Louis Gruenberg

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Gruenberg, Louis

Gruenberg, Louis, Russian-born American composer; b. near Brest Litovsk, Aug. 3, 1884; d. Los Angeles, June 9, 1964. He went with his family to the U.S. when he was 2. After piano lessons with Adele Margulies in N.Y., he went to Berlin in 1903 to study piano and composition with Busoni and Friedrich Koch. In 1912 he made his debut as a soloist with the Berlin Phil, under Busoni’s direction, and then toured Europe and the U.S.; he also became an instructor at the Vienna Cons, that year. Upon winning the Flagler Prize in 1920 for his orch. piece The Hill of Dreams, he decided to settle in the U.S. and devote himself to composition. In 1923 he helped found the League of Composers and became a champion of contemporary music. The influence of jazz and spirituals resulted in one of his most successful scores, The Daniel Jazz for Tenor, Clarinet, Trumpet, and String Quartet (1924). In 1930 he was awarded the RCA Victor Prize for his 1st Sym. He then composed his most successful stage work, the opera The Emperor Jones, which was premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in N.Y. on Jan. 7, 1933. It received the David Bispham Medal. After serving as head of the composition dept. at the Chicago Musical Coll. (1933-36), Gruenberg settled in Calif. His film scores for The Fight for Life (1940), So Ends our Night (1941), and Commandos Strike at Dawn (1942) won him Academy Awards. He was elected a member of the National Inst. of Arts and Letters in 1947.


DRAMATIC Signor Formica, operetta (1910); The Witch of Bracken, operetta (1912); Piccadilly madel, operetta (1913); The Bride of the Gods, opera (1913); Roly-boly Eyes, musical (1919; in collaboration with E. Brown); The Dumb Wife, chamber opera (1923); Hallo! Tommy!, operetta (1920s); Lady X, operetta(c. 1927); Jack and the Beanstalk, opera (N.Y., Nov. 19, 1931); The Emperor Jones, opera (1931; N.Y., Jan. 7, 1933); Helena’s Husband, opera (1936); Green Mansions, radio opera (CBS, Oct. 17, 1937); Volpone, opera (1945); One Night of Cleopatra, opera (n.d.); The Miracle of Flanders, musical legend (1954); The Delicate King, opera (1955); Antony and Cleopatra, opera (1955; rev. 1958 and 1961); ballets; pantomimes; incidental music; film scores: The Fight for Eife (1940; orch. suite, 1954); So Ends our Night (1941); Commandos Strike at Dawn (1942); An American Romance (1944); Counterattack (1945); Gangster (1947); Arch of Triumph (1948); Smart Women (1948); All the King’s Men (1949); Quicksand (1950). ORCH.: 2 piano concertos (1915; 1938, rev. 1963); The Hill of Dreams, symphonic poem (1920; N.Y., Oct. 23, 1921); The En-chanted Isle, symphonic poem (c. 1920; rev. 1928; Worcester, Mass., Oct. 3, 1929); 6 syms.: No. 1 (1919; rev. 1928; Boston, Feb. 10, 1934), No. 2 (1941; rev. 1959 and 1963), No. 3 (1941-42; rev. 1964), No. 4 (1946; rev. 1964), and Nos. 5-6 (unfinished); Vagabondia, symphonic poem (1921-30; rev. 1957); Jazz Suite (1925; Cincinnati, March 22, 1929); Moods (c. 1929); Prairie Song(c. 1930; rev. 1954); Serenade to a Beauteous Lady (1934; Chicago, April 4, 1935); Music to an Imaginary Legend (1945); Music to an Imaginary Ballet (1945; rev. 1946); Violin Concerto (Philadelphia, Dec. 1, 1944); Americana Suite (1945; rev. 1964); Dance Rhapsody for Violin and Orch. (c. 1946); Variations on a Pastoral Theme (1947); 5 Country Sketches (c. 1948); Cello Concerto (1949; rev. 1963); Poem for Viola and Orch. (c. 1951); Harlem Rhapsody (1953); Concerto for Strings and Piano (c. 1953; rev. 1955). CHAMBER: 3 violin sonatas (c. 1912, c. 1919, c. 1950); Suite for Violin and Piano (c. 1914); 2 string quartets (1914, 1937); 4 Bagatelles for Cello and Piano (1922); 4 Indiscretions for String Quartet (c. 1924); Poem for Cello and Piano (c. 1925); Jazzettes for Violin and Piano (c. 1925); 4 Diversions for String Quartet (c. 1930); 2 divertimentos: No. 1 for 2 Pianos and Percussion (c. 1930) and No. 2 for Violin, Horn, Cello, and Piano (1955); Piano Quintet (1937); Poem for Viola and Piano (c. 1951); Piano Trio (n.d.). Piano : Jazzberries (c. 1925); Jazz Masks (1929-31); Jazz Epigrams (1929); 3 Jazz Dances (1931); etc. VOCAL: The Daniel Jazz for Tenor, Clarinet, Trumpet, and String Quartet (1924; N.Y., Feb. 22, 1925); The Creation for Baritone and 8 Instruments (1925; N.Y., Nov. 27, 1926); An American Hymn for Soloist, Men’s Voices, and Orch. (1940s); A Song of Faith, oratorio for Speaker, Soloists, Chorus, Dancers, and Orch. (1952-62; Los Angeles, Nov. 1, 1981); solo songs; arrangements of spirituals.


R. Nisbett, L.G.: His Life and Work (diss., Ohio State Univ., 1979).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

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GRUENBERG, LOUIS (1884–1964), U.S. composer. Born in Poland, near Brest Litovsk, Gruenberg was taken to the U.S. at the age of two. He studied in Berlin with Busoni, and made his debut as a pianist in 1912 at a concert of the Berlin Philharmonic, under Busoni's baton. In that year he composed a children's opera called The Witch of the Brocken which was followed by The Bride of the Gods (1913). After winning a prize for The Hill of Dreams (New York Symphony Society, 1919), Gruenberg devoted himself entirely to composition.

The League of Composers performed his Daniel Jazz in 1925. This was followed by The Creation (1923), into which he introduced Negro spirituals. In 1931 the Juilliard School of Music commissioned and produced his opera "Jack and the Beanstalk."

Gruenberg's most important work was his opera Emperor Jones, based on Eugene O'Neill's play of that name. Gruenberg was one of the first American composers to use elements of Negro spirituals and jazz in serious music. His opera Green Mansions, based on W.H. Hudson's novel, was commissioned by the Columbia Broadcasting System and broadcast in 1937. Moving to California, Gruenberg wrote background music for films, and composed two other operas, Queen Helena (1936) and Volpone (1945), five symphonies, and various chamber works. He was one of the organizers of the League of Composers.


mgg, s.v.; Baker, Biog Dict, s.v. and suppl.; Grove, Dict, s.v.

[John W. Gassner]

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Gruenberg, Louis (b nr. Brest-Litovsk, now Brest, 1884; d Los Angeles, 1964). Russ.-born Amer. composer and pianist. Début as pianist with Berlin PO, 1912. Gave up concert touring for comp. on return to USA. Head of comp. dept., Chicago Mus. Coll., 1930–3. Comps. strongly influenced by jazz. Success with opera The Emperor Jones (based on O'Neill play), NY Met 1933. His vn. conc. was written for Heifetz. Also wrote film scores. Comps. incl.: The Emperor Jones (1933); Green Mansions (for radio) (1937); Volpone (1945); operas; 5 syms. (1919–48); The Hill of Dreams, orch. (1921); Jazz Suite (1929); 2 pf. concs.; vn. conc. (1944); 2 vn. sonatas; str. qt.; pf. quintet; pf. pieces incl. Jazzberries, 6 Jazz Epigrams, etc.

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Louis Gruenberg (grōō´ənbûrg), 1884–1964, American composer, b. Russia; pupil of Busoni. After concert tours as a pianist in Europe and America, he settled in the United States as a composer in 1919. A champion of modern music, he helped found (1923) the League of Composers and was one of the first American composers to incorporate jazz rhythms into works of major dimensions, such as Daniel Jazz (1924) and Jazz Suite (1925). His opera The Emperor Jones, based on O'Neill's play, was presented at the Metropolitan Opera in 1933. From 1940 he composed music for motion pictures.