Aaron Copland, Statements
Twenty years ago, Drew and I attended an all 20th-century music concert by the Utah Symphony—two Stravinsky symphonies. At intermission, I commented to Drew that, for me, the harshness and the atonality of modern music was interesting to hear in person, but not something I would ever listen to at home. A man behind us overheard what I had said: he tapped me on my shoulder and said: "When you are older, you will understand."
I have pondered that comment all these years, not knowing exactly what he meant. Was it that life for him was, in the end, bleak? That news and history and experience will, in time, render Romanticism and melody too painful to hear? That, if you live long enough, loss after loss saps away hope? Or was it just that, if I studied harder, I might appreciate 20th-century music more? He would not explain himself, so I don't know.
Whatever he meant, I find myself two decades later captivated—alone and in my home—by an entirely 20th-century composition: Aaron Copland's, Statements. I had never heard it before tonight. Copland began writing this composition in 1932, and he completed it in 1935: but it was not premiered as a complete work until 1942 (though some parts were performed earlier).
Statements is comprised of six short pieces:
- Militant—here soldiers strut, while trumpet fanfares encourage them.
- Cryptic—seems to have something important to say, but it just fades away.
- Dogmatic—loud, pompous, overshouting (like those who think that, by shouting, they have won the day).
- Subjective—the warmest piece: yearning, observant: like "Cryptic," it fades away.
- Jingo—here Copland mocks extreme patriotism and nationalism: he makes a joke of it.
- Prophetic—frightening, which is how the world must have seemed in those years just before World War II: but there are also in it hints of hope. This piece ends with a drum like a beating heart, and in mystery.
All of my commentary above is, itself, subjective. You may hear something entirely different in each piece.
For whatever reason, in this year of music, this piece speaks powerfully to me. I know it is not the kind of music I would have spent time with before my fourteen-year break from music.
I am older now. Perhaps I am closer to understanding.
Here is Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic in Aaron Copland's Statements, from the album The Copland Collection: Early Orchestral Works:
I created "An Understanding Heart," the image above, in 2006. It is based on Mandelbrot fractals. The title is from 1 Kings 3:9 (KJ V): "Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart."