Bolcom, William

views updated May 09 2018

William Bolcom

Composer, pianist

Regarded as one of the most versatile of contemporary American composers, William Bolcom has experimented with a wide array of classical forms, including chamber music, piano works, song cycles, opera, and symphonies. An accomplished pianist as well, he is a lively performer, regularly engaging in cabaret performances with his wife, mezzo-soprano Joan Morris. Bolcom has cited Charles Ives as his greatest influence and, like Ives, he has often focused on American styles, themes and characters while drawing on a wide array of musical forms. He has adapted a novel by Frank Norris, a screenplay by Robert Altman, and the poetry of his peers Richard Tillinghast and Alice Fulton at the University of Michigan. One of his best-known compositions, Songs of Innocence and Experience, centers on the work of the British Romantic poet William Blake.

Bolcom was born in Seattle, Washington, to Robert Bolcom, an industrial lightbulb salesman, and Virginia Bolcom, an elementary school teacher and classical music enthusiast. By the time William Bolcom was four years old, his talent for composition became evident to his parents, who ignored suggestions that they should rush their son into a stage career. Instead, he began his formal music education at the University of Washington at the age of 11, the earliest age at which the school would accept music students. There he studied composition with John Verall and piano with Berthe Poncy Jacobson. "I am so thankful my parents put their foot down," Bolcom told the University of Washington's alumni magazine, Columns. "Most child prodigies never really survive after that. They are all miserable because they have been exploited."

Bolcom earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Washington in 1958 where, in addition to studying music, he took poetry courses with Pulitzer Prizewinning poet Theodore Roethke. He supported himself by performing at fraternity parties, burlesque shows, and church services. Following graduation he studied at Mills College in Oakland, California, with Darius Milhaud, who shared the younger composer's interest in far-ranging styles. In 1961 he joined Milhaud at the Paris Conservatoire de Musiq, where he also studied with Olivier Messiaen. Bolcom returned to the United States to study with Leland Smith at Stanford University. He completed his doctorate in music at Stanford in 1964, and then returned to the Paris Conservatoire, where he was awarded the 2e Prix in Composition in 1965. He earned the first of two prestigious Guggenheim fellowships that year as well.

While in Europe, Bolcom began writing scores for West German theaters, and he continued in a similar vein in the United States, working for Stanford University, Lincoln Center in New York, and the Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut. During this time he also completed the cabaret-influenced opera Dynamite Tonight, written with librettist Arnold Weinstein, for which he was awarded the Marc Blizstein Award from the Academy of Arts and Letters. From 1968 through 1970, Bolcom served as composer-in-residence at the Yale University Drama School and the New York University School of the Arts. He joined the faculty of the University of Michigan's School of Music in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1973. That same year he released a recording of Gershwin's compositions that was named Record of the Year by Stereo Review magazine.

For the Record …

Born on May 26, 1938, in Seattle, WA; son of Robert Bolcom (an industrial lightbulb salesman) and Virginia Bolcom (an elementary school teacher); married Joan Morris (a mezzo-soprano singer), 1975. Education: University of Washington, B.A., 1958; Stanford University, Ph.D., 1964; studied at Mills College and Paris Conservatoire de Musiq.

Began studying music at the University of Washington at the age of 11; earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Washington, 1958; attended Paris Conservatoire de Musiq, 1961; won 2e Prix in Composition at Paris Conservatoire, 1965; earned first Guggenheim fellowship, 1965; served as composer-in-residence at the Yale University Drama School and the New York University School of the Arts, 1968-70; joined faculty at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 1973; began recording music with wife Joan Morris, late 1970s; premiered Fantasia Concertante at the Vienna Philharmonic, 1986; began writing operas for Chicago Lyric Opera, 1990s.

Awards: BMI Award, 1953; Paris Conservatoire de Musiq, 2e Prix in Composition, 1965; Guggenheim Fellowships, 1965, 1968; Academy of Arts and Letters, Marc Blizstein Award, for Dynamite Tonight, 1966; Koussevitzky Foundation Award for First Piano Quartet, 1976, and for Lyric Concerto for Flute and Orchestra, 1993; Pulitzer Prize, for 12 New Etudes for Piano, 1988; State of Michigan, Governor's Arts Award.

