‘The one composer I can’t connect with’

‘The one composer I can’t connect with’


norman lebrecht

January 31, 2014

The Canadian pianist Marc-André Hamelin spends much of his time exploring neglected corners of repertoire. His latest Busoni album on Hyperion may not sell a million copies, but it renews our acquaintance with a brilliant musical mind in a performance entirely unhampered by technical difficulty. There is, however, once composer M. Hamelin cannot fathom. Read Elijah Ho’s interview to discover who.

hamelin busoni


  • Mr Oakmountain says:

    I remember going to a concert of the SFSO playing Bruckner and Copland in Vienna. In the break I met two friends (separately), both new to Appalachian Springs. One of them said how superficial and cheap he had found “that American”. The other one said, “If anyone did not find that beautiful, he has no heart”. I guess Copland’s art either speaks directly to the heart or it doesn’t. It certainly always has to mine.

  • David Boxwell says:

    It’s a pity he doesn’t want to explore Copland’s piano works. I would have thought they’d be a good match.

  • Aw, you just spoiled it! 🙂

    Seriously, though, it is a very interesting interview, well worth reading — I love Mr. Hamelin’s understatement and modesty. He is such a WONDERFUL pianist, and he plays so many other things so well that NOBODY ELSE touches, that I’ m perfectly willing to forgive him for not liking Copland.

    Aaron Copland was supposed to have been a very fine pianist in his day … I think I recall Elliott Carter or one of the other American students of Nadia Boulanger commenting on that. But he didn’t write a lot of piano music, and the piano music he DID compose is certainly not on a level with some of his better orchestral pieces — the 3rd Symphony, the ballet “Billy the Kid”, and the “Fanfare for the Common Man” come to mind. Of the piano works, the Piano Variations (1930) and the Piano Sonata (1939-41) stand out. There’s also the wonderful Clarinet Concerto (1947-48) which has made it into the standard repertoire of clarinetists. And there are also notable song cycles of which the Emily Dickinson poems and the “Old American Songs” come to mind. Although “Appalachian Spring” certainly became his most popular work, I don’t think it was necessarily his best.

    Next year will be the 25th anniversary of his death … maybe Mr. Hamelin would consider doing a little Copland for the occasion?

  • R. James Tobin says:

    Maybe he should at least acquaint himself with Copland’s Piano Variations before dismissing him. Very differnt from Appalachian Spring.

    • Nick Starr says:

      He’s recorded them, actually. The performance is on Youtube.

    • Paul Pellay says:

      As it happens, I did hear him in Copland back in 2000 when he did the Variations and the Piano Concerto (the latter with Slatkin and the BBC SO). I believe this was on the actual day of the Copland centenary (Nov. 14). If he felt no connection with the music I certainly would not have guessed it from the performances! Vintage Hamelin, they were.

  • Tom Foley says:

    It’s not a strongly stated opinion. He just doesn’t connect with Copland. It’s a personal thing. Copland had a number of quite different styles, and the style that one might think Hamelin would be attracted to, isn’t my cup of tea either. But I do find the body of work that many wish to trivialize–Billy the Kid, Appalacian Spring, and so on–to be some of his best. It is accessible, humanistic and very well done. Also, the Copland 3rd is magnificent.

  • Mikey says:

    While I adore Copland’s music in general, I cannot abide his piano music. It is unpleasant to perform, and to my ear, unpleasant to listen to. I find his piano writing uninspired and unidiomatic.

    • Tom Foley says:

      I agree with you. Within the confines of the modernism of his time, though, his piano music holds its own. Its inaccessible, inhuman, and very well done.