Composer  Bernhard  Heiden

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Bernhard Heiden (b. Frankfurt-am-Main, August 24, 1910; d. Bloomington, IN, April 30, 2000) was a German-American composer and music teacher, who studied under and was heavily influenced by Paul Hindemith. The son of Ernst Levi and Martha (Heiden-Heimer), he was originally named Bernhard Levi, but he later changed his name.

Heiden quickly became interested in music, composing his first pieces when he was six. When he began formal music lessons he learned music theory in addition to three instruments - piano, clarinet, and violin. Heiden entered the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin in 1929 at the age of nineteen and studied music composition under Paul Hindemith, the leading German composer of his day. His last year at the Hochschule brought him the Mendelssohn Prize in Composition.

In 1934 Heiden married Cola de Joncheere, a former student at the Hochschule that had been in his class, and in 1935 they emigrated to Detroit to leave Nazi Germany. Heiden taught on the staff of the Art Center Music School for eight years.  During his teaching career he conducted the Detroit Chamber Orchestra in addition to giving piano, harpsichord, and general chamber music recitals. After having been naturalized as a United States citizen in 1941 he entered the army in 1943 to become an Assistant Bandmaster. After the close of World War II he entered Cornell University and received his M.A. two years later. He then joined the staff of the Indiana University School of Music, where he served as chair of the composition department until 1974. He remained composing music up until his death at the age of 89 in 2000.

Heiden's music is described by Nicolas Slonimsky as "neoclassical in its formal structure, and strongly polyphonic in texture; it is distinguished also by its impeccable formal balance and effective instrumentation." Much of Heiden's music is for either wind or string chamber groups or solo instruments with piano.  He also wrote two symphonies, an opera, The Darkened City, a ballet, Dreamers on a Slack Wire, and vocal and incidental music for poetry and several of Shakespeare's plays.

His notable students include Donald Erb and Frederick A. Fox.  [See Bruce Duffie's Interview with Donald Erb.]

In April of 1986, I had the opportunity to speak with Bernhard Heiden on the telephone.  He said he was glad to do this, and responded to my inquiries with thought and insight. 

To prepare, he had sent a couple of recordings of his music, and we spoke of these works and others, as well as his ideas of composing and teaching. 

Here is what was said that afternoon . . . . . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:    You are both a very successful teacher of composition and also a successful composer in your own right.  I’d like to start off by asking you how you manage to be a success at both?

Bernhard Heiden:    [Laughs]  Well, I began teaching really very early, when I still was studying with Hindemith.  He had, in fact, an American student who came to study with him, and since he didn’t teach privately, he asked me to teach him.  So, I did.  I don’t know if the name means anything to you, but that was Cameron Baird, who later became sort of the first person of music in Buffalo, New York.

BD:    What did you learn from Hindemith himself [shown in photo at right] ?

hindemithBH:    A lot!  He was an incredible musician and teacher.  I must say he was a tough teacher; rather he showed mostly what you would call technique of composition.   For the first two years when you studied with him, he was not interested at all in your own composition, but simply wanted to equip you.  That was 1929 in Berlin, and he concentrated on really doing counterpoint, which we did for two years or so!

BD:    Do you feel that helped you in your compositions?

BH:    I should think so, yes.  [Laughs]  It set certain limits which you felt you could fulfill, rather than being faced with an empty piece of paper and saying, “Now compose,” which is always hard.  This is one thing I later applied in my teaching, too
not exactly the same way I was taught, but in principle so that you give to the student certain tasks which he thinks he can fulfill.

BD:    In composition, how much is technique and how much is inspiration?

BH:    Without inspiration, technique does not help you much.  But it’s hard to say.  Technique, inspiration, could mean anything.

BD:    Then where is the balance between the two?

BH:    There’s a subtle balance.  Inspiration you can’t worry about.  If it’s there, it’s there and you cannot do much about it; technique, you can.  It means simply being critical with yourself.  This is what technique means — not to be satisfied with what you think might be inspiration.  When you have musical ideas, you must see what they are really worth.  I do that.  It’s a very simple recipe.  You think of something in the evening or at night before you go to sleep.  When you still remember it the next morning, it’s probably worth considering.  If you have forgotten it, you should have forgotten it.