Addresses: Office—University of Michigan School of Music, 1100 Baits Dr., Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2085. Website—William Bolcom Official Website: E-mail—[email protected].

In 1975 Bolcom married mezzo-soprano Joan Morris, and the two began performing and recording popular music of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The pair has continued to stage cabaret-style concerts in dinner clubs. Bolcom continued to compose and perform routinely as well. One of his most ambitious works, a setting of poet William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience for soloists, chorus, and orchestra, premiered at the Stuttgart Opera in 1984. Bolcom had conceived of the project at an early age. "I was 17 when I resolved some day to set the Songs of Innocence and Experience, "he told the Financial Times of London. "I realized that the texts were eclectic in style and in turn required diverse musical approaches. It was Blake that allowed me to advance my multifarious types of style. And it's colored everything I have done since." Washington Post writer Pierre Ruhe noted the wide range of elements present in the work. "It borrows from so many camps and styles that it is practically a compendium of music in the 20th century," he wrote. "In 46 songs he evokes Mahler, country and western, harsh atonality, '60s folk-rock, neoclassicism, ethnic pop, Broadway, and reggae."

Bolcom's Fantasia Concertante for viola, cello, and orchestra premiered in 1986 at the Vienna Philharmonic. Two years later Bolcom was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his 12 New Etudes for Piano, which was first performed in its entirety in Philadelphia by pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin on March 30, 1987.

In the 1990s Bolcom began a fruitful relationship with the Chicago Lyric Opera, for which he has written three major operas: McTeague, A View from the Bridge, and A Wedding. McTeague, which premiered in 1992, was based on the Frank Norris novel of the same name. Bolcom collaborated with filmmaker Robert Altman on the production. In 1999 playwright Arthur Miller served as librettist for his 1955 work A View from the Bridge, and Bolcom also composed the soundtrack for actor/director John Turturro's film Illuminata that same year. Bolcom and Altman reunited in 2004 for A Wedding, an operatic adaptation of Altman's 1984 film of the same name. "It's our hope that 100 years from now, just as people speak of Verdi in Venice and Milan and Rossini in Naples, they will speak of Bolcom in Chicago," the Lyric Opera's general director, William Mason, told the Financial Times.

Bolcom is often referred to as "eclectic," or as a "synthesizer" of disparate sounds, but he has bristled at both descriptions. "I'm interested in showing how different elements relate. My music tries to make the relationships clear. The more I look to the future of music the more I keep coming back to the past. They come together," he told the New York Times. "If you mix popular and classical forms, it brings life to both genres," he explained in Columns. "By making them touch, something fresh, new, and organic grows. I like the traditional and the newest culture coexisting in the same piece. The classical masters had that possibility—Haydn is full of pop tunes—and I want it, too."

Director Leonard Slatkin, who has worked with Bolcom on numerous projects, hailed the artist as an early and important collagist. "Bolcom was one of the first in our time to do it," he told the Washington Post. "Young composers might not acknowledge Bolcom as an influence, but someone had to break that psychological barrier and provide a means for a breakthrough. I think he'll be one of the people who sums up what music in this century is all about."

Selected discography

Bolcom: 12 New Etudes/Wolpe: Battle Piece (composer), New World Records, 1992.

Bolcom: Symphony No. 4 (composer), New World Records, 1992.

Blue Skies: Songs by Irving Berlin (performer), Nonesuch, 1992.

Gershwin: Piano Music/Songs (performer), Nonesuch, 1992.

Violin Concerto/Fantasia Concertante/Fifth Symphony (composer), Polygram, 1992.

Orchids in the Moonlight–Songs of Youmans (performer), Arabesque Recordings, 1996.

Sure on the Shining Night (composer), Hyperion, 1997.

Moonlight Bay: Songs As Is and Songs As Was (performer), Albany Records. 1999.

Piano Rags (composer), Albany Records, 1999.

Illuminata soundtrack (composer), Hybrid Recordings, 1999.

Devil's Dance (composer), Deutsche Grammophon, 2000.

Cabaret Songs (composer), BIS, 2001.

Bolcom: A View from the Bridge (composer), New World Records, 2001.

Bolcom: Caberet Songs Vols.3&4 (performer), Centaur, 2001.

Battle Pieces (performer), Albany, 2003.

Battle Pieces (performer), Equillibrium, 2003.

Blue: Complete Cabaret Songs of Bolcom and Arnold (composer), Summit Records, 2003.

Preludes & Postludes for the Year Beginning 9/1/2001 (composer), Gothic, 2003.

Songs of Innocence and Experience (composer), Naxos, 2004.



Columns, June 2003.

Financial Times (London, England), December 10, 2004.

New York Times, January 18, 1995; December 11, 2004;.

Washington Post, February 22, 1998.


"William Bolcom," All Music Guide, (March 8, 2005)

"William Bolcom," Grove Dictionary of Music, (March 8, 2005).

William Bolcom and Joan Morris Website, (March 17, 2005).


Bolcom, William (Elden)

views updated May 23 2018

Bolcom, William (Elden)

Bolcom, William (Elden), prominent American composer, pianist, and teacher; b. Seattle, May 26, 1938. He studied at the Univ. of Washington in Seattle with George Frederick McKay and John Verrall (B.A., 1958), took a course in composition with Darius Milhaud at Mills Coll. in Oakland, Calif. (M.A., 1961), and attended classes in advanced composition with Leland Smith at Stanford Univ. (D.M.A., 1964). He also studied at the Paris Cons, with Milhaud and Jean Rivier (1959–61; 1965–66; 2nd prix in composition, 1965). In 1964–65 and 1968–69 he held Guggenheim fellowships. He taught at the Univ. of Washington in Seattle (1965–66) and at Queens Coll. of the City Univ. of N.Y. (1966–68). In 1969–70 he served as composer-in- residence at the N.Y. Univ. School of the Arts. In 1973 he joined the faculty of the Univ. of Mich, as an asst. prof., subsequently serving there as an assoc. prof. (1977–83), prof. (1983–94), the Ross Lee Finney Distinguished Univ. Prof, of Music in Composition (from 1994), and as chairman of the composition dept. (from 1998). He was composer-in-residence of the Detroit Sym. Orch. (1987–88), Ithaca Coll. (1990–91), and the N.Y. Phil. (1995). In 1988 he won the Pulitzer Prize in Music for his 12 New Etudes for Piano, and in 1993 he was elected a member of the American Academy and Inst. of Arts and Letters. He is also active as a pianist, recording and giving recitals of ragtime works. In 1975 he married Joan Morris, with whom he appears in concerts and with whom he has recorded some 20 albums. He publ., with Robert Kim-ball, a book on the black American songwriting and musical comedy team of Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake, Reminiscing with Sissle and Blake (N.Y., 1973; reissued, 1999). He also ed. the collected essays of George Rochberg under the title The Aesthetics of Survival: A Composer’s View of Twentieth-Century Music (Ann Arbor, 1984). Bolcom’s thorough knowledge and appreciation of the music of America, both past and present, has been an important factor in his own development as a composer. His diverse output utilizes styles ranging from romantic to modern, including elements of such popular genres as country and rock.


