THE MUSIC BOX
The short but fairly penetrating essay entitled "The Emotional Essence of Brahms," written by none other than Dr. Koussevitzky, which appeared in the May Atlantic, should be a telling blow on behalf of its author in our current Battle of the Conductors. Besides being, with the exception of Walter's book on Mahler, the sole piece of intelligent prose published by a major American conductor on musical history or theory for the last ten years, it reveals Boston's Bayard as a keen historical analyst with broad-based Van-Wyck-Brooksian sympathies. This may seem like the introduction of strange standards, as if I were to attribute Joe Louis's technique to a knowledge of boxing history, and, in the case of a composer, it would be. A composer, after mastering the fundamentals, should be a law to himself, developing consistently and systematically in one style. Too much knowledge of other men's music often results in the musical hash you find occasionally in Mahler, who anticipated T. S. Eliot's patchwork technique in this respect. A conductor, however, has to "get inside" a Bach or Debussy, and to interpret a number of radically different styles in the spirit in which they were used. Stokowski, always the actor, can't restrain himself from making self-revealing comments in program notes and short speeches. Last winter he announced a Bach work about to be played as "an inspired inspiration." Toscanini wisely says and writes nothing at all, because his interpretative range is clearly limited. But after the magnificent Koussevitzky performances of this season, a faultlessly prepared feast of succulent classics salted down with as many novelties as could be played without losing balance, this added literary proof of "Koussy's" musical scholarship should fix his claim to the title of America's most versatile and talented director, what Carlyle would have called the Hero as Conductor.
Singing under him in the Ninth impressed me vividly with the difference between good and great conducting. We had been rehearsing the music for several weeks and had it down thoroughly, but Sever Hall had never heard anything like what "Koussy" coaxed out of us at his first rehearsal. Something of his personality, of his naive, fanatical, almost religious approach to the music seems to infect anyone who works under him.
Aaron Copland's book, "Our New Music," although contributing a few good insights, is on the whole no more valuable than a modern composer's apologia pro arte sua should be, and about as impartial as an epitaph. He brings up the old notion that Beethoven and the Romantics were too "subjective" and personal, while the new music has to "grapple" with the objective problem of the times. Of course, he hastens to add, the old devices of melody, rhythm and strong feeling are still used, only "extended and enriched" and made more "objective." All this is reassuring reading but a hard pill to swallow, inasmuch as the radical moderns seemed to have failed through their very refusal to "grapple" with any basic emotional problems, and have hidden themselves behind a curtain of technique. They are afraid to admit that all music must of necessity be "subjective," and arise solely from the individual composer's inner life. I think that the answer to the barrenness of their music lies in the confused and dislocated emotional lives of the composers themselves, rather than in any conscious theories they might hold about musical objectivity in a scientific world.