BD:    Seems like an easy test!

BH:    Yes, that’s a very easy test that always works.

BD:    How much can you expect of the public?  Should you expect the public to understand your music at its first hearing?

BH:    That depends.  Strangely enough I really don’t worry much about the public at all because even if you think about a symphony audience, there’s a vast difference between the Thursday or Friday night and the Saturday afternoon audience.  What you should worry about
— at least I dois really the performer, because if you don’t reach him, he cannot reach the audience, whatever the audience might be.  He has the experience to really adjust to that.  He knows what he has to do.

BD:    Then do you write for specific performers, or do you just write for performers of those particular instruments and voices?

BH:    That depends.  I have written a lot for specific performers.  In fact, I will hear in three weeks a piece which I wrote for János Starker
a short piece for cello and orchestra which will be done in Pittsburgh.  [See my Interview with János Starker.]  There I knew very well who I was writing for.  Otherwise, if you write an orchestra piece, you don’t know the performer, or to a much lesser extent you know the performers.  If you’re writing for a specific orchestra, you might know there is a wonderful oboe player, or so forth. 

BD:    But you can’t be terribly concerned about that?

BH:    No, no.

BD:    Do you find that performers or conductors notice things and bring things out in your music that even you did not know were there?

heidenBH:    Oh, sure!  Yes.  In fact every performance of any piece is really different.  Every performer will discover things.  What makes the life of a composer interesting is to listen to different interpretations of a piece of his or hers.

BD:    I read that you studied with George Szell.  What did you learn from him?

BH:    Score reading!  He was the most incredible score reader at the piano that you could imagine.  He could do things that barely anybody else could do
playing orchestral scores or chamber music at the piano.  We had class.  He was an incredible.  He was absolutely a very hard teacher.  While studying, students would stand in front of the door, hardly daring to go in!

BD:    But when he was pleased with something, did he show his approval?

BH:    No!  [Laughs]  Rarely.

BD:    Did that not discourage most of his students?

BH:    Sure, it was frustrating, but remember this training was in Germany, so you were used to sort of authoritarian behavior.

BD:    It seems like it would be somewhat oppressive, then.

BH:    Well, if you lived through it, you were very happy afterwards.  You celebrated after.

BD:    So there’s a completely different style of teaching between the old German style and the current American style?

BH:    Yes, I would think so.

BD:    Is one better than the other, or is it just different?

BH:    I prefer really that I can switch.  No, they are very different.  For instance, let’s think about the question of attendance, which plays a great role in American education.  If you went to class, you went to class; if you didn’t, you didn’t.  I remember enrolling in something like music history in my early training, and never going to class.  Then in America I encountered a very great teacher in musicology.  That was Donald Grout, at Cornell University.  He was a fabulous teacher!

BD:    What made him a fabulous teacher?

BH:    He was very painstakingly exact with whatever you said or wrote.  I remember writing a thesis in musicology for him.  He went over every sentence, and after every phrase he would ask, “Do you mean that and that?” and I said, “Yes.”  So he said, “Well, why don’t you say so?”  But I learned a lot there.  I was a composer and I was not a musicologist, but that didn’t discourage me.

BD:    In looking over your biography, it seems that you started out performing, then went into conducting, then into musicology and finally into composing.

BH:    It looks that way, but I really always knew that I wanted to compose.  I did quite a bit of conducting, actually, and I love to conduct.  But at one point in your life you have to make up your mind.  You want to do one or the other.

BD:    You can’t do both?

BH:    You can’t do both very well.  Now, since I’m seventy-five, I might begin a career as a conductor, because most conductors seem to be in that age group.

BD:    [Laughs]  Let me ask about one other name from the past

BH:    That also was score reading.  He was, in a way, very similar to Szell.  He had a very, very sharp wit, sometimes very devastating.  If you made mistakes, he made very caustic remarks.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Let’s talk a little bit about some of your music.  In the Baker’s Dictionary, Slonimsky says that your music “is neoclassic, strongly polyphonic, has impeccable sonorous balance, and effective instrumentation.”  [See my Interview with Nicolas Slonimsky.]  Is this a good description of your music?

