Composer, pianist, conductor
Jack Priwin was an energetic, successful criminal lawyer who lived and worked in pre-World War II Berlin, Germany, along with his wife, Charlotte, their son, Stefan, and daughter, Leonore. He was also an avid classical music enthusiast who often dreamed of siring the next Mozart. With the birth of Ludwig Andreus Priwin on April 6, 1929, the elder Priwin’s wishes, it seemed, were granted: A short five years later, at the boy’s first piano lesson, it was clear that he was destined for musical greatness. Although he has yet to achieve the same rank as famed composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart—or his namesake, Ludwig von Beethoven— André Previn, as the precocious child came to be known, has left an indelible stamp upon the world of music as conductor, composer, arranger, orchestrator, and virtuoso pianist in both the classical and jazz arenas. “All it took was one beat,” he explained in André Previn: A Biography, “and I knew I would spend the rest of my life chasing after music.”
Starting at age five, each child in the Priwin family was required to begin musical instruction on the piano. Although Stefan and Leonore both did well, it was Andr6 who shone. His father immediately recognized the boy’s gift and undertook to train his son in the classics. Jack collected countless phonograph records of Beethoven, Brahms, Haydn, and Mozart, and played these for Andr6 at every occasion. He also escorted the boy to innumerable classical concerts and performances. When his son reached age six, Jack arranged to have Andr6 admitted to the venerable Berlin Conservatory.
The young André’s career was nearly cut short, however, when the fascist Nazi party, who upheld a policy of exterminating Jews, rose to power in Germany. Being of Jewish descent, the family was forced to flee their native land when André was nine. Having waited too long to leave, they were unable to bring any of their material possessions. Thus it was that the Previns, who changed their name during their trans-Atlantic voyage, arrived nearly penniless in Hollywood, California, in 1939.
The whole family worked together in order to survive. Jack, like the rest of his family, could not speak a word of English, and the family lacked the money for him to study American law. Instead, Jack Previn became the neighborhood piano teacher. Stefan—now Steve-worked as a messenger at Universal Studios. Andr6 continued to study the piano and also took odd, short-term musical employment. It wasn’t long, however, before Andr6, with the help of his American-born film composer uncle, Charlie Previn, landed a job at MGM
For the Record …
Born Ludwig Andreus Priwin, April 6, 1929, in Berlin, Germany. As a child, emigrated with family to U.S.; married Betty Bennett (a singer), 1952 (divorced, 1957); married Dory Langdon (a lyricist), 1958 (divorced, 1969); married Mia Farrow (an actress), 1969 (divorced, 1978); married Heather Hales, 1982; has several children.
Composer, conductor, and pianist. While in high school, worked as arranger and orchestrator for MGM Studios, Hollywood, CA; became film composer for MGM; began recording career as a jazz artist; conductor with Houston Symphony Orchestra, beginning in 1966; London Symphony Orchestra, 1968–75; Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, 1975–84; and Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, 1985–88; recorded a series of jazz albums on the Telarc label. Composer of numerous film scores. Author of memoir No Minor Chords: My Days in Hollywood, Doubleday, 1991. Military service: Served in the National Guard in Korean War.
Awards: Academy awards for film scores Gigi, 1958, Porgy and Bess, 1959, Irma La Douce, 1963, and My Fair Lady, 1964; Academy Award nominations for film scores Three Little Words, 1950, Kiss Me Kate, 1953, It’s Always Fair Weather, 1955, Bells Are Ringing, 1960, Elmer Gantry, 1960, Two for the Seesaw, 1962, Thoroughly Modern Millie, 1967, and Jesus Christ Superstar, 1973; Grammy Award for jazz album Plays Songs by Harold Arlen, I960; Grammy Award nomination for jazz album After Hours, 1989.
Studio’s music department. The boy’s prodigious talent quickly elevated him from part-time arranger to full-fledged composer and orchestrator. By 1948, not yet 20, he had scored his first film.