DRAMATIC: Dynamite Tonite, actors’ opera (N.Y Dec. 21, 1963); Greatshot, actors’ opera (1969); Theatre of the Absurd for Actor and Chamber Group (1970; San Francisco, March 2, 1979); The Beggar’s Opera, adaptation of John Gay’s work, adding to already-arranged work by Milhaud, for Actors and Chamber Orch. (1978; Minneapolis, Jan. 27, 1979); Casino Paradise, musical theater opera (1986–90; Philadelphia, April 4, 1990); McTeague, opera (1991–92; Chicago, Oct. 31, 1992); A View from the Bridge, opera after Arthur Miller (Chicago, Oct. 9, 1999). orch.: 7 syms.: No. 1 (Aspen, July 1957), No. 2, Oracles (1964; Seattle, May 2, 1965), No. 3 for Chamber Orch. (St. Paul, Sept. 15, 1979), No. 4 for Medium Voice and Orch., after Roethke (1986; St. Louis, March 13, 1987), No. 5 (1989; Philadelphia, Jan. 11, 1990), No. 6 (1996–97; Washington, D.C., Feb. 26, 1998), and No. 7 (2002); Concertante for Violin, Flute, Oboe, and Orch. (1961); Concerto-Serenade for Violin and Strings (1964); Fives for Violin, Piano, and 3 String Orchs. (1966); Humoresk for Organ and Orch. (1969; N.Y., Dec. 3, 1979); Commedia for “Almost” 18th Century Orch.(1971; St. Paul, March 1972); Summer Divertimento for Chamber Orch. (Portland, Ore., Aug. 9, 1973); Piano Concerto (Seattle, March 8, 1976); Ragoma-nia (Boston, May 4, 1982); Violin Concerto (Stuttgart, June 3, 1984); Fantasia concertante for Viola, Cello, and Orch. (1985; Salzburg, Jan. 26, 1986); Seattle Slew, dance suite (1985–86; Seattle, March 5, 1986); Spring Concertino for Oboe and Chamber Orch. (1986–87; Midland, Mich., Nov. 7, 1987); Fanfare: Converging on the Mountain (1989; Aspen, July 16, 1991); MC-MXC Tanglewood (Tanglewood, Aug. 4, 1990); Clarinet Concerto (1990; N.Y., Jan. 3, 1992); Lyric Concerto for Flute and Orch. (St. Louis, Oct. 27, 1993); GAEA, concerto for 2 Left-Handed Pianists and Orch. (1995; Baltimore, April 11, 1996); Gala Variation (St. Louis, May 19, 1996); Classical Action Samba (N.Y., May 12, 1997). concert band:Broadside (1981); Liberty Enlightening the World (1985); Concert Suite for Saxophone and Band (1999). chamber: 10 string quartets (1950–88); 4 violin sonatas: No. 1 (1956; rev. 1984), No. 2 (1978; Washington, D.C., Jan. 12, 1979), No. 3, Sonata Stromba (1992; Aspen, July 12, 1993), and No. 4 (1995; Ann Arbor, Jan. 26, 1997); Concert Piece for Clarinet and Piano (1958; Oakland, Calif., April 30, 1959); Décalge for Cello and Piano (1961; Stanford, Jan. 1962); Pastorale for Violin and Piano (1961); Session I for Chamber Group (Berlin, May 12, 1965), II for Violin and Viola (1966), III for Chamber Group (1967), and IV for Chamber Group (1967); Dream Music No. 2 for Harpsichord and Percussion (1966); Dark Music for Timpani and Cello (1969; Washington, D.C., May 31, 1970); Duets for Quintet for Flute, Clarinet, Violin, Cello, and Piano (1970); Whisper Moon for Alto Flute, Clarinet, Violin, Cello, and Piano (N.Y., April 1971); Fancy Tales for Violin and Piano (1971); Duo Fantasy for Violin and Piano (Portland, Ore., Aug. 6, 1973); Seasons for Guitar (1974; Ann Arbor, Nov. 15, 1975); 2 piano quartets: No. 1 (1976; N.Y., Oct. 23, 1977) and No. 2 (Washington, D.C., Dec. 10, 1996); Afternoon Cakewalk, rag suite of Joplin, Lamb, Scott, and Bolcom for Clarinet, Violin, and Piano (N.Y., Nov. 1, 1979); Brass Quintet (Aspen, July 7, 1980); Aubade for Oboe and Piano (Helsinki, Sept. 1982); Orphee-Serenade for Chamber Ensemble (1984; N.Y., April 13, 1985); Lilith for Alto Saxophone and Piano (1984); Five Fold Five for Woodwind Quintet and Piano (Saratoga Springs, N.Y., Aug. 14, 1987); 3 Rags for String Quartet (1989); Cello Sonata (1989; Boston, May 3, 1990); Trio for Clarinet, Violin, and Piano (London, March 25, 1994); Suite No. 1 for Cello (1994–95; Tanglewood, July 12, 1996); Tres piezas lindas for Flute and Guitar (St. Paul, March 11, 1995); Spring Trio for Violin, Cello, and Piano (Charlottesville, Va., Sept. 15, 1996); Celestial Dinner Music for Flute and Harp (1996). keyboard: piano:Romantic Pieces (1959); 12 Etudes (1959–60); Fantasy-Sonata No. 1 (1961); Interlude for 2 Pianos (1963); Dream Music No. 1 (Berlin, Sept. 21, 1965); Brass Knuckles (1968); Garden of Eden, suite (1968); Dream Shadows, rag (1970); The Poltergeist, rag (1970); Seabiscuits Rag (1970); Graceful Ghost, rag (1970); Raggin Rudi, rag (1972); 12 New Etudes (1977–86; first complete perf., N.Y., Oct. 12, 1987); Fields of Flowers (1978); Monsterpieces (and Others) for Children (1980); 3 Dance Portraits (1986; Charlemont, Mass., July 1987); Rag Tango (Homage to Ernesto Nazareth) (1988); Recuerdos for 2 Pianos (Miami, Dec. 17, 1991); Sonata for 2 Pianos (1993; Lafayette, Ind., April 6, 1994); Haunted Labyrinth (1994); 9 Bagatelles (1996; Fort Worth, May 1997). organ:Chorale Prelude on Abide With Me (Everett, Wash., Oct. 19, 1970); Hydraulis (1971); Mysteries (1976); Gospel Preludes (4 vols., 1979–84). other:Black Host for Organ, Chimes, Cymbals, Bass Drum, and Tape (1967); Praeludium for Organ and Vibraphone (1969); Revelation Studies for 2 Carillon Players (1976). vocal:Songs of Innocence and of Experience for Soloists, Chorus, and Orch., after Blake (1956–81; Stuttgart, Jan. 8, 1984); Cabaret Songs for Medium Voice and Piano (4 vols., 1963–96); Satires for Madrigal Group (1970); Open House for Tenor and Chamber Orch. (St. Paul, Oct. 8, 1975); I Will Breathe a Mountain for Medium Voice and Piano (1990; N.Y., March 26, 1991); The Mask for Chorus and Piano (Philadelphia, Oct. 12, 1990); Let Evening Come for Soprano, Viola, and Piano (N.Y., April 19, 1994); A Whitman Triptych for Mezzo-soprano and Orch., after Whitman (San Francisco, June 24, 1995); Turbulence: A Romance for Soprano, Baritone, and Piano (1996; Minneapolis, April 27, 1997); Briefly it Enters for Soprano and Piano (Ann Arbor, Sept. 29, 1996).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

Bolcom, William (Elden)

views updated May 18 2018

Bolcom, William (Elden) (b Seattle, 1938). Amer. composer. Has worked as teacher (at Sch. of Mus. of Univ. of Michigan at Ann Arbor from 1973, becoming prof. 1983) and critic. Comps. admit wide range of influences, from serialism to collage. They include the opera McTeague (Chicago, 1992); 5 syms.; 10 str. qts.; Session 2, vn., va. (1966); Black Host, org., perc., tape (1967); 14 Piano Rags (1967–70); Dark Music, timp., vc. (1970); Open House, ten., chamber orch. (1975); pf. conc. (1976); pf. qt. (1976); vn. conc. (1983); Concertante, va., vc., orch. (1985); cl. conc. (1989); Fantasy Sonata, pf. (1989); Spring Concertino, ob., chamber orch. (1989); fl. conc. (1993). One of his highly praised works is the Songs of Innocence and Experience (48 Blake poems), for 9 solo vv., 2 ch., unacc. ch., children's ch., and orch. (1956–82, f.p. Stuttgart, 1984).

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