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
Here is what was said that afternoon . . . . . . . . .
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?
[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] ?
BH: 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
composition, how much is technique and how much is inspiration?
inspiration, technique does not help you much. But it’s hard to
say. Technique, inspiration, could mean anything.
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.
like an easy test!
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?
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 do — is 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?
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
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?
BH: 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?
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
BD: But when
he was pleased with something, did he show his approval?
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
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.
looking over your biography, it seems that you started out performing,
then went into conducting, then into musicology and finally into
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
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
[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.
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
BD: They apply to
your music collectively, then?
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
BD: Are there
too many styles going on?
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
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.
Technically, yes. Most students today really write a rather
impressive looking score. If it means much is something else...
BD: Is it too
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 university — if 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.
BH: 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
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
BD: Is that
true even when you have enough time, that there really isn’t enough
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]
there come a time when you really need to be told — either
by yourself or by some kind of deadline — that
you must stop tinkering with a piece?
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!
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.
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
you write an opera and then go around and try to sell it?
[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!
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 management — that 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
BD: Has music
become too complicated?
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
BD: Let me
ask you about recordings. Are recordings a good thing for either
the public, or the performers, or both?
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?
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!
doesn’t please you?
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.
there’s nothing you can do about it!
you can do about it! Nobody will believe that this isn’t what you
BD: 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.
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.
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
written quite a bit of chamber music. Is this the form you feel
most at home in?
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?
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.
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.
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
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.
BD: What about the
program we’ll do on the radio — ninety
minutes exploring some of your music with some of our talk?
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
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
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?
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.
that’s something that’s really out of your control.
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?
BH: 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?
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.
[Surprised] You don’t expect your compositions to be played after
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.
still working on them in your head?
BD: I’m glad
to know that you’re still composing, and that you’re still very active.
yes. Don’t say still!
[Laughs] I don’t think I’ll stop.
[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!
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© 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.
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
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.