After graduating from Beverly Hills High School, Previn continued to study music and work at MGM. At that time there was still a possibility in the United States that any young man in his early twenties could be called upon to serve in the armed forces. Like many others, Previn thought the best legal way to avoid being drafted into the army was to join the National Guard—that is, until his unit was mobilized in 1950 at the start of the Korean War.
Previn was anything but a typical soldier—he was called away from latrine-digging duty one day to be informed of his nomination for an Academy Award. In addition, his musical experience earned him a place as composer and arranger for the 6th Army band rather than as an infantry soldier in Korea. He was stationed in San Francisco and, already enamored with jazz piano legend ArtTatum, would often accompany his fellows to local bebop jazz clubs. Previn soon became fascinated with what to him was a completely new world of music. He would use his passes to sit in with jazz bands all over the city in an attempt to master this fresh art form. As always, Andre was quick to make friends, and when discharged from the army, he remained in San Francisco to study the classics with the prestigious conductor Pierre Monteux, and also to play jazz with his newly formed combo.
In 1952, with his impulsive marriage to jazz singer Betty Bennett, Previn began a tumultuous and public romantic life that would eventually overshadow, at times, his extraordinary musical career. During this period he returned to Hollywood to resume scoring films for MGM. He found that he had become more valuable than ever before as a classical composer capable of understanding jazz, and his talents were much in demand. Previn also found time to form a new combo and a long-lasting friendship with noted jazz percussionist Shelly Manne. As if that were not enough, in the mid-1950s the composer became a best-selling recording artist for the jazz label Contemporary Records. His album My Fair Lady earned the status of the biggest-selling jazz record to date. However, Previn was at the same time nursing a deep-seated dissatisfaction with where his life was heading. He ended his marriage with Bennett in 1957, only a few months before the birth of their second child.
Not satisfied being chained to MGM, Previn continued to score films as an independent agent and also to play and record jazz. In 1958 he married Dory Langdon, a lyricist who had been invited by studio management to collaborate with Previn on songs for several of his movie soundtracks. They worked together successfully for some years and saw a number of their songs receive Academy Award nominations. Previn, however, was becoming increasingly displeased with his film work. He had always desired to conduct, and when his father died in 1962, Previn decided it was time to leave Hollywood—and the jazz life—firmly behind him.
As with nearly all of his endeavors, Previn threw himself into his new occupation with astonishing single-mindedness and energy. He accepted every guest-conducting invitation he received, and to improve his image as a “serious” musician, he also accepted invitations to perform at the piano in classical concerts. He often conducted directly from the piano stool. Previn made his first recording as a conductor in 1962 with the St. Louis Symphony, which was released to critical plaudits. By 1966 he had made such a name for himself that he was offered the position of conductor of the Houston Symphony.
Unfortunately, at the same time his career was soaring, Previn’s marriage to Dory Langdon began to disintegrate. Langdon had a history of mental illness and had begun a series of extended visits to various sanitariums. Previn’s constant absence only served to worsen the situation, since his wife was deathly afraid of air travel and could not join him.
Meanwhile, Previn’s work with the Houston Symphony brought him glowing reviews and worldwide acclaim, and in 1968 he accepted the position of conductor of the renowned London Symphony Orchestra (LSO). Around this time, gossip columnists began to notice him frequently in the company of actress Mia Farrow, who was previously married to popular singer Frank Sinatra. Farrow became pregnant with Previn’s twin sons, and the scandal that ensued resulted in his leaving the Houston Symphony.
Previn divorced Langdon—at the time residing in a California mental hospital—and married Farrow in the fall of 1969. The couple settled with their children in the English countryside. Previn also redoubled his efforts with the LSO, touring with them around the world and using his pop-star image to tirelessly promote the orchestra on television and in the news media. His diligence was to earn him the longest tenure with the LSO of any single conductor.
