Composer / Pianist Elinor Remick
A Conversation with Bruce Duffie
Back in the pre-internet days, when there was no e-mail nor video-chatting
via Skype, communication was done mostly by letter (now called snail-mail)
and telephone (now called land-lines). It was in this now-cumbersome
manner that I made contact with composer Elinor Remick Warren. I was
working for WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago, and asked her to do an interview
with me on the phone. She was reluctant at first, but finally agreed,
and we spoke for about an hour early in 1987. In the end she was pleased,
and I was able to present her music and thoughts on the air. After
the first of these programs, I sent her an air-check cassette, and the second
letter shown below is her lovely response.
As this conversation is being prepared for my website presentation in the
spring of 2016, we have pretty much gotten to the point where gender is mostly
irrelevant — save for the ongoing surprise of some in the audience
when they realize a work has been written (or is being conducted) by a woman.
Even when this interview took place (almost thirty years before), the bias
and equality issues were well on their way to being eliminated. I mention
this simply to say that we discussed it first to simply dispose of the topic,
after which we moved along to the standard discussion about composition, technique,
philosophy, performances, etc. . . . . . . . .
Bruce Duffie: First,
let me ask you about your name. How do you wish me to refer to you
on the air?
Elinor Remick Warren:
I’d rather you use Elinor Remick Warren. I wrote my first piece when
I was still in high school, so I started out as being Elinor Remick Warren,
and still am Elinor Remick Warren. Though I’m very happy to be Mrs.
Wayne Griffin, and socially of course I use nothing but that, but professionally
I have always used Elinor Remick Warren. I’ve kind of wished sometimes
that I had been wiser about it. If I had been a little older I would
have thought about that and called myself Remick Warren, because then it
would not be designated purely as a woman. I’ve had trouble with publishers.
Two publishers put ‘E. R. Warren’
on the cover, and when I asked about it they said that people like to not
designate me as a woman. This was some time ago, and fortunately that
BD: Would you rather
be known as a woman composer or just a composer?
ERW: I don’t like
to be pigeon-holed. [Both laugh] You’re a composer or you’re
not a composer, and I prefer to be known as a composer — although
I’m very proud to be a woman composer. I like being a woman very much,
and I like all the joys and fullness of life that has brought me
— having my family and children, and my wonderful husband for
so many years. In a way I think it’s unfortunate if too many people
are just classified as ‘Women Composers’,
and there are too many concerts of just women composers. This puts
you off in a little niche.
BD: Are things
getting better for the woman composer?
Oh, I think so, yes. Maybe that’s a good thing but I don’t like it
any more than I would like any kind of segregation. I’m very proud
to be a woman but I don’t like to be viewed just as a ‘woman composer’.
BD: You are a composer
and pianist. Are you also a teacher?
ERW: No, I’ve never
taught. I don’t think I have that talent. That’s a distinct talent.
As a child growing up I had a wonderful teacher, and I think that’s a gift
which can be imparted to people. I don’t think I’d be a very good teacher.
I don’t know the techniques for teaching. I never had to teach.
My husband was a businessman, and I didn’t have to teach. I really
didn’t have time to teach. I had three children to raise...
BD: Were you composing
all that time?
ERW: Oh, yes, all
BD: How do you
balance the demands of a family and the demands of composing?
ERW: God was good
to me for the wonderful husband I had for forty-five years, whom I just lost
in 1981. He was very, very musical himself — a
good musician, though not professionally. He had studied music and
had a lovely voice, and he was tremendously interested in doing everything
to help me.
BD: So he was very
ERW: Oh, very,
and I was supportive of him. He was a business man, and earlier he
was a producer of radio, and later television. He was just knowledgeable
of music, and he produced programs until he had to take over my father’s
business. So I didn’t have to teach, and I composed because I loved
it. I loved to compose. I composed not to make a living, fortunately,
because it’s a little rough. A lot of people are good teachers, and
they have the ability to teach. That’s very fortunate for the people
who can study with them, but I never thought of teaching. I’ve been
asked to teach lots of times, including by my own grand-children, but no,
no, no! I don’t have time.
BD: Just as a general
idea, is musical composition something that can be taught or must it be innate?
ERW: The techniques,
of course, and certain things can be taught, but I don’t think you can teach
a person to compose. When I was in high school, we had to write a lyric
and we had to write a sonnet, and I learned how to do it. There’s a
certain technique, even in novels. There a certain form that must be
solid, and you can teach form and harmony and all that, which gives one a
great understanding and enjoyment of music. But I don’t think you can
teach someone to compose, other than just as an example of how to learn and
appreciate others composing. It has to be instinctive to be a good
composer. One must have some knowledge of form and counterpoint and
orchestration, but you can’t be armed with all that study and then be just
expected to produce things that are going to be interesting.
BD: Where is the
balance between inspiration and technique?
ERW: You have to have inspiration to be a good composer.
I felt it so much that there were times when I’ve been writing
— even when my children were little so I had lots of other demands
— that I could hardly wait for the next day to begin working again.
There was something I felt that was inside that I had to express, that I
wanted to write. It’s always been a joyful experience for me.
BD: These are things
that you had felt you had to write, but you’ve also gotten many commissions?
ERW: I have some,
yes, but I’ve turned down some too because I didn’t ever want to write to
order. Sometimes someone would give me a commission, and if it appealed
to me I would say yes. But I’ve turned down quite a few because I just
didn’t think they were right for me. For instance, there was a commission
that was quite interesting for a ballet, but I don’t know enough about the
techniques of ballet, and at that time I didn’t feel that I was interested
that much in getting into it. I have written a lot of things upon request,
and for certain conductors, and also real big commissions, but I didn’t do
it because I had to earn the money. I’ve written because I loved it
and I wanted to write. I’ve been writing since I was five years old.
BD: So when you’re
writing a piece you don’t have the pressure of deadlines?
ERW: Well, sometimes
you do, yes! There is always somebody who wants to do the work in the
May Festival, and it’s already March! [Both laugh] So if you
think you can do it, fine, if it hits you that strongly right away.
But I don’t think that it can be done like doing a page of mathematics for
tomorrow’s lesson. Nothing like that.
BD: Have you ever
come upon a deadline and felt that the music wasn’t ready yet?
ERW: I’ve come
a little close to it once or twice! But they’ve worked out all right.
I’ve usually tried to allow myself enough time so I wouldn’t be so pushed.
I could have done a greater quantity if I hadn’t had my family and certain
responsibilities that came with it. My family always was first.
BD: Is that the
way it should be?
ERW: It should
because in my case they’ve been so supportive. I remember one time
I caught my husband saying to the children when they were young, “Now
remember, if you break a leg, then
you can go and call your mother from her studio; but otherwise you don’t
dare call her!” [Huge laugh]
They’ve been very helpful. My family’s just been wonderful.
* * *
BD: When you’re
writing a piece of music, how do you know when it is finished?
ERW: It seems you
have a certain form in mind from the start. You have a plan, and you
work through it and carve it. I just never question how would I know.
I just know!
BD: Do you ever
go back and revise your scores?
I’ve heard my music and thought, “Oh this is going
to work out to a wonderful climax.” Then they
go on and it never seems right. I’m a tinkerer, I’m sorry to say.
But I’ve done a lot and learned a lot by doing this, and finally the time
comes when you have to say, “Now this is done and you’re
not going to do any more.” But you keep looking
at it with an inquiring mind, and so I have made revisions which I’ve felt
I’m very glad I did.
BD: Was this before
or after the first performance?
There was one work that was done in Greece with the Athens Symphony Orchestra
and the Metropolitan Singers. It’s a long work, a big work, and I just
wasn’t satisfied with it. I didn’t have time to revise it because too
many things came to interrupt it. I was asked to write this or that,
but several years later I did revise the whole thing. Usually performances
are a great help. They are great teachers, and that’s the composer’s
dilemma because so often they don’t find opportunities to hear their works.
I’ve been very fortunate and I’ve heard some by lesser orchestras and some
by great orchestras, and I’ve always felt I’ve learned from it.
BD: Have you generally
been pleased with the performances you have heard of your music?
ERW: Well, of course,
the better the musicians that are doing it, the more pleased I am, naturally.
[Laughs] They vary, especially the singers, but sometimes the college
groups give very excellent performances, too. I’ve been very fortunate
in having a number of my works for chorus, and for chorus with orchestra,
sung so much that I’ve learned a lot about composition in general.
In fact, I learn about the vocal line from hearing them, too. You have
to keep going. You want to keep going, and the more you do them, the
better it gets.
BD: Do performers
ever find things in your scores that you didn’t know where there?
ERW: I hope I know
my own works well enough that there are few surprises.
BD: So you are
never surprised by what you hear?
ERW: I’m surprised
at the performances sometimes, but not with the music.
BD: Let’s talk about singers. You write
a lot for the voice...
ERW: Yes, I have.
The reason I was attracted from the start was I always wanted to be a singer,
and I love singing. I’m very fond of it, and heard so many wonderful
concerts that my mother and father took me to hear as a child. I always
wanted to sing but I don’t have a voice! So I think that’s why I turned
to writing for the voice, simply to learn more about the techniques of it.
Then when I first went to New York and was studying there, I was very fortunate
in playing either as piano soloist or accompanist for a good number of very
great Metropolitan singers. I learned so much just from hearing them
and knowing the principles of vocal music. I found out what was practical
and what wasn’t, and because they had their own techniques you have to think
about in writing for the voice. I found it very, very helpful.
BD: Who were some
of the great names that you played for?
ERW: Lawrence Tibbett,
Richard Crooks, Florence Easton, Bidú Sayão, Rose Bampton...
lots of people. [See my Interview Bidú Sayão,
and my Interview with Rose
Bampton.] I learned a great deal from association with them too,
not always just playing for them, but hearing them sing my songs. I’ve
learned a lot about how one can go, and what is their possibilities and their
problems are. Human voices are very fragile things, and you have to
think constantly of their technical demands and all their problems.
And of course, in a song it’s important to choose the right words that are
singable. You can’t just set any poem because you happen to like the
poem. It has to be somewhat singable. The words have to be projected.
You have to write them so that the singer can project them, otherwise it’s
no good. The listeners have to get it the first time they hear it,
so it means the singer has to have very singable songs. They choose
them that way.
BD: As accompanist
of your own works, are you the ideal interpreter of your own music?
ERW: Well, I don’t
know. That’s for other people to decide. Of course, on this new
recording that I’ve just done there are twenty-six of my songs, and they
keep saying that they will be the definitive recordings! I don’t know...
maybe somebody did do it better, but I think that it’s interesting to have
the composer’s interpretation. Usually I’ve always found singers wanting
to say, “Now tell me about this! What do you
want down here? How do you feel about the tempo?”
They usually want the composer to offer suggestions.
BD: Do you offer
Yes, I do. I offer ideas such as, “This is a
little fast,” or, “I think it
should go along,” or the way I feel about the interpretation.
I don’t say this must be done so-and-so because I think everybody has to
have their own individual expression too. That can happen even in orchestral
works, only there you’re not asked so much. You don’t have the opportunity,
and maybe they will see it differently. That’s interesting. The
conductor sets the interpretation, and I’ve been very fortunate in being
pleased with most of the ones I have heard.
BD: Staying with
the songs for a moment, do you ever write your own text?
I must confess I did twice, but I used a nom de plume! [Laughs] It’s
where I just had to. They were circumstances where I had to write something,
so I did. But I never put my own name because I’m not a poet!
BD: What name did
you use, or do you not want to divulge that?
ERW: I used two
of my grandparents’ names in these cases. But it doesn’t make any difference
about that because it wasn’t as if I was trying to deceive anyone.
But I do not claim to be a poet. These are just two isolated cases
of mine among ninety some publications. Many people have asked me if
I write the words, too, but I’m not a poet! I’m really inspired by
the poem, usually!
BD: You’ve written
so much for the voice. Have you written any operas?
ERW: No, I haven’t,
and there are several reasons. In the first place, it’s very hard to
find the libretto that one really wants to set. I have had numerous
ones sent me, and they just didn’t appeal to me. I haven’t really made
a great research to find something because I was so much more interested
in writing for orchestra and for the voice or for choral groups. I
have written more choral things than anything, I think. Also I think
it’s harder to get your works done if they involve so many people.
In an opera there are the singers, the staging, the orchestra, so much that
it’s very difficult. Composers have a difficult time getting their
things heard, and it’s tripled by being a woman. And they can be terribly
BD: Do you feel
that opera is a dying art?
ERW: Oh, no, no!
I just personally haven’t loved to write for operas so much. I suppose
if I’d found a libretto that really appealed strongly to me, I would have.
You don’t just write to have things done and produced.
BD: For whom do
ERW: I write because
I want to write. I just feel like composing, and I compose. When
I’m asked to write for this group or that group, or this person or that person,
then I’m looking for something along that line. My Abram in Egypt was brought to me by a
very, very prominent businessman, Louis Sudler, who was also a fine musician
in Chicago. [Sudler sang the first
performance (as a solo cantata) conducted by Thor Johnson. The first
performance in its form with chorus was June 7, 1961 at the Los Angeles International
Music Festival, with soloist Donald Gramm. (See my Interview with Donald Gramm.)] Sudler commissioned me to write
a work, and I looked into it, and I took it from the Dead Sea Scrolls. This was after
a new set of scrolls had been discovered, and they were fascinating.
This was a fascinating work of literature, and so I said yes, I’d like to
do it! But I really wanted to have a chorus in it, too, because it
was such a big thing. So I did write it, and I combined it with the
same story that’s in the Book of Genesis
in the Bible. The two together
made it complete because each part was rather incomplete in itself.
The one in the Scrolls is much more
poetical than the one in the Book of Genesis,
but the one in Genesis completed
it. So I put them together, which was a very interesting experience.
I enjoyed doing that. These scrolls were found at the Dead Sea, and
I always thought it would be wonderful to have this work given there.
It would be such a thrill, and it actually came about! My husband and
I went to Europe that summer, and on to Israel for the performance, and it
was really the most exciting experience, musically, that I had because it
was so connected with history and with good people. It was given both
in Tel Aviv and at the Caesarea in the ancient Roman Coliseum. I was
thrilled because it was given there where these ancient Scrolls were found.
There’s a museum in Jerusalem to house these Scrolls. They have a beautiful
building and are presented magnificently — not just
the part I set, but the whole set of Scrolls. It was a thrill and it
was a great success, I must admit. It has an operatic feeling!
The people couldn’t understand how I had happened to write this piece because
I don’t happen to be Jewish. But it was a wonderful opportunity, and
a very exciting adventure for me to write music for these wonderful words.
It was something different from what I had done.
BD: Is the text
is sung in the original or in English?
ERW: It’s in English.
It was translated from the ancient Aramaic to Hebrew, and then the part I
set was translated from Hebrew into English, and it was given in English.
BD: Was the [CRI
LP] recording was made around the same time?
ERW: It was made
about six months later by Roger Wagner in London. He has a chorus
there that he uses for that sort of thing, and with the London Philharmonic
BD: So this recording
is a documentation of the performance in Israel?
No, it wasn’t made in Israel. It wasn’t with the same group entirely
either, but it was under Roger Wagner, who did it in Israel. But I
had nothing to do with the recording.
BD: On the other
side of the record is the Suite for Orchestra.
How did that work came about?
ERW: We have a
ranch in the High Sierras, and we look across the lovely vista [shown at right?]. It’s not a long
journey from my home, but when you get there you think you’re a hundred miles
from any place because you look out across the desert to the beginning of
the High Sierras. I don’t know what it is called, but we have such
wonderful cloud patterns there. I love the ranch, and we’ve spent a
great deal of our lives there and rode a great deal, and have been right
out in this wilderness where I would see all these wonderful clouds.
I just felt the music, and I have to express my emotions in music that way.
So that is what the Suite is all
about. I did find some poetry by John Gould Fletcher (1886-1950; Pulitzer
Prize, 1939). I just happened to come across him, and I took a few
lines for the four movements of this Suite.
It is an expression of the way I feel at the ranch which inspired it.
The spaciousness has had a lot of influence on my music. I
felt a great spiritual closeness to all of this at the ranch, and it’s been
a source of lots of my music.
* * *
BD: In your opinion,
what should the ultimate purpose of music?
ERW: I’ve never
really thought a lot about a purpose. I think it makes life so much
richer in the first place. I can’t imagine a life without music because
my life has been so involved in music, right from the earliest memories I
have of hearing my father sing and my mother play the piano for him.
As a very little girl I would creep out of bed and sit on the stairs and
listen to them make music in the evenings. All my life music has been
such an important part. For one’s spiritual fulfillment it is terribly
important... at least it is to me. Now there are a lot of people who
just don’t feel that way, but I do. Music enfolds so many avenues of
thought and of development in character, and I’ve just been glad to see it
do that in my children, and now even in my grandchildren a little bit, though
they haven’t had the opportunities and didn’t care to study as much about
it as I did. None of them are violently interested in music, [laughs]
but they are beginning to be.
BD: Where is music
ERW: This is an
age of experimentation, though all people would say that about ‘new music’
at their time. I remember Nadia Boulanger saying to me that all music
seemed new at the beginning as it would evolve and develop. But I think
there is more experimentation now than there ever has been. Sometimes
it seems as if it’s just as a matter of creating a novelty. But so
often what seemed so strange and experimental then becomes very understandable
if you hear it enough. They tell the story that Tchaikovsky didn’t
have any use for Brahms. He didn’t like his music at all. He
thought Brahms wasn’t nearly the composer that Anton Rubinstein was.
You can’t tell where it’s going or where it’s gotten, but it’s certainly growing
all the time, and going on as an expression of development. We have
to listen with open ears. Some people have written things just to write
something different and to be different. I don’t think that will last,
but so often that is a natural expression to strike new paths, and then it
becomes very understandable later.
BD: Are there perhaps
too many divergent styles being tried today?
ERW: This is the
age of trying and experimenting, more than it has been in the past.
It’s a good thing if it’s done sincerely and it holds up and becomes really
important. The sincerity with which it’s done means everything if it
isn’t just done just to write something to be different. It all depends,
but very often new and very different sounds develop, and then pretty soon
they come a part of the musical stream.
Do you feel that music is art or entertainment?
my previous letter] Oh, I knew you were going to ask that! I’m
not sure what you mean by entertainment. Do you mean it just as background
music or something like that?
I’m really looking for a balance. Where is the balance between the
art and the entertainment?
ERW: There’s often
music that seems maybe to be just entertaining, and it becomes important
later on if it lasts. Only time can tell that.
BD: You mentioned
your children and your grandchildren are enjoying music, but not to the extent
that you are.
ERW: They said,
“Mother, I’m never going to be a musician because you
work much harder than the cleaning lady!” [Both
laugh] I work all the time because I love it. I’m doing what
I want to do.
BD: Should the
concert management try to get the audience for popular music into the concert
ERW: What do you
mean by ‘popular music’? Do you mean rock and roll?
ERW: I personally
don’t love it, but I just need to say “Yes, it should
be!” For instance, a long time ago the music
of Gershwin was considered just jazz and entertaining, and now we realize
it was a distinctly new invention, a new form that he did, and it’s become
a classic. His Porgy and Bess
is an opera to be reckoned with, and very rightly so. It’s a wonderful
opera. Sometimes what is considered to be entertainment becomes important,
and other times things that are considered as important have died. It’s
only time that tells. That being said, I personally don’t see how people
can have background music going on and be thinking about other things.
It even disturbs me when driving in the car to hear good music because I
want to pay too much attention to the music rather than my driving!
I have to turn it off.
BD: You want to
concentrate just on the music!
ERW: Yes, I love
it and I only turn on the classical music station. It’s hard to say.
I think that what is entertaining has to be good to last, and what is good
should hold our interest. Recordings have done a lot to bring people
into listening to good music.
BD: You have seen
this tremendous proliferation of recordings. Is this a good thing to
have so many?
