Category: Romantic

A Tough Nut to Crack

hardnut“Inspiration is a guest that does not willingly visit the lazy.” ― Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was not a stranger to hard work, but like any composer, he had to be inspired…and he had to have time to compose. But also like many of us, he had to deal with this thing we call life.

Every Christmas, The Nutcracker is adored by music lovers, both professional and casual. It’s become a staple of our Christmas musical landscape.

Originally commissioned by the director of the Imperial Theaters after the success of Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty, the composer received initial instructions on the Nutcracker ballet in 1890. The ballet was to be based on E.T.A. Hoffman’s fairy tale, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. This didn’t do much for Tchaikvosky since he liked that fairy tale and didn’t see much room for a ballet in it.

Like a good composer for hire though he put his nose to the grindstone and began sketches in early 1891. But then…life settled in.

He ran into constant distractions from travel, including a trip to America, and then the death of his sister Aleksandra.

From New York he wrote, “I cannot start working again before June at the earliest… otherwise whatever I tried to write would turn out wretchedly”.

Even when he arrived home to St. Petersburg, he continued to find he was flummoxed by other things in his way of writing. In a letter to his brother Modest he wrote, “It is also good for me here, but work isn’t going as quickly now as at first. There are unexpected distractions.”

Once he did finish writing sometime in 1891, he still had to orchestrate, which started around the first few months of 1892. Finally in March or April of 1892, he could put down his pen. “I’ve finished the ballet; all that remains is to insert the markings and put it in order.”

Why This Matters

We all have works we need to get out; art that needs to get done. But life happens. We have travels, sickness, family matters, and sometimes that little thing called work!

Sometimes we (and when I saw we, I mean me) have projects that go a lot longer than two years to finish. But a work like The Nutcracker has stood the test of time, and I think the goal is to do our best work, as we can, when we can. Then let the work stand on its own, indicative of our hard work.

Don’t let the fear of the time it will take to accomplish something stand in the way of your doing it. The time will pass anyway; we might just as well put that passing time to the best possible use. – Earl Nightingale

Have a very blessed and Merry Christmas!


John Eric Copeland is not a real musicologist, but hopes Santa will magically bring his Musicology Masters degree for Christmas!

Art vs. Commercial (Rossini meets Beethoven)

artvscommAt the end of his career Ludwig van Beethoven, one of the greatest composers to have ever lived, was completely deaf. Around this same time, Gioachino Rossini had also become quite popular with his comic operas including the huge hit, The Barber of Seville. With the public’s mixed reception of Beethoven’s vast Ninth Symphony, Rossini perhaps outshone Beethoven as Europe’s most popular composer at the time.

Since hearing Beethoven’s Third Symphony, Eroica, Rossini had been moved to meet Beethoven and had tried several times through a few people to meet the composer. It seems most likely that Antonio Salieri was the culprit (so to speak 😉 of setting up the meeting, since he had played violin at the 1813 premiere of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, and was a friend and former teacher of Beethoven.

There are various accounts of this supposed meeting.

“The most popular composer in Beethoven’s final years, even in Vienna where he lived, was not Beethoven himself but the Italian Gioachino Rossini, whose light-as-a-feather smash-hit comic operas, such as The Barber of Seville (1816) – all laughs, saucy farce and hummable tunes – were arguably closer to the general public’s idea of an ‘Ode to Joy’. The two composers did meet once, an encounter brokered by the kindly Antonio Salieri, and we have it word for word since Beethoven, being deaf, had to have the conversation written down. The rules of engagement between the two types of composer were even evident in their short back-and-forth in 1822, with Beethoven congratulating Rossini on his success but warning him not to write anything other than comic opera as ‘his character wouldn’t suit it’. It is a conversation that continues to be played out between self-styled ‘serious’ composers and ‘crossover’ composers to this day.” – Howard Goodall, The Story of Music

Other sources tell different, but similar accounts.

30-year-old Rossini succeeded in meeting Ludwig van Beethoven, who was then aged 51, deaf, cantankerous and in failing health. Communicating in writing, Beethoven noted: “Ah, Rossini. So you’re the composer of The Barber of Seville. I congratulate you. It will be played as long as Italian opera exists. Never try to write anything else but opera buffa; any other style would do violence to your nature.” – Wikipedia on Rossini

Why This Matters

To be honest, there are so many different takes on how this meeting really took place, or if it is just an anecdotal tale (although I like the thought that it had to be written down due to Beethoven’s deafness and therefore could be somewhat preserved.)

But the point is that we may have many meetings with those who either feel our commercial music is not as “important” as their art music, and vice versa. Rossini just wanted to meet his idol, but Beethoven saw the real truth: it was probably easier for Rossini to gain a larger following, because his Barber of Seville and other light comic operas were easily digestible, easy on the ears kinds of works. The public could “get” them in one setting, hum them on the way home, and then easily forget them as they went upon their daily lives – much like pop music.