The 1970s were once again tumultuous for Previn. In 1975 internal squabbling led him to leave the LSO to become the full-time musical director of the Pittsburgh Symphony, a post he retained until 1984. His marriage to Mia Farrow, with whom he had three children and three adopted orphans, finally broke up in 1978 due largely to their conflicting careers. Previn seemed always to be off in some corner of the world conducting, while Farrow was busy furthering her acting career. In 1984 Previn left the Pittsburgh Symphony over a clash with management about his casual attire and too-modern musical choices and was almost immediately snatched up by the Los Angeles Philharmonic for the 1985 to 1986 season. He remained as conductor for the Los Angeles Philharmonic until 1988, departing, as he had with other orchestras in the past, due to conflicts with management.
Since then, Previn has led a life of comparative stability. In 1982 he married Englishwoman Heather Hales and settled into his home—dubbed the Haven—in the wooded hills of Surrey. Despite the fact that he eventually came to look upon the years he spent in jazz as time squandered (he feels his true destiny has always been in conducting), Previn made something of a comeback in that arena, gathering his old friends to record a series of albums for the Telarc label. The first of these, After Hours, received a Grammy nomination in 1989. Previn also continues to accept guest conducting positions with various orchestras throughout the world.
In 1991 Previn published a memoir of his days as a film composer. It is titled No Minor Chords: My Days in Hollywood, in reference to a proclamation against minor chords issued by a studio magnate who heard a passage he disliked in a score for one of Previn’s films. Notwithstanding the fact that Previn spent many years trying to shake his “Tinsel Town” image, and has on occasion expressed nothing but contempt for the movie industry and nearly all those involved in it, he wrote, “I have to say that I can’t consider my … years in Hollywood as any kind of waste. They were entertaining and educational and highly paid, and I am thankful for all that.”
Previn has, though, finally and fully embraced his chosen profession of orchestral conductor. As he explained in No Minor Chords, conducting provides the “healthy and sobering experience of constantly working with music that is invariably better than any performance of it can be. It keeps final goals out of reach and it means that boredom is a very rare occurrence. I have always found it necessary for my work to scare me. It doesn’t do any good to be totally secure in the knowledge that tomorrow’s efforts will not be too difficult, and [that] they will, with rare exception, be accepted with praise. Nowadays, worry and self-doubt are roommates of mine. I’m frightened by the glory of the music I have to work with, and plagued by personal inadequacies. In my profession, triumphs and failures are allowed to be more private, and mass opinions neither make nor break a lifetime career.”
The Sun Comes Up, 1949.
Challenge to Lassie, 1949.
Scene of the Crime, 1949.
Border Incident, 1949.
The Outriders, 1950.
Three Little Words, 1950.
Violent Hour, 1950.
Shadow on the Wall, 1950.
Cause for Alarm, 1951.
Small Town Girl, 1953.
The Girl Who Had Everything, 1953.
Kiss Me Kate, 1953.
Give a Girl a Break, 1953.
Bad Day at Black Rock, 1954.
It’s Always Fair Weather, 1955.
The Fastest Gun Alive, 1956.
The Catered Affair, 1956.
Invitation to the Dance, 1956.
House of Numbers, 1957.
Designing Woman, 1957.
Silk Stockings, 1957.
Hot Summer Night, 1957.
Porgy and Bess, 1959.
Who was That Lady?, 1960.
The Subterraneans, 1960.
Bells Are Ringing, 1960.
Elmer Gantry, 1960.
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, 1961.
All in a Night’s Work, 1961.
One, Two, Three, 1961.
Two for the Seesaw, 1962.
Long Day’s Journey into Night, 1962.
Irma La Douce, 1963.
Dead Ringer, 1964.
Goodbye Charlie, 1964.
My Fair Lady, 1964.
Kiss Me Stupid, 1964.
Inside Daisy Clover, 1965.
The Fortune Cookie, 1966.
Thoroughly Modern Millie, 1967.
Jesus Christ Superstar, 1973.
Double Play, Contemporary, 1957.
My Fair Lady, Contemporary, 1957.
Pal Joey, Contemporary, 1957.
Gigi, Contemporary, 1958.
Plays Songs by Vernon Duke, Contemporary, 1958.
Plays Songs by Jerome Kern, Contemporary, 1959.
Secret Songs for Young Lovers, 1959.
West Side Story, Contemporary, 1959.
André Previn’s Trio Jazz: King Size!, Contemporary, 1960.
Give My Regards to Broadway, Columbia, 1960.
Plays Songs by Harold Arlen, Contemporary, 1960.
Like Love, 1960.
After Hours, Telarc, 1989.
Uptown, Telarc, 1990.
Old Friends, Telarc, 1992.
What Headphones?, Angel, 1993.
A Touch of Elegance, Legacy, 1994.
The Essence of André Previn, Legacy, 1994.
Previn at Sunset, Black Lion/da music, 1994.
Bookspan, Martin, and Ross Yockey, Andre Previn: A Biography, Doubleday, 1981.
Previn, André, No Minor Chords: My Days in Hollywood, Doubleday, 1991.
Ruttencutter, Helen, Previn, St. Martin’s, 1985.
Down Beat, January 1990.
Esquire, September 1984.
Keyboard, January 1991.
Time, May 8, 1989.
"Previn, André." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 19, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/previn-andre
"Previn, André." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved May 19, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/previn-andre
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German-born American composer Andre Previn (born 1929) has received acclaim in every musical venue explored during his exceptional career, and has refused to be typecast along the way.
When Andre Previn began his professional musical career, few could have imagined, much less predicted, the circuitous route and dimension his journey would take. Just when one path seemed certain, when he received acclaim in one discipline and success was assured, the determined artist changed course. Endowed with a magnitude of talents, Andre Previn is a richly decorated and world-renowned musician: a highly sought conductor of the world's most prestigious orchestras, an award-winning composer for all media-orchestra, chamber ensemble, stage, and film productions; classical and jazz pianist; recording artist; as well as author and educator.
Born Andreas Ludwig Priwin in Berlin, Germany, on April 6, 1929, Previn was the youngest child of a prosperous Jewish family. His father, Jacob, was a respected attorney, as well as an accomplished amateur pianist. Music was an important part of family life, and young Andre, wanting to participate, asked for lessons. After testing revealed that he had perfect pitch, he was enrolled in the Berlin Conservatory of Music at the age of six. As the threat of World War II loomed, life under Nazi rule became increasingly difficult, and in 1938 the family fled to Paris. He studied at the Paris Conservatory of Music until they immigrated to the United States.
Life in Los Angeles, California, was different from life in Berlin and Paris in almost every way possible-from the climate and architecture to the language spoken and career opportunities available. Upon arrival to the U.S., none of the family spoke English, including Previn's father, which made practicing law impossible. To make ends meet, he gave music lessons at home-yet nothing stood in the way of young Previn's musical education. He studied piano, theory, and composition from the best instructors available, Joseph Achron and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco.
Previn became an American citizen at the age of 14, about the same time he became captivated by the most American of all musical formats-jazz. The great African-American jazz pianist, Art Tatum, was his inspiration. Previn began splitting time between his classical studies and jazz, and word of his talent spread. Eager to supplement the family's income, Previn quickly followed up when he heard that MGM needed someone to do a jazz arrangement. That led to writing more arrangements, at first sporadically and then more regularly, several times a week after school. Throughout high school, he managed to make time to continue his serious musical studies, while exploring and developing as a jazz pianist, and working part-time. Seduced by Hollywood's glamour, he signed a contract with MGM when he turned 18. He also made his first recording on the Sunset label while still in his teens.
Previn worked his way up Hollywood's music world, gradually moving from playing rehearsals and writing arrangements to composing original movie scores-all while making a name for himself as a jazz pianist. By 1950, his recordings on the RCA label were hits. Even though writers and musicians were at the bottom of the studio hierarchy, being under contract to the world's biggest studio had its perks and he loved being part of it.
