Schuller, Gunther (Alexander)
Schuller, Gunther (Alexander)
Schuller, Gunther (Alexander), significant American composer, conductor, and music educator; b. N.Y., Nov. 22, 1925. He was of a musical family; his paternal grandfather was a bandmaster in Germany before emigrating to America; his father was a violinist with the N.Y. Phil. He was sent to Germany as a child for a thorough academic training; returning to N.Y., he studied at the St. Thomas Choir School (1938–44). He also received private instruction in theory, flute, and horn. He played in the N.Y.C. Ballet orch. (1943), and then was first horn in the Cincinnati Sym. Orch. (1943–45) and the Metropolitan Opera orch. in N.Y. (1945–49). At the same time, he became fascinated with jazz; he played the horn in a combo conducted by Miles Davis; also began to compose jazz pieces. He taught at the Manhattan School of Music in N.Y. (1950–63), the Yale Univ. School of Music (1964–67), and the New England Cons. of Music in Boston, where he greatly distinguished himself as president (1967–77). He was also active at the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood as a teacher of composition (1963–84), head of contemporary-music activities (1965–84), artistic co-director (1969–74), and director (1974–84). In 1984–85 he was interim music director of the Spokane (Wash.) Sym. Orch.; then was director of its Sandpoint (Idaho) Festival. In 1986 he founded the Boston Composers’ Orch. In 1988 he was awarded the first Elise L. Stoeger Composer’s Chair of the Chamber Music Soc. of Lincoln Center in N.Y. In 1975 he organized Margun Music to make available unpubl. American music. He founded Gun-Mar Music in 1979. In 1980 he organized GM Recordings. He publ. the manual Horn Technique (N.Y, 1962; second ed., 1992) and the very valuable study Early Jazz: Its Roots and Musical Development (3 vols., N.Y, 1968 et seq.). A vol. of his writings appeared as Musings (N.Y, 1985). He also publ. The Compleat Conductor (N.Y, 1997). In his multiple activities, he tried to form a link between serious music and jazz; he popularized the style of “cool jazz” (recorded as Birth of the Cool). In 1957 he launched the slogan “third stream” to designate the combination of classical forms with improvisatory elements of jazz as a synthesis of disparate, but not necessarily incompatible, entities, and wrote fanciful pieces in this synthetic style; in many of these, he worked in close cooperation with John Lewis of the Modern Jazz Quartet. As part of his investigation of the roots of jazz, he became interested in early ragtime and formed, in 1972, the New England Cons. Ragtime Ensemble; its recordings of Scott Joplin’s piano rags in band arrangement were instrumental in bringing about the “ragtime revival.” In his own works he freely applied serial methods, even when his general style was dominated by jazz. He received honorary doctorates in music from Northwestern Univ. (1967), the Univ. of 111. (1968), Williams Coll. (1975), the New England Cons. of Music (1978), and Rutgers Univ. (1980). In 1967 he was elected to membership in the National Inst. of Arts and Letters, and in 1980 to the American Academy and Inst. of Arts and Letters. In 1989 he received the William Schuman Award of Columbia Univ. In 1991 he was awarded a MacArthur Foundation grant. In 1994 he won the Pulitzer Prize in Music for his orch. work, Of Reminiscences and Reflections (1993), composed in memory of his wife who died in 1992. He received the Gold Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1997.
DRAMATIC : Opera : The Visitation (Hamburg, Oct. 12, 1966); The Fisherman and His Wife, children’s opera (Boston, May 7, 1970); A Question of Taste (Cooperstown, N.Y., June 24, 1989). Ballet : Variants for Jazz Quartet and Orch. (1960; N.Y., Jan. 4, 1961). Film : Automation (1962); Journey to the Stars (1962); Yesterday in Fact (1963). Television : Tear Drop (1966); The 5 Senses, ballet (1967). ORCH .: 2 horn concertos: No. 1 (1944; Cincinnati, April 6, 1945, composer soloist) and No. 2 (1976; Budapest, June 19, 1978); Cello Concerto (1945; rev. 1985); Suite for Chamber Orch. (1945); Vertige d’Eros (1945; Madison, Wise, Oct. 15, 1967); Symphonic Study (1947–48; Cincinnati, May 1949); Dramatic Overture (1951; Darmstadt, Aug. 1954); Recitative and Rondo for Violin and Orch. (1953; Chicago, July 16, 1967; also for Violin and Piano); Symphonic Tribute to Duke Ellington (1955; Lenox, Mass., Aug. 19, 1976); Little Fantasy (Englewood, N.J., April 7, 1957); Contours for Chamber Orch. (1958; Cincinnati, Dec. 31, 1959); Spectra (1958; N.Y., Jan. 14, 1960); Concertino for Jazz Quartet and