BH:    I don’t know if it’s neoclassic.  That can mean very different things.  It certainly doesn’t sound like Stravinsky.  [Both laugh]  Somebody the other day asked me if my music was neo-romantic and I said, “No, it was paleo-romantic.”  I have written the same kind of music ever since, and I’m sure people will discover differences in style and handling things.  But I don’t know.  It’s hard for me to describe my music.  I guess all those adjectives apply, not to all pieces, but to some — one or the other.

heidenBD:    They apply to your music collectively, then?

BH:    Collectively, yes.

BD:    Do you feel that you are part of a musical lineage, that your music then fits into a line of composers?

BH:    Oh, yes, I would think so.  Right now the situation is confused.  Instead of the mainstream, we have sort of a delta of everything.  There are a hundred different types of music going on at the same time, so I don’t know if you still feel that you are in a tradition, where maybe a different tradition builds up somewhere.  We live in musically rather a confused time, or we are just trying to get out of it.

BD:    Are there too many styles going on?

BH:    Yes.  I think so.  Maybe it will sort itself out, but I don’t know.  Between electronic music and minimal, and people who still — I shouldn’t say still — who write sort of post-Webern music, and new romantic, where is the common denominator?

BD:    Are you optimistic, though, about the future of music?

BH:    You have to be, yes.  I think so.  Eventually always something happens, and much that seems very important and confusing is being shed and will be forgotten, and something emerges.  I don’t think music will end at all.  Music today really means an awful lot to many people.

BD:    You’ve been observing the musical scene for fifty or sixty years, and you’ve been teaching much of that time.  How have the young students of composition changed over that long period?

BH:    In the beginning it hadn’t changed much.  I think they have become, in a way, very often, very much more skilled.

BD:    Technically?

BH:    Technically, yes.  Most students today really write a rather impressive looking score.  If it means much is something else...

BD:    Is it too much Augemusik?

BH:    Yes, there is a lot of that.  There’s a lot of music written for competitions and grants.  It is all sort of neutral, good-looking stuff, but it’s bound to get you a grant.  But it’s impenetrable.  In the way the music business works today, because from the sale of music, which after all, is the consternation for the composer today, it doesn’t exist as a serious income.  Nor are there publishers willing to support somebody like Wagner, who really lived mostly from his publishers.  They were willing to print the score of Meistersinger before it was performed.  I don’t think that would happen today.

BD:    Have we got too many young composers coming along?

BH:    We have too many of everything.  We have too many young pianists and we have too many young composers.  Naturally, they all will teach something.  The sad thing is that we have many disappointed young composers around.  Since the job situation mostly is in theory, they become rather unwilling theory teachers.  Then they are unhappier in their profession as theory teachers, and remain frustrated as composers because they feel they don’t have the time to compose.  So that is the situation.  On the other hand, they don’t starve.  When we came to Detroit in ’35, that was very tough.  There was no job in a university, and I had to do many, many things I hadn’t planned on doing
teaching, giving classes, playing the organ, arranging, conducting.  So the security offered in the academic profession is certainly worth something to composers, and most composers are, one way or another, connected to the universityif they are not in the commercial field, of which you shouldn’t worry, really.

BD:    Tell me about the music you arranged for WWJ in Detroit.

heidenBH:    That was a time where radio stations had symphony orchestras.  The music director was an excellent pianist, so he knew mainly piano literature which he wanted me to transcribe for orchestra.  That job is not always the easiest if the music is very pianistic.  That’s all a commercial situation.  It’s a job where you get an assignment on Monday and they say, “Can you have it for Thursday’s program?”  You really sat up all night, and that was before Xerox!  We were sometimes involved making parts, and all that.  So that was interesting.  [Laughs]

BD:    Was that good experience, or just experience?

BH:    I loved it.  It was a wonderful experience.  I was very lucky.  I had this experience, and that experience in the army arranging for all sorts of combinations
for jazz, writing background music for radio plays and things of that sort.  So I had a lot of experience writing music in a hurry because you never have time.

BD:    Is that true even when you have enough time, that there really isn’t enough time?

BH:    Right now I think I have enough time.  After I retired from teaching I do have enough time, but you are right.  Usually there isn’t enough time for whatever you do in music.  But when it comes to scheduled broadcasts, there are no two ways about it
it has to be there!  Your own deadlines you sort of can talk to.  [Both laugh]

BD:    Does there come a time when you really need to be told
either by yourself or by some kind of deadlinethat you must stop tinkering with a piece?

BH:    Yes.  I think a piece is finished at one point, and I rarely do something to it afterwards.  But there are composers who have worked on certain pieces all their lives.  There make changes and changes and changes, and when you deal with opera, I don’t think there’s a production which doesn’t require some work by the composer.  Certain changes have to be made.  Either a singer cannot reach certain notes, so you take them down, or in case of my opera, it was written first for a somewhat reduced orchestra because the pit wasn’t very big.  Then when it was produced again, there was a big pit, so there was no need to have a reduced orchestra.  So then I added instruments in order to make it fuller.

BD:    So then the opera exists in two versions?

BH:    Yes, and that sort of thing goes on, especially in opera.  Bruckner constantly reworked whole movements in symphonies, and that meant something, especially to poor publishers.  The old material had to be changed again!

BD:    Should Bruckner have reworked the movements that were already there, or should he have written yet another symphony?

BH:    I would say he should have written another symphony!  [Laughs]  Sure.

BD:    Let’s talk about your opera a little bit.  This is The Darkened City.  Tell me a little bit about this work.  How did it come into being?

BH:    It came into being because I always wanted to write an opera.  I think opera, in a way, is really the greatest test for a composer because it involves everything.  It has knowing how to write for voices, for orchestra, writing dramatic music, writing lyric music, writing whatever.  It’s all required, and so it always seemed to be a great challenge to do.  As a composer you should challenge yourself, from time to time at least.  There’s no point writing the same piece over and over again.

BD:    Was this commissioned, or did you just finally decide just to write it?

BH:    It was commissioned by Indiana University.  I knew that there would be a performance.  I don’t think you can write an opera without a commission.  You don’t write operas and put them in your drawer and hope somebody will come along and say, “Do you happen to have an opera?”

BD:    Should you write an opera and then go around and try to sell it?

BH:    No.  [Laughs]  You should sell it before you write it.  You should be sure of a production because, again, in many instances you do write for certain people, or at least for certain situations.  An opera you write for a small opera house or you write it for a big opera house.  You write for a community-type of project or you write for the Metropolitan Opera.  It’s become almost impossible to do without knowing that you will have a performance simply for financial reasons.  To bring an opera to a point where it can be looked at by certain people, it will cost you between five and ten thousand dollars.  Right away you need seven piano scores; you have to have your material reproduced; you have parts made.  This is a proposition that very few people can afford on their own, so they have to be sure that there is some financial return.

BD:    The way you describe it, I’m surprised there are any operas written at all!

BH:    Well, they are commissioned.  On the other hand, there’s hardly an opera company who will look at something it hasn’t commissioned.  It becomes very, very tough to make an opera company look at something that they haven’t ordered.  They want to have the first performance
— unless it has had, let’s say, a successful performance in San Francisco, then maybe an opera house in Germany will look at it.

BD:    Or the other way around?

BH:    Or the other way around.  No, the other way around, I’m not sure, unless you deal with really great name composers.  But even for a composer like Henze, who is a leading composer of opera in Germany, I don’t think he has so many performances in American opera houses.

BD:    Why is it that the American public in the opera and the concert hall seems to demand old works rather than new works?

BH:    I don’t know who demands it.  I don’t think a public ever demands anything.  If you think of symphony programs, it’s between a board of directors and the conductor
and sometimes the managementthat really determine programs, and it has much to do with rehearsal time available.  Today, the more conscientious a conductor is, the less he will undertake to program works which he knows he has not the sufficient rehearsal time.  So that gets in the way of the performance of new music.  Sometimes even if new music is performed, it is not performed very convincingly.  So it’s not too astonishing that the public doesn’t react very favorably to something like that.

BD:    How can we overcome some of these obstacles?

BH:    I don’t know.  That is a very serious problem to think about opera.  There were a hundred rehearsals before Tristan.  Well, there are no hundred rehearsals today for anything, and music has become vastly more complicated.

BD:    Has music become too complicated?

BH:    Yes.  Some music has certainly become too complicated, so that leads to performances that are only eighty percent there.  Consequently, I think a public doesn’t know anything about music, if you say “a public.”  Certainly there are people in the public who do, but as a whole, a public doesn’t know anything; but it has an incredibly good nose for what is good.  If a performance is good or if it’s bad, that doesn’t need any explanation, doesn’t need any convincing.  Quality asserts itself, and good music is self-evident.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Let me ask you about recordings.  Are recordings a good thing for either the public, or the performers, or both?

BH:    For performers they are life blood.  They have become this because it’s a main source of income.  They have produced a certain style of playing, but this, I’m sure, cannot be denied.  I’m not a recording performer.  Something which is on the record is there forever, and that has led to a less individualistic type of playing, of playing which is more secure.  For the public, and let’s say for education, too, recording certainly has had an incredible influence, and if it’s good or bad I don’t know.  Certainly I think of previous times when there were no records, where if you wanted to know about a new piece you had to try to get a hold of a score and a piano and sort of finger it together.  You’ve got to know music more intimately than you do if you listen to it on a record.  However, if you do intelligent record listening
I’m talking now about a young composer — if you do listen to a record with a score you can learn an awful lot, and more today than you ever could before.  Also our knowledge of the literature, naturally, has expanded by four centuries.

BD:    Are you pleased with the recordings that have been made of your music?

BH:    Some, yes.  It’s astonishing how little control I’ve had about some recordings, or how seldom I have had control about recordings.  The moment music is printed and published, you lose control.  I don’t even know about certain recordings that have been undertaken because nobody tells me.  You find yourself in the Schwann Catalog without knowing that anything else happened!

BD:    That doesn’t please you?

BH:    Sometimes yes, sometimes no!  It’s very disturbing to have a record out because the public or everybody else assumes that you are familiar with what goes on there.  But you find, for instance, that a whole movement is played at the wrong tempo.

BD:    And there’s nothing you can do about it!

BH:    Nothing you can do about it!  Nobody will believe that this isn’t what you want!  [Laughs]

heidenBD:    You sent me one record that has the Partita for Orchestra, the Sonata for Viola and Piano, and Euphorion, which was once performed here in Chicago by the Chicago Symphony under Fritz Reiner in 1956.

BH:    Right.  Reiner did that.  That was an absolutely incredible experience because Reiner was perhaps the greatest conductor of our time, or of my time.  You asked me about changes in scores before, and I remember — this is just an anecdote — I came to the rehearsal and I told Reiner, whom I didn’t know, “Just before the rehearsal I made a couple of small changes in the score.
  He said, “Never mind.  I have made all the necessary changes,” and as it turned out, without having heard the piece or even rehearsed it, he had changed exactly the same things I had changed!  This just shows the type of musical mind he had.

BD:    It shows an incredible amount of understanding!

BH:    Yes, for a new score.  It wasn’t that radical, but certainly was not exactly where his sympathy lay.

BD:    Tell me a bit about the piece.

BH:    It was written for a special occasion, for the celebration of Goethe’s 200th anniversary celebration.  It was done at Indiana University, and I hadn’t been there very long, maybe a couple of years.  Euphorion is a character in the second part of Faust, and I chose this character.  I did something I haven’t done since, which is make program music.  It follows that theme in Faust rather closely.  It describes how the young Euphorion falls in love with a girl who goes up in flames.  He goes to war, and at the end he thinks he can fly, and falls down dead to the feet of his parents.  Then there is a chorus which bemoans his death.  That is the outline of the piece, and the composition follows it rather closely.

BD:    So it’s really a tone poem, then?

BH:    Yes, and I must say that’s the only one I wrote, but it’s almost forty years ago.

BD:    Why did you not write anymore tone poems?

BH:    I don’t know.  I don’t mind telling non-musical ideas about pieces of music, but I think it’s better not to tell the listener what it’s about.

BD:    Why?

BH:    Because most people have preconceived ears, and the moment you give them titles or stories it creates false expectations of what it should be like.  If it is like that, then they think that’s okay; that’s what they thought.  But if it isn’t like it, then they say, “Well, why isn’t it like that?”  So I don’t want to give that away.  Everybody has his own personal idea what a sunset should look like, so I wouldn’t call my piece “Sunset,” because then everybody’s disappointed.

BD:    You’ve written quite a bit of chamber music.  Is this the form you feel most at home in?

BH:    Perhaps so, but not really.  I’ve written also quite a bit of orchestral music.  The chamber music has gotten around more.  Very frequently it was written for friends and certain specific people.  I grew up in a surrounding of chamber music, and chamber music is something I like very much.  But there’s also a fair amount of orchestra music in my catalogue.  I have not written as much piano music, though.  I don’t know why, but there isn’t too much, although I’m married to a pianist.

BD:    I read that you compose at the piano.

BH:    I use a piano.  I don’t compose at the piano, really.  I sit at a piano and I like to check things right away.  But actually you should think about pieces all day long when you compose, and obviously you don’t sit ten hours in front of the piano.

BD:    Are you ever involved in more than one piece at once?

BH:    Rarely.  I like to get things done and finish one thing before I begin the next.

BD:    I was also reading that you would sketch out a page or two of the music, and then orchestrate it the next day.

BH:    Yes.  In fact I even make a piano reduction.  I found that most helpful because there’s nothing more discouraging than if you have a whole piece sketched or outlined, and then you proceed to orchestrate it.  When you write for orchestra you have certain ideas, and you better put them down while you remember them.  I like to invent for instruments, not orchestrate something, not have abstract ideas and then think it looks like an oboe could play that.  I prefer it the other way around.  There is an oboe, and what would he like to play now?  I don’t like to delay that process of orchestration, and the same is true with making a piano reduction.  When you have a whole piece finished, you’re really through with it.  Mentally you are through with it, and then if you have to make a piano reduction, that becomes a chore.  However, if you do that just as you write the music, it is just ten more minutes on each page.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    For performances of your music, are they better on an all contemporary concert, or would it be better to drop your piece into a concert with standard works?

BH:    Oh, I’d much rather it dropped into a standard program!  For one thing, I think an all contemporary program is very hard to listen to.  By the time the fifth piece of contemporary music comes around, nobody listens anymore.  Conventions and meetings and symposia are very hard to take.  Composers come together to listen to each other’s music, but you mainly listen to your own piece, and pay little attention to the others.  I don’t want to be too cynical about these things, but I just came from another symposium of composition.  You hear twenty-five new pieces in two days, and you remember very little.

heidenBD:    What about the program we’ll do on the radio
ninety minutes exploring some of your music with some of our talk?

BH:    Oh, that’s all right, sure!  Between the talk and the music, you find contrasting pieces, so that’s no problem, really.

BD:    Will you be writing any more operas?

BH:    I don’t know!  If somebody asks me to, yes.  They are always way back in the mind, but I don’t know.  As I said, opera, from the beginning on, was a commercial venture.  You have to involve special activity finding a person you can work with as a librettist.  There is a great difficulty because it takes a special person to do a good job.  For instance, my teacher, Hindemith, didn’t trust anybody at the end of his life.  He wrote his own.

BD:    You don’t feel that’s a good idea?

BH:    I don’t think I’m the person to do that.  I don’t write language very easily.

BD:    For you, is writing music fun?

BH:    Yes, I like to, and especially thinking about it before.  Even before it begins to take shape in your mind it is great fun.  I’m very happy with that sort of activity.

BD:    Are you ever surprised with how the piece turns out?

BH:    You’re always surprised.  I always hope not to be too surprised at how pieces turn out.  Actually the only time I’m really nervous is before a first rehearsal with an orchestra.  Much of it has to do with if everything is in order — if all of a sudden there are ten bars missing in the second violin, or something like that which creates an incredible confusion.  Everybody gets mad and time is lost.

BD:    But that’s something that’s really out of your control.