During this time, the Korean War was creating uncertainty for men his age, so Previn joined the national guard as a self-protective measure. After basic training, he was assigned to the Sixth Army Band unit in San Francisco where he was able to study conducting with Pierre Monteux, as well as pursue his passion for jazz with a new friend, drummer Shelly Manne. After the service, he returned to Los Angeles and continued an exhaustive exploration of music, including film composing, arranging, and conducting at MGM, as well as chamber music and jazz. During this time, he married and divorced his first wife, and in 1959, married his second wife, Dory Langdon, a lyricist with whom he collaborated on numerous projects.
Previn's career flourished in the late 1950s and early 1960s with musical hits that he adapted from the theatrical stage for films, and original scores he composed and conducted for other musicals and dramas. He became musical director at MGM, was nominated for 16 Academy Awards, and won four. There were performances with his own jazz combo and the Jazz at the Philharmonic All-Stars. He collaborated with top jazz musicians, such as Benny Goodman, Herb Ellis, Ella Fitzgerald, and Shelly Manne with whom he recorded a jazz version of My Fair Lady. In addition to becoming a best seller, the album triggered the popularity of jazz based on Broadway musicals.
Another part of his musicality was calling, however. According to his own account in No Minor Chords, My Days in Hollywood, he longed to be part of the inner circle of what he regarded as the legitimate world of classical music. Hollywood was not the place to write and perform serious music. He wrote in his autobiography, "The truth is I was, in the sixties, somewhat of a misfit in Hollywood, or at least that's how I increasingly came to view myself." He had gotten a valuable practical education, but now he wanted more. Although he performed as a concert pianist, composed chamber music, and began devoting more time to conducting, his focus was divided. In 1965, he began recording with the London Symphony Orchestra, and from 1967 to 1970, he was conductor-in-chief of the Houston Symphony Orchestra.
In 1969, while still married to Langdon, Previn began to be seen with actress Mia Farrow, ex-wife of popular crooner Frank Sinatra. She gave birth to their twin sons, Matthew and Sascha in early 1970. The ensuing scandal resulted in Previn leaving the Houston Symphony Orchestra. Langdon and Previn divorced and he married Farrow shortly thereafter. They had another child, Fletcher, and adopted three other children, Daisy, Lark Song and Soon Yi. Due to career conflicts, they divorced in the late 1970s.
Accession to Maestro
Life changed gradually until he accepted the appointment of principal conductor with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1969. In London he became a popular personality, appearing frequently on television to talk about music. He also toured throughout Europe and the United States with the London Symphony, and became especially well-known for his interpretations of British and Russian symphonic repertoire.
Throughout his active conducting career-with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (1976-1984), the Los Angeles Philharmonic (1985-1989), and the Royal Philharmonic (Music Director: 1985-1988; Principal Conductor: 1988-1991), and Conductor Laureate of the London Symphony (since 1993)-he has continued to compose. Compositions included: a Symphony for Strings; "Four Outings, " for brass quintet; a piano concerto, commissioned by Vladimir Ashkenzy; a cello sonata, written for Yo-Yo Ma; a song cycle, written for Dame Janet Baker; a music drama, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, written in collaboration with playwright Tom Stoppard; a set of orchestral song settings, "Honey and Rue, " for Kathleen Battle, commissioned by Carnegie Hall as part of its centennial celebration in 1992; and an opera based on Tennessee William's A Streetcar Named Desire, commission by the San Francisco Opera in 1998.
His many other pursuits include regular piano performances; playing and recording chamber music, especially at festivals such as Caramoor (New York), the South Bank Festival (London), and the La Jolla (California) Chamber Music Festival; and writing and teaching. In addition to many jazz and chamber music recordings, he has recorded complete cycles of Vaughan-Williams, Elgar, Rachmaninoff, Shostakovich, and Prokofiev, and is known for late Romantic and early twentieth century music. Not ashamed of his past in popular music, he also composed scores for the musicals Coco and The Good Companions.
In 1982, he married Heather Hales and they have one child. In the early 1990s, Previn returned to one of his first loves-jazz. He resumed recording, and formed the Andre Previn Jazz Trio, which toured Japan, North America, and Europe in 1992 and 1993.