Orch. (1959; Baltimore, Jan. 2, 1960); 7 Studies on Themes of Paul Klee (Minneapolis, Nov. 27, 1959); Capriccio for Tuba and Orch. (1960); Contrasts for Wind Quintet and Orch. (1960; Donauesch-ingen, Oct. 22, 1961); Journey to the Stars (Toledo, Ohio, Dec. 1, 1962); Movements for Flute and Strings (Dortmund, May 29, 1962); 2 piano concertos: No. 1 (Cincinnati, Oct. 29, 1962) and No. 2 (1981; Mainz, Nov. 24, 1982); Composition in 3 Parts (Minneapolis, March 29, 1963); Diptych for Brass Quintet and Band (1963; also for Brass Quintet and Orch.; Ithaca, N.Y, March 22, 1964); Meditation for Band (Greensboro, N.C., March 7, 1963); Threnos for Oboe and Orch. (Cologne, Nov. 29, 1963); 5 Bagatelles (Fargo, N.Dak., March 22, 1964); American Triptych: 3 Studies in Textures (New Orleans, March 9, 1965); Sym. (Dallas, Feb. 8, 1965); 2 concertos: No. 1, Gala Music (Chicago, Jan. 20, 1966) and No. 2 (Washington, D.C., Oct. 12, 1976); 5 Etudes (1966; New Haven, March 19, 1967); Triplum I (N.Y, June 28, 1967) and II (Baltimore, Feb. 26, 1975); Colloquy for 2 Pianos and Orch. (Berlin, June 6, 1968); Double Bass Concerto (N.Y, Jan. 27, 1968); Fanfare for St. Louis (St. Louis, Jan. 24, 1968); Shapes and Designs (Hartford, April 26, 1969); Consequents (New Haven, Dec. 16, 1969); Museum Piece for Renaissance Instruments and Orch. (Boston, Dec. 11, 1970); Concerto da camera for Chamber Orch. (1971; Rochester, N.Y., April 24, 1972); Capriccio stravagante (San Francisco, Dec. 6, 1972); 3 Nocturnes (Interlochen, July 15, 1973); 4 Soundscapes—Hudson Valley Reminiscences (1974; Poughkeepsie, N.Y, March 7, 1975); 2 violin concertos: No. 1 (Lucerne, Aug. 25, 1976) and No. 2 (1991); Deai—Encounters for 7 Voices and 3 Orchs. (Tokyo, March 17, 1978); Contrabassoon Concerto (1978; Washington, D.C., Jan. 16, 1979); Trumpet Concerto 0efferson, N.H., Aug. 25, 1979); Eine kleine Posaunenmusik for Trombone and Orch. (Norfolk, Conn., July 18, 1980); Music for a Celebration for Chorus, Audience, and Orch. (Springfield, Mass., Sept. 26, 1980); In Praise of Winds for Large Wind Orch. (Ann Arbor, Feb. 13, 1981); Alto Saxophone Concerto (1983; Pittsburgh, Jan. 18, 1984); Concerto quarternio for Violin, Flute, Oboe, Trumpet, and Orch. (N.Y, Nov. 21, 1984); Concerto festivo for Brass Quintet and Orch. (Trier, Nov. 29, 1984); Jubilee Musik (Dayton, March 7, 1984); Bassoon Concerto, Eine kleineFagottmusik (Washington, D.C., May 17, 1985); Farbenspiel, concerto (Berlin, May 8, 1985); Viola Concerto (New Orleans, Dec. 17, 1985); Concerto for String Quartet and Orch. (Madison, Wise, Feb. 20, 1988); Flute Concerto (Chicago, Oct. 13, 1988); On Winged Flight, divertimento for Band (Tallahassee, Fla., March 4, 1989); Chamber Symphony (Cleveland, April 16, 1989); Concerto for Piano, 3-Hands (2 Pianos) and Chamber Orch. (1989; Springfield, 111., Jan. 19, 1990); Ritmica Melodia Armonia (1992); Of Reminiscences and Reflections (Louisville, Dec. 2, 1993); The Past is Present (1993; Cincinnati, March 25, 1994); Organ Concerto (Calgary, Oct. 14, 1994); Blue Dawn Into White Heat for Concert Band (1995). CHAMBER : Romantic Sonata for Clarinet, Horn, and Piano (1941; rev. 1983); Suite for Woodwind Quintet (1945); 3 hommages for Horn or 2 Horns and Piano (1942–46); Fantasia concertante No. 1 for 3 Oboes and Piano (1947) and No. 2 for 3 Trombones and Piano (1947); Quartet for 4 Double Basses (1947); Perpetuum mobile for 4 Horns, and Bassoon or Tuba (1948); Trio for Oboe, Horn, and Viola (1948); Oboe Sonata (1948–51); Duo Sonata for Clarinet and Bass Clarinet (1948–49); Fantasy for Cello (1951); 5 Pieces for 5 Horns (1952); Recitative and Rondo for Violin and Piano (1953; also for Violin and Orch.); 3 string quartets (1957, 1965, 1986); Woodwind Quintet (1958); Fantasy Quartet for 4 Cellos (1959); Fantasy for Harp (1959); Lines and Contrasts for 16 Horns (1960); Double Quintet for Wind and Brass Quintets (1961); Music for Brass Quintet (1961); Fanfare for 4 Trumpets and 4 Trombones (1962); Music for Carillon (1962; also arranged for other instruments); Studies for Horn (1962); Little Brass Music for Trumpet, Horn, Trombone, and Tuba (1963); Episodes for Clarinet (1964); Aphorisms for Flute and String Trio (1967); 5 Moods for 4 Tubas (1973); Sonata serenata for Clarinet, Violin, Cello, and Piano (1978); Octet (1979); Piano Trio (1983); On Light Wings for Piano Quartet (1984); Sextet for Bassoon, Piano, and String Quartet (1986); The Sandpoint Rag for Ragtime Ensemble (1986; also for Brass Sextet); Chimeric Images for Chamber Group (1988); A Bouquet for Cottage for Clarinet, Flute, Violin, Cello, Piano, and Percussion (1988); Horn Sonata (1988); 5 