ERW: I don’t know
if it can all be supported or not, but I think it has done a lot. For
instance, there are a lot of people that hardly knew the name of Mozart until
that picture — Amadeus
— came along, and that’s taken some of them into the concert halls.
He’s become a best seller among records, and that’s a good thing. That’s
only just a movie but...
BD: Should we make
a movie and call it Remick?
ERW: No! [Both have a huge laugh] No
thank you! But I think records are good. They certainly help
performers. I have a collection of records that have a lot of very
famous old performers both on the piano and singers, and I don’t think their
standards were as high as those today. It’s been a growing thing all
ERW: Not only technically.
Of course that’s training in itself, but I think the standards are higher.
It’s fabulous what they are doing now. I think they’re marvelous.
BD: If they’re
getting better technically, are they getting better musically?
ERW: Some of them
are, yes, but not all of them. You can’t say they are or they are not,
but certainly the growth in the mainstream has been, yes. It grows
all the time. I’m an optimist, you know.
BD: Are you optimistic
about the whole business of music?
ERW: Well, not
the business side of it, obviously. But I certainly am about music
and the growth of music and the support of it. It’s been my life, and
that of my family.
* * *
BD: When you’re
getting a new idea for a composition, does it immediately spring to your
mind full-blown, or do you have to work on it a bit?
ERW: Usually something
springs to me. It may not be the beginning; it may be a main theme.
Something will come and then you get thinking about it. It’s like making
a tapestry. It develops as you go along, and one path leads to another.
It’s so hard to describe. It sort of fills spaces in a way.
BD: Are you conscious
of time in your pieces — how long a piece will last,
or how long you intend it to last?
ERW: Oh, no.
I just have to do what seems to come to me. I know that some of mine
have been a little long, but these are the bigger works.
They’re going to be to larger productions because it’s more expensive
if you involve a chorus and an orchestra and solo singers. But you
have to write the way you feel.
BD: Is that the
advice you have for young composers — to write the way you feel?
ERW: That the most
important thing. You really have to feel it. You can’t think
you’re going to write a sonata and sit down and write in the sonata form
unless you have an inkling of it and some feeling. It’s very hard to
analyze a thing like that, but you have to have a lot of feeling for it to
have a successful composition. You can’t just write this or that and
have a success unless it attaches onto your heart and your mind and your
When you’re writing for chorus, do you specify the size of the chorus you’d
like perform it?
There are some that really have to have a fairly large chorus to be effective,
but it depends on the scope of work is that you’re writing, and what you’re
setting. Some can have just twelve people, you know, or even just a
quartet! It just depends what you’re setting, what the magnitude is.
But I don’t think there’s any use in saying you have to have a certain number
of people. Sometimes choruses are understaffed, and yes, sometimes
there’s too many. I know one conductor said to me that he conducted
a concert of massed choirs where there were 300 in the chorus. Of course
that was 200 too many! You cannot get the nuances and the control that
way. You can overdo it as you can in anything. But these groups
that come together serve their purpose because they’re leading to new avenues,
and it’s a thrill for them to hear all the people sing. But there are
other things that would be of a small scope that would be impossible to have
a huge chorus do effectively.
Do you have any expectations of the audience that comes to hear your music?
ERW: Well, I hope
they like it! [Both have a huge laugh] Audiences are generally
much better than they used to be because they have expanded in their taste,
and the more they hear, the more they’re going to develop and enjoy it.
I don’t mean just of my music, but music in general. There are so many
facets to consider, but I can’t sit down coldly and analyze them. I
have to go by my feelings so much. I’ve never set a poem that I didn’t
really love and really feel for. I’ve never written anything that I
didn’t really feel deeply, and feel things about it and devote my time and
my life to it. It’s obviously with me.
BD: You say you began composing at aged 5.
That means you’ve been involved in music now for all of your life.
ERW: Well, that
was child stuff. But even so, I had very musical parents and not parents
that pushed me ever. They were very supportive.
BD: In over seventy-five
years, what has been the most surprising or the most interesting thing that
you feel has happened?
Oh, I haven’t been writing for seventy-five years, but I never really thought
BD: Then in composing
or in performing, has there been one thing that has stood out as being surprising,
that you didn’t think would happen?