Previn, Andre, with Antony Hopkins, Music Face to Face, Hamilton, 1971.
Previn, No Minor Chords, My Days in Hollywood, Doubleday, 1991.
The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, Grove, 1994.
The New Grove Dictionary of Music, Grove, 1992.
Boston Globe, February 14, 1997; July 28, 1997.
G. Schirmer Publicity Releases, March 1998.
New York, June 10, 1996.
"Andre Previn." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 19, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/andre-previn
"Andre Previn." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved May 19, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/andre-previn
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
Composer and Music Director. Nationality: American. Born: Andreas Ludwig Prewin in Berlin, Germany, 6 April 1929; son of the musician Charles Previn; emigrated to the United States, 1939; naturalized citizen, 1943. Education: Studied at conservatories in Berlin and Paris; also studied with Pierre Monteux, Joseph Achron, and Castelnuovo-Tedesco; attended Beverly Hills High School. Family: Married 1) the singer Betsy Bennett (divorced), two daughters; 2) the singer and composer Dory Langan (i.e., Dory Previn), 1959 (divorced 1970); 3) the actress Mia Farrow, 1970 (divorced, 1979), twin sons, three adopted children; 4) Heather Sneddon, 1982, one son (separated). Career: Joined MGM as arranger while still in his teens; then composer and conductor: conductor of the Houston Symphony Orchestra, 1967–69, the London Symphony Orchestra, 1968–75, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, 1976–86, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, London, since 1985, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, 1986–89. Awards: Academy Award, for Gigi, 1958, Porgy and Bess, 1959, Irma La Douce, 1963, and My Fair Lady, 1964.
Films as Composer:
The Sun Comes Up (Thorpe)
Border Incident (A. Mann); Tension (Berry); Scene of the Crime (Rowland); Challenge to Lassie (Thorpe)
Dial 1119 (The Violent Hour) (Mayer); Kim (Saville); The Great Sinner (Siodmak); The Outriders (Rowland)
Cause for Alarm (Garnett)
The Girl Who Had Everything (Thorpe)
Bad Day at Black Rock (J. Sturges)
Invitation to the Dance (Kelly); The Fastest Gun Alive (Rouse); The Catered Affair (Brooks)
Hot Summer Night (Friedkin); House of Numbers (Rouse); Designing Woman (Minnelli); Silk Stockings (Mamoulian)
Elmer Gantry (Brooks); Who Was That Lady? (Sidney)
All in a Night's Work (Anthony); One, Two, Three (Wilder)
Long Day's Journey into Night (Lumet); Two for the Seesaw (Wise) (song); The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Minnelli)
Irma La Douce (Wilder)
Goodbye Charlie (Minnelli); Kiss Me Stupid (Wilder); Dead Ringer (Henreid)
Inside Daisy Clover (Mulligan)
Harper (The Moving Target) (Smight) (song); The Fortune Cookie (Wilder); The Swinger (Sidney) (song)
Valley of the Dolls (Robson) (songs)
Paint Your Wagon (Logan) (songs)
The Music Lovers (Russell)
Mrs. Pollifax—Spy (Martinson)
The Elephant Man (Lynch)
Six Weeks (Bill)
Romeo and Juliet (Acosta)
Streetcar Named Desire (Graham)
Films as Musical Director:
Undercurrent (Minnelli) (supervisor)
Three Little Words (Thorpe)
Small Town Girl (Kardos); Kiss Me Kate (Sidney); Give a Girl a Break (Donen)
It's Always Fair Weather (Donen and Kelly)
Porgy and Bess (Preminger)
Bells Are Ringing (Minnelli)
My Fair Lady (Cukor)
Thoroughly Modern Millie (Hill) (co); The Way West (McLaglen)
Jesus Christ Superstar (Jewison)
By PREVIN: books—
With Antony Hopkins, Music Face to Face, London, 1971.
