The Value of Deadlines or Aaron Copland’s Inspiration
Long time ago, when I was a young composer at a New Music symposium at the University of Buffalo, I had the good fortune of sitting at the feet of Aaron Copland as he taught a master class.
Now I was pretty young and naive (even though I thought I was just the opposite) and knew precious little of Mr. Copland’s output. The one piece I really knew was his “Appalachian Spring.” So when there was an opportunity to ask questions I stuck up my hand and asked, “What was your inspiration for ‘Appalachian Spring’?”
Now I’d read many books about Beethoven and other composers, about how Beethoven was walking through the woods one day, listening to the birds and an approaching storm, and how he wrote the Pastoral Symphony based on this inspiration. I knew Aaron Copland was about to reveal a similar episode in his life.
What he did say, however, shocked me to my naive little core.
“I got a commission,” he said. He described how Martha Graham, the modern dance choreographer was creating a dance piece and needed 30 minutes or so of music for it – and she needed it by August 1st. He said he had never been to the Appalachian Mountains, knew nothing about the region, and never even left Brooklyn to write it. In fact – the title was put on the music after it was written! But he needed the $500 bucks to eat and if he didn’t have it done by the 1st he wouldn’t get paid.
He looked at our startled faces and with great earnestness, as if he was Moses about to impart the 10 commandments, he raised his finger and said,
“There is nothing as inspirational as a deadline.”