Beethoven’s work, like his Ninth Symphony, was so large, so groundbreaking in some ways, it was hard for crowds looking for pure “entertainment” to always get it. While he was certainly revered as a genius, there were mixed reviews.

“Beethoven’s musical revolution received mixed reactions. A critic who attended the (Ninth Symphony) premiere effused praise: “the effect was indescribably great and magnificent, jubilant applause from full hearts was enthusiastically given the master.” A London critic who heard the work in 1825 called the hour-plus length “a fearful period indeed, which puts the muscles and lungs of the band and the patience of the audience to a severe trial.” – Oxford University Press

This account, true or not, just shows how the debate of art over commercialism in music has raged for centuries. Where do you fall in the debate?

Have a great week!


John Eric Copeland is not a real musicologist but plays one on the Internet. He actually is a busy music producer and is currently preparing to work on his masters in music with a focus in Musicology. For more on Eric, go to


(Excerpt From: Goodall, Howard. “The Story of Music.” Open Road Integrated Media, 2013-12-04T16:43-06:00. iBooks. This material may be protected by copyright. Check out this book on the iBooks Store:

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony premieres

Life on the Fringe

lachnerMany of us in music will not become well known. We will perhaps meet important people in music, perhaps even be an influence on them. In fact, we may teach, guide, or lead folks that do indeed become very famous. But as for our lives, we will do well to find our niche, excel in it in an area, and have a long career in music.

Many composers through time have fallen into this category. One such composer, who I picked solely because he was born on this day, is Vinzenz Lachner (1811-1893).

He was the younger brother of another and better known composer, Franz Lachner who was quite prolific and well-known is his day and whose work would go on to influence Beethoven and Schubert.

Vinzenz would scratch out a living teaching music in Augsberg, Germany until his brother Franz would arrange for him to become conductor and house musician for Earl Mycielski of Coscevitz in the Grand Duchy of Poznań. Eventually, he would replace his older brother in Mannheim and was highly valued for 37 years as court conductor.

As a teacher, he encouraged many, including Fritz Steinbach, Max Bruch, Hermann Levi, and Carl Wolffson. Of particular interest (to me!) was his distaste of the cult of Wagner, even going so far as to conduct a mutilated version of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman (much to Wagner’s chagrin! In fact, Wagner would eventually campaign for Vinzenz to be retired from the court conductor role.)

Vinzenz retired after 30+ years and settled down for a quiet life of teaching until his death at 81. He lived a nice long life of music work, taught, encountered, and hobnobbed with many famous musicians, some who are known as masters hundreds of years later. Yet his life and work is lost to most in the modern music world.

Why This Matters (Or why maybe it doesn’t)

Many of us toil away in seeming obscurity; composing, teaching, singing, performing, and doing other things that have made some famous, but outside the limelight except for our own little local role. We have tangential relations with some who are well known locally, nationally, or even worldwide, but we ourselves are known only to a few.

What’s funny is that many people in the world would describe what we call living on the fringe of greatness as their life’s dream! We look to the greats and dream of that level of work, but there are just as many that we lead who look at us as “living the dream.”

As in the case of Vinzenz Lachner, our place in music history does matter. We are influencing, teaching, and yes even challenging many more folks that we know. We are making a difference in people’s lives and doing the work that has to be done in our area. We may even be highly respected in our little corner of the world. Even though Vinzenz Lachner is not regarded as a major composer, his work and output was valued greatly in Mannheim for many decades. His life in music mattered, and so does yours.

Have a great week!


Eric Copeland is a very casual musicologist, and continues his search through music history to teach and show all of us who work in music today that yesterday is important. For more examples of why Music History Matters, check out and find your place in history.

The Power of a Partner: Gilbert & Sullivan

“It takes two to tango.” – Pearl Bailey.

Sometimes we creative folk know we have something to offer, and we may even have modest success. But often times it takes someone else that can add quality and a special uniqueness, to make something extraordinary.

Such was the case with the famous team of librettist (lyricist) W.S. Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan, known for their comic operas such as The Mikado, The Pirates of Penzance, and H.M. S. Pinafore.

But before they met, they each experienced initial success, Gilbert as a playwright, and Sullivan as a promising young British composer. But together, they made masterpieces that still stand and are performed today.

Now there have been many great librettist/composer tandems through time from Bellini and Romani from the early 19th century, to Rodgers and Hammerstein of the 20th century. But Gilbert and Sullivan so perfectly and successfully paired to create hit after hit for the Savoy Theatre.

Not that the team was without conflict. Sullivan tired of the same “topsy turvy” comic operas that Gilbert wrote, longing to write more serious opera. They even quit speaking a few times before being talked into working together again.

But each had a crucial element that made the other better, and neither had as much success with any other partner or by themselves.


If you are not having the success you are looking for, perhaps what you need is a partner? Someone to be the yin to your yang. Someone to fill in the spots where you are weak. And it can be as easy as asking someone, or Googling the kind of person you need (it’s worth a Google!).

You probably know someone who you would work well with, or would be a perfect partner. Get in touch!

“Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.” – Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

Have a great week!
Eric Copeland is not a real musicologist but he plays one on the Internet. He’s actually a producer, composer, and keyboardist. Find out more at

Tchaikovsky Bites His Fingernails

Does this man look worried to you?
Does this man look worried to you?

It’s hard to imagine famed composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky fretting, chewing his fingernails and wondering what people would think about his work. It’s an especially silly thought now that we know his classic works such as the 1812 Overture, The Nutcracker Suite, Swan Lake, and much, much more of course.

But this is exactly what happened when he was premiering his opera Eugene Onegin in 1879.

He was quite worried about what several of his contemporaries would think about the work. At the time, the leading Russian musicians were Anton Rubenstein, the founder of the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, and his brother Nikolai, the founder of the Moscow Conservatory.

As it turns out, one loved it and one hated it. Of course history would bear out the opera’s popularity, but at the time, Tchaikovsky must have felt conflicted that one of them did not approve.

How often do we worry about what people will think of our art? What will they think of our songs, our paintings, or our little blogs?

Now we look back on Tchaikovsky’s output and place in music history and it seems silly he would worry about two men whose works are much lesser known.


The fact is we all fret and lay awake wondering what people will think. We wonder if our latest work, or career move will be the one that makes us what we were intended to be.

There’s one sure way to ensure your work’s final effectiveness and popularity: Get to work making it and quit biting your fingernails!

“I was obliged to be industrious. Whoever is equally industrious will succeed equally well.” – J.S. Bach

Have a great week!
Eric Copeland is a producer, composer, and worries about his place in history too. Do you worry about what people think of your art? Make sure to comment by joining the Blog, Twitter, Facebook, or Smoke Signal.

How Chopin Kicked My Butt

For forty-seven years I have scoffed. I have rolled my eyes and gone about my merry way. I have laughed directly in the face of my enemy and then demonstrated my own superiority.

But, alas, I am a fool.

Today, it happened. Something that’s been happening to musicians for hundreds of years.

I stumbled through Chopin’s Prelude in E Minor (Op. 28, No. 4), just trying to feel my way through it as I am not a reader (as we’ll get into). And about halfway through the second section, it hit me. This is beautiful, and I am playing what a master composer wrote, and…I am affected.

I am affected by playing some else’s music. Someone who wrote this 250 years ago!

To be quite honest I have been a complete skeptic of traditional music. For 35 years I have walked my own path. I snootily stuck my nose up at the music establishment and announced I did NOT need it. I built my own music world. Like my own music version of the Matrix. My own chords, my own songs, my own arrangements, my own ideas, my own art.

I had no need for the tragedy of what felt was the ‘man’ trying to tell me how to do music. God had given me this talent and I owed no one but Him my musical gifts.

I eschewed music training, music snobs, and traditional music methods. A college music degree? Pshaw!

I shook off the old-fashioned, antiquated ideas of my piano teacher mother and grandmother and went my own direction, incorporating jazz, pop, and rock into my own style. I have written hundreds of songs, with hundreds recorded and published by clients and others.

All of this done without nary a lesson on how to do it.

I never understood WHY I needed to learn any of that old crap they were selling me at school, church, or at home about why Chopin’s mastery (or Mozart, or Beethoven, or anyone else for that matter) made a shred of difference to the art I wanted to make.

But today, in probably culmination of the past few years of forced study (forced by me as an experiment), I believe I am finally starting to get it.

For years Chopin stared me right in the face – literally. My mom had a bust of Chopin on our piano where I wrote songs and learned to play (kind of in that order). My wife actually recently found a similar Chopin bust and he is here in my studio…staring at me (with those sad eyes.)

Maybe having him as the predominant musical figure in my youth is why, as I narrow my chosen field of music history study down to the 1800s, I have an interest in his life and works. Maybe it’s because I am a keyboardist and he almost exclusively focused on piano pieces. We even share some facial features.

But today, playing (and I use that term loosely, remember I turned my nose up at piano lessons) this piece by Chopin moved me AS I played it. Not as I listened, which has happened before, but while I was trying to recreate it.

Now some of you students and master pianists (and yes, even you Mom) are shrugging, thinking, “Duh. Happens to me all the time.”

In studying music history lately at a local college, and as a music producer at studios, I see an increasing number of new music school students: those studying to be part of the music industry. These folks are more like I was at their age. They want to do music, but not all that stupid theory stuff and recital nonsense.

But these students (who often must take music history, or at least choose it as an elective to get their degree) NEED to understand why Chopin matters in the life they are wanting to lead. I’m finally getting it. But I wish someone would have made me see a parallel from composers as far as Palestrina or even farther back in the 500s and 600s. Maybe that would have made me realize the world of music as a more cyclical, emotional landscape, and not just some playground for me to trample on with my ignorance.

So, yeah, Chopin kicked my butt today. And I’m a better man for it.

I just wish he’d quit glaring at me…gloating.


Eric Copeland is a music producer in Nashville, and also a music student at Middle Tennessee State University.  To get more articles like this one, make sure and sign up for his blog at