(Editor), Orchestra, New York, 1979.
André Previn's Guide to Music, New York, 1983.
No Minor Chords, London, 1991.
On PREVIN: books—
Greenfield, Edward, André Previn, London, 1973.
Bookspan, Martin, and Ross Yockey, André Previn: A Biography, New York, 1981.
Ruttencutter, Helen, Previn, London, 1985.
Freedland, Michael, André Previn, London, 1991.
On PREVIN: articles—
Films and Filming (London), May 1968.
Thomas, Tony, in Music for the Movies, South Brunswick, New Jersey, 1973.
Ecran (Paris), September 1975.
Lacombe, Alain, in Hollywood, Paris, 1983.
Care, R., "Previn, Andre. No Minor Chords," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), vol. 47, no. 1, 1993.
* * *
André Previn was born in Berlin and began piano studies at the Berlin Conservatory at the age of six. The family moved to Paris in 1938 and the next year to Los Angeles, where Previn continued his studies with the composers Joseph Achron and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco. At 16 Previn was hired on a part-time basis as an arranger and pianist, and two years later became a full-time employee. In 1948 he was given his first assignment as the composer of a complete, original score, The Sun Comes Up, followed by a stream of other films, both as a composer and the music director for musicals, and it is in the latter capacity that most of his Oscar nominations have been given. Previn won Oscars for his work arranging and conducting the scores of Gigi and Porgy and Bess and for his original music for Irma La Douce, and as the music director of My Fair Lady. He was also nominated for the song he wrote for Two for the Seesaw and for his music direction of Three Little Words, Kiss Me Kate, Bells Are Ringing, Thoroughly Modern Millie, and Jesus Christ Superstar. Of his serious film scores Elmer Gantry and The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are considered his finest, and of the more comedic scores One, Two, Three and The Fortune Cookie are notable.
Despite this enviable record of success in films and the popularity of his many record albums as a stylish jazz pianist, Previn put it all behind him when he accepted the position of conductor of the Houston Symphony Orchestra in 1967. The following year he was contracted as the principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra and held the position until 1975, establishing a solid reputation and becoming a popular figure in England with his many concerts, recordings and appearances on television. He accepted the post of conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in 1976 and held it until his appointment in Los Angeles, which allowed for him to appear as a guest conductor internationally. In addition to piano and chamber works, Previn has written a symphony for strings, concertos for cello, violin and guitar, and with lyricist Tom Stoppard the choral work Every Good Boy Deserves a Favor. For the theater, Previn has written the scores for Coco (1969) and The Good Companions (1971). In looking back on his career in films, Previn is emphatic that it is long gone and finished, and appears to hold only one grudge. This concerns the attitude of American music critics. "They might forgive you for having been the Boston Strangler but never for having written a movie score. You don't have this in Europe."
"Previn, André." International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 19, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/movies/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/previn-andre
"Previn, André." International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. . Retrieved May 19, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/movies/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/previn-andre
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
German-born American composer André Previn has received acclaim in every musical venue explored during his exceptional career that has spanned more than six decades.
Born Andreas Ludwig Priwin in Berlin, Germany, on April 6, 1929, Previn was the youngest child of a wealthy Jewish family. His father, Jacob, was a respected attorney, as well as an accomplished amateur pianist. Music was an important part of family life, and young André, wanting to participate, asked for lessons. After testing revealed that he had perfect pitch, he was enrolled in the Berlin Conservatory of Music at the age of six. As the threat of World War II (1939–45; a war in which German-led forces were crushed by those led by Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and, later, the United States) loomed, life under Nazi (the National Socialist German Workers' Party, which, under the control of Adolf Hitler [1889–1945], took control of Germany in 1933) rule became increasingly difficult, and in 1938 the family fled to Paris, France. Previn studied at the Paris Conservatory of Music until the family moved to the United States.