BH:    Sometimes, yes, but if you make your own parts it is your control, and you should have proofread.  So that is always a very nerve-wracking moment.  To hear a piece for the first time, interpreted by somebody else is very exciting because it shows you if you really could put down in notation what you wanted to hear.  That is what composition is about, really, and that is what I can try to teach.  The only question I will ask a student is, “Is that what you want, because this is what you have on the page.”  If the question arises at all, fifty percent of the time this is not what the student wants.  What you can learn is to put down, in notation, what your musical idea is.  You cannot learn what your musical idea should be, but you can learn about the realization of that in some sort of communicable sign language.

BD:    Do you feel that music is art, or is music entertainment?

BH:    Music is art.  I don’t see immediately a contradiction, but on the scale from one to ten, if one is art and ten is entertainment, music should be closer to one than to ten.

BD:    Is that one of the problems of music today — there’s too much music being written and performed that is closer to ten?

BH:    Yes, I think so.  There is also a lot of music written which does perfectly well for one hearing, but is exhausted by that.  There’s a lot of music written that doesn’t take repetition.

BD:    Yet it seems like so much of the rock music is constant repetition.

BH:    No, I don’t mean that.  I mean repeated performance.  In that sense, the great love for Baroque music that seems to be going on is quite understandable because that’s exactly the same type of music.  It’s wonderful to hear once or twice, but not constantly the same piece.  Baroque composers knew that very well.  I’m sure Vivaldi didn’t expect all these concertos to be played all over.  He wrote a new one, and that’s the reason there are four hundred.  The same is true today with much music that’s written.  It’s okay for the moment, and that does it.  Then it should disappear, and it usually does.

BD:    Do you expect your music to last?

heidenBH:    Some pieces have lasted.  For instance, there’s two pieces which are now somewhat standard.  They are earlier pieces.  One is a horn sonata and one is a saxophone sonata.  I would say most people who study classical saxophone have played it now for almost fifty years.  The same is true for the horn sonata.

BD:    Does that please you that these have become part of the literature?

BH:    It pleases me, yes.  It also makes me wonder sometimes, because I have written other pieces in between that could function the same way, and they don’t.  But you cannot do much about that.  After a piece is finished and published, it’s on its own and it either makes it or it doesn’t make it, and you cannot do too much about it.  It receives its life from performers who talk to each other and say, “Do you know that piece?  You should look at it.”  It gets around by teachers giving these pieces to students to play, and then they in turn go out play them, so that’s an endless chain.  Some pieces of mine have made it, and others haven’t.  I mention these two, but there are a couple of others which have survived for thirty years.  One doesn’t know, naturally, but you would think if a piece has survived for forty years, then it has a fair chance to last another twenty.  After that, I’m not interested.

BD:    [Surprised]  You don’t expect your compositions to be played after you’re gone???

BH:    Well, maybe they will be.  I hope so, but it doesn’t mean too much to me after I’m dead.  [Laughs]  The Saxophone Sonata, which I had mentioned as being played a lot, I sold outright for $75, so there is no financial return involved!  That was in 1941, and it meant three months’ rent, at that time.  So it was a lot of money.

BD:    What is next on the calendar for Bernhard Heiden?

BH:    A couple of things...  Another chamber music piece which I’ve been asked to write, and another project, another commission which is coming up, but I don’t like to talk about pieces that don’t exist yet.

BD:    You’re still working on them in your head?

BH:    Yes.

BD:    I’m glad to know that you’re still composing, and that you’re still very active.

BH:    Oh, yes.  Don’t say still!  [Laughs]  I don’t think I’ll stop.

BD:    [Rephrasing]  I’m glad to know you’re continuing to be active!

BH:    That’s it!

BD:    I want to thank you for all of your music.  What I’ve heard I’ve enjoyed very much, and I want to thank you for spending the time with me this afternoon talking about it.

BH:    Oh, it was a pleasure!

=====     =====     =====     =====     =====
--  --  --  --  --  --  --
=====     =====     =====     =====     =====

© 1986 Bruce Duffie

This interview was recorded on the telephone on April 19, 1986.  Segments were used (with recordings) on WNIB later that year, and again in 1990, 1995 and 2000.  The transcription was made and posted on this website in 2013.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.

Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.