelve-tone piece. So one time when I was talking to Finney on the phone about
his visit, I said: "Listen. I have been working at Spaces. I hear the Petrouschka
chord all over the place." [Petrouschka is a ballet suite by Igor Stravinsky. Ed.]
The Petrouschka chord is a rather well-known chord in music because it involves
two distantly related triads played simultaneously. I said, "When I played these
little bits and pieces of Spaces I hear that chord coming out." He said, "Yes.
That is because of the way the [tone] row was put together." I never did figure
out exactly what it was that he meant by that, but in any case I did talk to him on
the phone that time and one other time about this, that, and the other thing--how
fast should it go here, what do you mean by "freely" there? He has a lot of things
that are quasi- improvised in the course of that piece, so I had to instruct the
orchestra as to how to do it.
Y: But the performance was a very special one for you in terms of your long-term
T: Oh, sure.
Y: Let me back up to Persichetti for just a moment and ask you if you have any
particular remembrances. You talked about probably he was in the difficult
position following Copland. In terms of remembrances of Persichetti as an
individual, is there anything in particular that you remember?
T: He was a man with substantial charm. He had studied conducting with Fritz
Reiner [former conductor of the Metrolitan Opera and the Chicago Symphony
Orchestra] at the Curtis [Institute] when he was a student there. He was
majoring in composition, but he had done the conducting in the course of things.
I fully expected that he might turn out to be the kind of hard-nosed martinet that
Reiner had the reputation of being, but he was not anything like that at all. Once
again, he was very business-like with the orchestra. I do not think he knew what
to expect. My suspicion is that he was a little disappointed in the way they
played his piece because he was used to hearing his pieces played by the
Philadelphia Orchestra, and we just did not sound like them. But several years
later he came back because the band was doing some music of his on a
program, and he was very cordial, very genial, and he remembered me, which is
nifty, because sometimes such people do not remember you.
T: So he made two visits here, then, one for the orchestra and again for the band.
Y: That is right.
Y: Also on that president's series, Daniel Pinkham, who was your colleague from
Harvard, was here. Now, were you involved with that particular program?
T: No, I was not. He was here essentially for a choral program that took place over
in the Catholic Student Center, as a matter of fact. This sort of amused me: they
did his Daniel in the Lion's Den on that program, and I believe that Pinkham
conducted that. I am not exactly sure of that, but I believe so. There were
several other pieces on the program, too, not by Pinkham but by other
composers. But that was a choral affair, so I had no direct connection. I was in
Y: I also understand that the orchestra had an opportunity to perform music of
Douglas Moore for Douglas Moore. Maybe you could tell me a little more about
T: Many years ago (you will have to check the date on this) a man over in St.
Augustine who was, I believe, in charge of the historical preservation of the St.
Augustine town, got the idea of starting a festival of American and Latin-
American music. He, because of our proximity, got us involved. We thought it
would be interesting to do. The idea, of course, was that anything we did over
there in St. Augustine we would also do here in Gainesville. The St. Augustine
concerts took place in the amphitheater--outdoors--so we had the weather to
contend with, among other things. And the mosquitoes! Anyway, that has
nothing to do with Douglas Moore. They were not his fault.
Douglas Moore was the American composer who was to be there. The Latin
composer that was to be there was Carlos Chavez. Chavez was too busy writing
the music for the [1968 Summer] Olympics that took place in Mexico City to
come to Florida, so Moore was the only composer involved. We did his A Major
Symphony, we did Chavez's Toccata for percussion, and the Sinfonia India of
We also did, on a separate program, Douglas Moore's The Devil and Daniel
Webster, which is an opera. Moore heard it there, and he seemed very pleased
by the "care and feeding" of the piece, as he put it later in a note to me. He was
charming about the whole thing. He was a very courtly gentleman. I think at the
time he was either chairman of the Columbia music department or this was just
after he had stepped down from the chair. In any case, he had that kind of
dignity. He was another one of those nice guys. I did not have a chance to talk
to him particularly much separately.
One of the pieces that we did on that program over there [in St. Augustine] was
[Walter] Piston's Incredible Flutist ballet suite. All these guys knew each other--
Piston and Moore and Copland. They were all friends. At least they were
reasonably close acquaintances. When I was talking to Moore he remarked that
he had always had the feeling that instead of the rather stiffly-structured
symphonic works that Piston was best known for--the symphonies and string
quartets and all that sort of thing--he thought that if Piston had not taught at
Harvard he might have been inclined to write pieces like The Incredible Flutist,
which is a much more informal, gentle, gracious sort of work. I thought that was
a fascinating insight. I have no idea whether it is true or not. It is, to my
knowledge, the only piece of that light-hearted ilk that Piston ever wrote. He
wrote that on a commission for a dancer in Boston. I do not know whether
Moore's surmise was correct, but in any case he was very interested in it.
Y: Your involvement with him was primarily after the fact. You did not do a lot of
preliminary consulting before the performance?
T: Oh, no.
Y: And you conducted the performance.
T: Yes. He was strictly there as a distinguished visitor. Our preparation was all
done ahead of time.
Y: But he was very pleased with the results, obviously.
T: He seems to have been. His letter is one of the autographs which I treasure in
my drawer at home.
Y: It is very obvious from our conversation that you have had contact with many of
the most distinguished American composers of the century. I wonder, in
summarizing, if you have any reflections in that experience, both in terms of your
contact as well as being both a conductor and composer yourself.
T: You are kind to call me a composer, because I still feel like an amateur at that. I
have not written very much, and I have not had the luxury to consider that my
prime calling. But it is sort of difficult to generalize. Almost all of the composers
that I met have been of a particular type. They all write tonal music. They all
tend to be even beyond that--rather triadal in their thinking. Even Piston was.
Although his music got dissonant from time to time, he still thought in terms of
triads. So I know these composers only partly. The only one I ever met who was
not of that sort was Milton Babbitt. I never got to know him particularly well.
One of the fascinating things is to look at the differences among these
composers in terms of the extent of their being involved, when they were young,
as practicing musicians. I have mentioned that Piston was an intensely practical
musician. He played the piano, the violin, and the saxophone. Copland was a
pianist, and actually not too bad a one, as well as a conductor. Finney plays the
guitar, only to accompany his own singing. He is not a practicing musician.
Certainly music is just as meaningful to him, but there is a kind of naturalness
about playing Copland's music or Piston's music in general that I have not found
in Finney. Piston and Copland each wrote a violin sonata, and both of them I
have played. Finney's music always has a certain awkwardness about it. It is
not unconquerable, but it is not as comfortable. But as I said, I have been lucky.
They are nice guys. All composers are not nice guys, unfortunately.
Y: Well, thank you so much for sharing these experiences and for your time. This
has been very informative. Again, I appreciate your time.
T: I hope it will be useful for you.
Y: Thank you.