Life in Los Angeles, California, was different from life in Berlin and Paris in almost every way possible—from the climate and architecture to the language spoken and career opportunities available. Upon arrival to the United States, none of the family spoke English, including Previn's father, which made practicing law impossible. To make ends meet, he gave music lessons at home—yet nothing stood in the way of young Previn's musical education. He studied piano, theory, and composition from the best instructors available, Joseph Achron and Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco.
Previn became an American citizen at the age of fourteen, about the same time he became obsessed by the most American of all musical forms—jazz. Previn began splitting time between his classical studies and jazz, and word of his talent spread. As a teenager Previn practiced piano up to six hours a day. Eager to help his family financially, he quickly followed up when he heard that the movie studio Metro-Goldwyn Mayer (MGM) needed someone to compose a jazz arrangement (a musical score). This led to writing more arrangements, at first sporadically and then more regularly, several times a week after school. Seduced by Hollywood's glamour, he signed a contract with MGM when he turned eighteen. He also made his first recording on the Sunset label while still in his teens.
Previn's career flourished in the late 1950s and early 1960s with musical hits that he adapted from the theatrical stage for films, and original scores he composed and conducted for other musicals and dramas. He became musical director at MGM, was nominated for sixteen Academy Awards, and won four.
Another part of Previn's musical talent was calling, however. According to his own account in No Minor Chords, My Days in Hollywood, he longed to be part of the inner circle of what he regarded as the legitimate world of classical music. Hollywood was not the place to write and perform serious music. In 1965 he began recording with the London Symphony Orchestra, and from 1967 to 1970, he was conductor-in-chief of the Houston Symphony Orchestra.
In 1969, while Previn was married to his second wife Dory Langdon, he began to be seen with actress Mia Farrow, ex-wife of popular singer Frank Sinatra (1915–1998). She gave birth to their twin sons, Matthew and Sascha in early 1970. The scandal resulted in Previn leaving the Houston Symphony Orchestra. Langdon and Previn divorced, and he married Farrow shortly thereafter. Due to career conflicts, they divorced in the late 1970s.
Life changed gradually until Previn accepted the appointment of principal conductor with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1969. In London he became a popular personality, appearing frequently on television to talk about music. He also toured throughout Europe and the United States with the London Symphony, and became especially well known for his interpretations of British and Russian symphonic works.
Throughout Previn's active conducting career—with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (1976–1984), the Los Angeles Philharmonic (1985–1989), and the Royal Philharmonic (music director, 1985–1988; principal conductor, 1988–1991), and as Conductor Laureate of the London Symphony (since 1993)—he continued to compose. Compositions included a Symphony for Strings ; "Four Outings," for brass quintet; a piano concerto, commissioned by Vladimir Ashkenzy; a cello sonata, written for Yo-Yo Ma; a song cycle, written for Dame Janet Baker; a music drama, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, written in collaboration with playwright Tom Stoppard; and an opera based on Tennessee Williams's (1911–1983) A Streetcar Named Desire, commissioned by the San Francisco Opera in 1998.
In 1982 Previn married Heather Hales and they had one child. In the early 1990s he returned to one of his first loves—jazz. He resumed recording, and formed the Andre Previn Jazz Trio, which toured Japan, North America, and Europe in 1992 and 1993. In 1998 Previn was honored with an award for his career as a conductor and composer at the Kennedy Center Honors ceremony in Washington, D.C.
For More Information
Bookspan, Martin, and Ross Yockey. André Previn: A Biography. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1981.
Previn, André, with Antony Hopkins. Music Face to Face. London: Hamilton, 1971.
Previn, André. No Minor Chords, My Days in Hollywood. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1991.
Ruttencutter, Helen Drees. Previn. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1985.
"Previn, André." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 19, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/previn-andre
"Previn, André." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved May 19, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/previn-andre
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
Previn, André (George)
"Previn, André (George)." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 19, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/previn-andre-george
"Previn, André (George)." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. . Retrieved May 19, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/previn-andre-george
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
Previn, André George
"Previn, André George." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (May 19, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/previn-andre-george
"Previn, André George." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved May 19, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/previn-andre-george