Impromptus for English Horn and String Quartet (1989); Hommage à Rayechla for 8 Cellos or Multiples Thereof (1990); A Trio Setting for Clarinet, Violin, and Piano (1990); Brass Quintet No. 2 (1993); Sextet for Piano , Left-Hand, and Woodwind Quintet (1994). Piano: Sonata/Fantasia (Boston, March 28, 1993). VOCAL : O Lamb of God for Chorus and Optional Organ (1941); O Spirit of the Living God for Chorus and Optional Organ (1942); 6 Renaissance Lyrics for Tenor and 7 Instruments (1962); Journey into Jazz for Narrator, Jazz Quintet, and Orch. (Washington, D.C., May 30, 1962); 5 Shakespearean Songs for Baritone and Orch. (1964); Sacred Cantata for Chorus and Chamber Orch. (1966); The Power within Us, oratorio for Baritone, Narrator, Chorus, and Orch. (1971); Poems of Time and Eternity for Chorus and 9 Instruments (1972); Thou Art the Son of God, cantata for Chorus and Chamber Ensemble (1987); songs.
N. Carnovale, G. S.: A Bio-Bibliography (Westport, Conn., 1987).
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire
Schuller, Gunther (Alexander)
The versatility of the American musician Gunther Schuller (born 1925) was recognized when he received the Alice M. Ditson Award from Columbia University in 1970: "You have already achieved distinction in six careers, as conductor, as composer, as horn virtuoso and orchestral musician, and as author and educator."
Gunther Schuller was born in New York City on November 22, 1925, the son of a New York Philharmonic Orchestra violinist. He sang as a boy soprano in the St. Thomas Church choir, studied flute and French horn privately, and studied music theory at the Manhattan School of Music. Before he was 20, he was a professional hornist, playing in the Ballet Theater Orchestra and later with the Cincinnati Symphony. From 1945 to 1959 he played with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.
Schuller's first published compositions date from 1950, but it was his Seven Studies on Themes of Paul Klee (1959) that brought him wide attention through performances by many orchestras and through recordings. In this piece Schuller revealed himself as a masterful orchestrator in complete control of a serialism inspired by Anton Webern. The piece had wit and charm, unusual components of serial compositions. In some of the Studies Schuller matched the color of the pictures with orchestral color, and in others, such as "The Twittering Machine," and the "Arab Village," he reflected the mood and atmosphere of the pictures in the music.
There was a strong jazz influence in all of Schuller's compositions. The composer called the combination of jazz elements with serial practices "third stream" music, a term which has been generally adopted to describe this typically American musical development. During the 1960s Schuller received a number of grants that allowed him to devote himself entirely to composition.
In 1965, as composer-in-residence in Berlin, Schuller completed his opera The Visitation, first produced in Hamburg in 1966. For his libretto the composer adapted Franz Kafka's story The Trial, changing the setting to the American South and the characters to African-Americans. Thus altered, it became a powerful and timely statement of the plight of black Americans. The music was in Schuller's "third stream" manner with much jazz. The Visitation, a sensational success in its first European productions, was less successful when produced in the United States. He subsequently wrote two more operas, The Fisherman and His Wife (1970) and A Question of Taste (1989).
In 1968 Schuller published the first volume of his monumental history of jazz, proving himself to be the outstanding authority in this field. After teaching at Yale, he became president of the New England Conservatory in 1966, and a few years later, director of the Berkshire Music Center in Tanglewood as well (1970-1985). He was unrivaled among American musicians of his generation for the versatility and quality of his accomplishments. In 1993, Schuller received Down Beat magazine's prestigious Hall of Fame and Lifetime Achievement awards.
During the 1990s, Schuller broadened his conducting repertoire and also published The Compleat Conductor (1997), a detailed analysis of eight symphonic works in which he compared the composer's written intentions with the actual recorded performances of those pieces over the last 50 years.
David Ewen, The World of Twentieth-century Music (1968), provides biographical information and a discussion of Schuller's works. A short biography of him was in Gilbert Chase, ed., The American Composer Speaks (1966). He was profiled in Down Beat (September 1993). □