Original Intent: A Copland Story

Dec 29, 2020

Credit Mary Noble Ours

When musicians and music scholars prepare performances of works by dead composers, they often get stuck in arguments over determining what the composers’ “original intent” was. And while I certainly recognize the importance of scholarly accuracy and authenticity, and of staying true to the composers’ wishes, I think that sometimes musicians forget that dead composers were once alive. Back in 1980 a pianist I know was preparing a performance of the Copland Piano Concerto, a performance that Aaron Copland himself was going to conduct, and the pianist had the opportunity to play the piece privately for the composer. After the first movement, Copland asked, “Why are you playing it so fast”… and the pianist, a little flummoxed, said that he was just trying to follow Mr. Copland’s printed metronome marking. “You know,” Copland replied, “I wrote this piece over fifty years ago. That may have been the tempo then, but this is the tempo now.”

This has been A Minute with Miles – a production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the J.M. Smith Corporation.