Aural Music History

August 25, 2009

expert_perlis When I was a student, there was a woman who worked, rather inconspicuously, in a corner of a study room just to the right of the front door of the Yale music library. My friends and I became vaguely aware that she was doing something connected with an activity called oral history. It didn’t seem to resemble anything we then thought of as scholarship. We certainly had no idea that what she was doing was of enormous importance and that her name would soon become widely known and honored for having captured information in the form of recordings — recordings of voices that were often about to be silenced for ever.

The Yale Music School has put online samples of the vast store that Vivian Perlis was then beginning to amass and organize. Want to hear Charles Ives sing and play a song of his? You can do it here, where Elliot Carter, for example, can be heard talking about his personal contacts with Ives. You can also hear Aaron Copland admit how afraid he was to go to Paris to study with — of all things — a woman in the ‘Twenties, and how he and another strong woman came up with a name like Appalachian Spring.