Swanson, Howard

views updated

Swanson, Howard

Swanson, Howard, black American composer; b. Atlanta, Aug. 18, 1907; d. N.Y., Nov. 12, 1978. He grew up in Cleveland, where he began piano lessons at 9. As a youth, he earned a living by manual labor on the railroad and as a postal clerk. He entered the Cleveland Inst. of Music at the age of 20, enrolling in evening courses with Herbert Elwell (graduated, 1937); obtained a stipend to go to Paris, where he studied composition with Boulanger (1938-40). Returning to the U.S., he took a job with the Internal Revenue Service (1941-45). In 1952 he received a Guggenheim fellowship that enabled him to go back to Paris, where he lived until 1966 before settling permanently in N.Y. Swanson’s songs attracted the attention of such notable singers as Marian Anderson and William Warfield, who sang them on tours. He achieved signal success with his Short Symphony (Sym. No. 2, 1948), a work of simple melodic inspiration, which received considerable acclaim at its first performance by the N.Y. Phil., conducted by Mitropoulos (Nov. 23, 1950). In 1952 it won the Music Critic′ Circle Award.


orch: 3 syms.: No. 1 (1945; N.Y., April 28, 1968), No. 2, Short Symphony (1948; N.Y., Nov. 23, 1950), and No. 3 (N.Y., March 1, 1970); Night Music for Strings and Wind Quintet (1950); Music for Strings (1952); Concerto for Orchestra (1954; Louisville, Jan. 9, 1957); Piano Concerto (1956); Fantasy Piece for Soprano Saxophone or Clarinet and Strings (1969); Threnody for Martin Luther King Jr. for Strings (1969). CHAMBER: Nocturne for Violin and Piano (1948); Suite for Cello and Piano (1949); Soundpiece for Brass Quintet (1952); Vista No. 2 for String Octet (1969; Washington, D.C., Feb. 18, 1986); Cello Sonata (N.Y., May 13, 1973); Trio for Flute, Oboe, and Piano (1975). Piano: 3 sonatas (1948; 1970; 1974, unfinished); 2 Nocturnes (1967). VOCAL: Songs for Patricia for Soprano and Strings or Piano (1951); Nightingales for Men’s Voices (1952); We Delighted, My Friend for Chorus (1977); 30 songs for Voice and Piano, including The Negro Speaks of Rivers (1942), The Junk Man (1946), Ghosts in Love (1950), and The Valley (1951).


E. Ennett, An Analysis and Comparison of Selected Piano Sonatas by Three Contemporary Black Composers: George Walker, H. S., and Roque Cordero (diss., N.Y.U., 1973); D. Baker, L. Belt, and H. Hudson, eds., The Black Composer Speaks (Metuchen, N.J., 1978).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

More From encyclopedia.com