In Memoriam Mark Kopytman
A few months ago, Mark Kopytman passed away. Prof. Kopytman was one of Israel’s most important composers and composition teachers. Many of today’s composers in Israel have studied with him. Mark was a wonderful person and he would teach anybody who wanted to learn. He was my first composition teacher. I was not even a music student at that time; I was studying Philosophy at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The Musicology department advertised a course called “Composition for Amateurs”, or something similar.
I still remember the first lesson.
Prof. Kopytman said: ‘Once you have a musical idea, there are only five things you can do with it, only five procedures:
The first thing you can do with a musical idea is to repeat it exactly as is.
The second thing you can do is to repeat it starting on a different note.
The third thing is to make variations.
The fourth thing is to add material which is derived from the original idea, and the fifth is to add new material.
Of course as we advanced, we realized that each one of those options had more meaning and more options to it, but at least I was not overwhelmed anymore. The whole myth of composition started to decompose. The huge incomprehensible task became manageable.
I have used this lesson over and over again in my teaching and also to understand and explain pieces of music. But I have also used it as a lesson for life: every big problem can be broken into small problems.
I was happy and honored to conduct the Jerusalem Academy Chamber Orchestra on a special concert celebrating Prof. Kopytman 80th birthday in November 2009.
After we performed Cantus VI for Oboe and Chamber Orchestra, and people spoke and congratulated him, we surprised him with an arrangement I had made, a string orchestra version of his string quartet number one . After the concert, as I drove him home, I reminded him of my first composition lesson, one of the longest lasting lessons I have ever learned.
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