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Bergsma, William (Laurence)

Bergsma, William (Laurence)

Bergsma, William (Laurence), notable American composer and pedagogue; b. Oakland, Calif., April 1, 1921; d. Seattle, March 18, 1994. His mother, a former opera singer, gave him piano lessons; he also practiced the violin. After the family moved to Redwood City, Bergsma entered Burlingame H.S., where he had theory lessons. In 1937 he began to take lessons in composition with Hanson at the Univ. of Southern Calif. in Los Angeles. He composed a ballet, Paul Bunyan, and Hanson conducted a suite from it with the Rochester Civic Orch. in Rochester, N.Y., on April 29, 1939. Bergsma also took courses at Stanford Univ. (1938–40); from 1940 to 1944 he attended the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, studying general composition with Hanson and orchestration with Bernard Rogers. He graduated in 1942, receiving his M.M. degree in 1943. In 1944 Bergsma became an instructor in music at Drake Univ. in Des Moines. In 1946 and in 1951 he held Guggenheim fellowships. In 1946 he was appointed to the faculty of the Juilliard School of Music in N.Y., where he taught until 1963. From 1963 to 1971 Bergsma served as director of the School of Music of the Univ. of Wash, in Seattle, remaining as a prof. there until 1986. In 1967 he was elected to membership in the National Inst. of Arts and Letters. During his teaching activities he continued to compose, receiving constant encouragement from an increasing number of performances. His style of composition is that of classical Romanticism, having a strong formal structure without lapsing into modernistic formalism. The Romantic side of his music is reflected in his melodious lyricism. He never subscribed to fashionable theories of doctrinaire modernity.


DRAMATIC: Opera: The Wife of Martin Guerre (N.Y., Feb. 15, 1956); The Murder of Comrade Sharik (1973; rev. 1978). Ballet: Paul Bunyan (San Francisco, June 22, 1939); Gold and the Senor Commandante (Rochester, N.Y., May 1, 1942). ORCH.: Sym. for Chamber Orch. (Rochester, N.Y., April 14, 1943); 2 numbered syms.: No. 1 (1946–49; Radio Hilversum, April 18, 1950) and No. 2, Voyages (Great Falls, Mont., May 11, 1976); Music on a Quiet Theme (Rochester, N.Y., April 22, 1943); A Carol on Twelfth Night, symphonic poem (1953); Chameleon Variations (1960); In Celebration: Toccata for the 6th Day, commissioned for the inaugural-week concert of the Juilliard Orch. during the week of dedication of Phil. Hall at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts (N.Y., Sept. 28, 1962); Documentary 1 (1963; suite from a film score) and 2 (1967); Serenade, To Await the Moon for Chamber Orch. (La Jolla, Calif., Aug. 22, 1965); Violin Concerto (Tacoma, Wash., May 18, 1966); Dances from a New England Album, 1852 for Small Orch. (1969); Sweet Was the Song the Virgin Sung: Tristan Revisited, variations and fantasy for Viola and Orch. (1977); In Campo Aperto for Oboe Concertante, 2 Bassoon, and Strings (1981). CHAMBER: Showpiece for Violin and Piano (1934); Suite for Brass Quartet (1940); 6 string quartets (1942, 1944, 1953, 1970, 1982, 1991); Pieces for Renard for Recorder and 2 Violas (1943); Concerto for Wind Quintet (1958); Fantastic Variations on a Theme from Tristan und Isolde for Viola and Piano (Boston, March 2, 1961); Illegible Canons for Clarinet and Piano (1969); Changes for 7 for Wind Quintet, Percussion, and Piano (1971); Clandestine Dialogues for Cello and Percussion (1972); Blatant Hypotheses for Trombone and Piano (1977); Quintet for Flute and Strings (1979); The Voice of the Coelacanth for Horn, Violin, and Piano (1980); Masquerade for Wind Quintet (1986); A Lick and a Promise for Saxophone and Chimes (1988). Piano: 3 Fantasies (1943; rev. 1983); Tangents (1951); Variations (1984). VOCAL: In a Glass of Water (1945); On the Beach at Night (1946); Confrontation, from the Book of Job, for Chorus and 22 Instruments (Des Moines, Iowa, Nov. 29, 1963); Wishes, Wonders, Portents, Charms for Chorus and Instruments (N.Y., Feb. 12, 1975); In Space for Soprano and Instruments (Seattle, May 21, 1975); I Told You So, 4 songs for Voice and Percussion (1986).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

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