ERW: I’d have to
think about that. I don’t know. [Pauses a moment] No, I
don’t think so. Sometimes when I’ve heard a very new, really experimental
work I’ve been a little surprised, and then I’ve heard it again and it wasn’t
so surprising. Then finally it becomes just something that you love...
well, sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t. But it will grow
on one if it is new and surprising and it’s good and it’s sincere.
Then it opens new avenues of listening and of understanding and creativity.
BD: Do you feel
that concert music works well on the television?
ERW: Well, it isn’t
the same, of course, as live performances. Nothing can replace that.
However, it’s so wonderful to have this opportunity to hear fine music on
television. That’s a marvelous thing. It enlarges the audiences
by millions more than in a concert hall, and people enjoy it very much.
A lot of people who didn’t listen to good music have grown to love it through
truly fine great performances that are given by orchestras and concerts on
television. That’s all I listen to on television... except a little
BD: Do you feel
that you are part of a lineage of composers?
ERW: I never thought
about that! I never really thought about where I stand. [She
laughs] That’s something only time can tell.
BD: But I assume
you expect your music will last?
ERW: I hope so.
Every composer does, but that isn’t why you write. You’re not writing
for the sake that you’re hoping that it will last, hoping that you’ll have
these successes. You’re writing because it’s something you love to
do, and you want to do it. It is expressing your life. Everybody
has some way of expressing themselves, or should have, and they’re happier
if they do. For some it’s writing books, for some it’s being golfers
or tennis players. There are many, many ways of expressing what one
wants to do in their life. Mine is just in music, and I’ve love it.
I don’t think that is something you do and stop. That’s part of life.
BD: Yes, you don’t
hear of too many retired composers!
ERW: No, I don’t
think you retire. Why should you retire? As long as you have
the ideas and the ability and you enjoy it you should continue to do it.
I’ve been very, very fortunate to have had many very good performances.
Not only do you learn a lot by performances but it’s something that makes
you want you do more.
What is next on the calendar for Elinor Remick Warren?
ERW: Well, I guess
more of the same I hope... but not the same, you know! I hope it grows
as I go on. I’m just now finishing up another piece, and I’ve been
consulted about these recordings. That’s the newest thing I’ve done.
And I have ideas for future things. I will always love writing for
choruses. That’s one of my favorite ensembles probably because I’ve
had an opportunity to understand choral writing so much, and now hearing
so such wonderful performances. Being led into that avenue was a good
idea. I love writing mostly for chorus and orchestra, and of course
the songs too. Although I am a pianist and am used to it and have done
lots of concerts, I’ve not written hardly anything for piano.
BD: It’s been fascinating
speaking with you. I learned a great deal about you and about your
music, and about your ideas.
ERW: Well, it’s
awfully nice to talk with you, Mr. Duffie. I’ve appreciated your interest
very much, and your co-operation. I hope I haven’t been too vague with
No, no, this has been just fine!
ERW: I don’t think
I’m terribly analytical. I do try to analyze my work, and that’s why
I’m a tinkerer because I do try to improve it. I often put things away.
In fact, in nearly all my composing I will write spontaneously and be so
excited, and then I’ll put it away and go back to it later.
BD: We’re very
fortunate that you’ve been able to commit all of this to paper, and then
bring it to performance.
ERW: I’ve been
very fortunate in so many ways, and I am very, very grateful. But you
have to work all the time to be happy. I really do think that, even
though it sounds awfully Pollyannaish. If you find what you want to
do, you never finish.
© 1987 Bruce Duffie
This conversation was recorded on the telephone on February 28, 1987.
Portions were broadcast on WNIB in 1990, 1995, and 2000. Spoken quotations
from this conversation were used aboard Eastern Airlines during their in-flight
musical programming for two months beginning in November, 1988. Spoken
quotations were also used in Song of America, a Radio series produced
by Miriam Lewin, Segment #9, "There is no Gender in Music" March 2012.
This transcription was made in 2016, and posted on this website at that time.
My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing
this website presentation.
To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed
and posted on this website, click here.
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.