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Shapey, Ralph

Ralph Shapey

Composer, conductor

For the Record…

Selected compositions

Sources

Beginning in the early 1950s, the American composer, conductor, and teacher Ralph Shapey devoted himself to the cause of new music. His own powerful and complex compositions reflect a personal vision uncompromised by rapidly changing trends.

Shapey was born on March 12, 1921, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At age seven he began studying the violin, which he continued later under Emmanuel Zeitlin. He rose through the ranks of the Philadelphia National Youth Symphony Orchestra, first as a playing member, then as youth conductor, and finally as assistant conductor (1938-47). The later years also included study with his principal composition teacher, Stefan Wolpe, who helped the young composer find his own voice.

After three years in the Army he moved to New York City in 1951. Here, through the early 1960s, Shapey established himself by composing, conducting, and teaching both privately and at the Third Street Music Settlement. His conducting abilities, especially in new and difficult works, led to other assignments with orchestras and chamber groups in Buffalo, New York; London, Ontario, Canada; New York City; and Philadelphia. From 1963 to 1964 he taught at the University of Pennsylvania, and in 1964 he accepted a post at the University of Chicago, where he founded the Contemporary Chamber Players. Maintaining this post, later as professor of music, Shapey achieved considerable success both with his own compositions and with the ensemble, whose performances have become the major impetus for new music in the Midwest.

Rugged independence and raw emotional power—perhaps reminiscent of the American composer Carl Ruggles—characterize his music. It acquires its boldness and immediacy through the initial presentation of ideas in their completely developed form, which Shapey called the concept of ‘it is’, rather than the traditional ‘it becomes’. While his works are atonal, not all of them adhere strictly to 12-tone principles, and none is as minutely controlled as the compositions of Milton Babbitt and other contemporaries. Shapey achieved order through diminutions of the musical image, and form often resulted from the initial image exploding into its own various states of being, juxtaposed against itself in ever new focuses. To aid the definition of these juxtaposed images or mosaics, Shapey very often divided his ensemble, both in terms of timbre and in actual placement on the stage. Larger ensembles were broken into as many as seven distinct groups, as in Ontogeny for orchestra (1958).

In other respects Shapey’s music closely follows the Schoenberg tradition. Except for a few compositions, such as Songs of Ecstasy for soprano, piano, percussion and electronic tape (1967), he used traditional instruments sounded in their normal manner. Notation, too, was for the most part traditional. He has been

For the Record…

Born on March 12, 1921, in Philadelphia, PA; died on June 13, 2002, in Chicago, IL; married Elsa Charlston.

Began studying the violin, age seven; assistant conductor of the Philadelphia National Youth Symphony, 1938-47; served in U.S. Army, 1948-51; composed, conducted, and taught at Third Street Music Settlement in New York City, 1950s; taught at the University of PennwYorkCity, 1963-64; taught at the University of Chicago, 1964-91; Columbia University performed a tribute concert to Shapey on his seventh-fifth birthday, 1996.

Awards: Stern Foundation Award, 1959; Brandeis Creative Arts Award, 1962; Rockefeller Foundation Grant, 1964; Naumburg Recording Award, 1966; National Institute of Arts and Letters Award, 1966.

called an Abstract Expressionist, no doubt after the painters with whom he associated in New York, but this label is misleading in that music is inherently an abstract art and Shapey’s is certainly no more so than other Expressionists such as Schoenberg. Aleatori-cism played only a small part in Shapey’s compositions, usually in the form of improvisation between worked out sections, as in the second movement of Rituals for orchestra (1959), or in one group playing material similar to another’s, but at a different or unfixed tempo, as in Dimensions for soprano and 23 instruments (1960).

In addition to his teaching duties at the University of Chicago, Shapey was active as an educator in composing didactic pieces. In the late 1960s he contributed music to the University of Illinois String Research Project in an effort to fill the gap in contemporary music that is suitable for the early stages of string instruction.

In 1969 Shapey requested a moratorium on the performance of his works as a protest against all the “rottenness” in the musical world and in the world in general. A performance of his oratorio, Praise, for bassbaritone, double chorus, and ensemble (1971) in 1976, marked his return before an ever-increasing public.

Other important compositions by Ralph Shapey include the Violin Concerto (1959); Evocation for violin with piano and percussion (1959); Incantations for soprano and ten instruments (1961), which a New York Times critic called “one of the most searing, terrifying, and altogether extraordinary compositions this listener has ever heard”; Discourse for four instruments (1961); String Quartet No. 7 (1971-72); Fromm Variations for piano (1973); Songs of Eros for soprano and orchestra (1975); Oh Jerusalem for soprano and flute (1975); Passacaglia for piano (1982); Double Concerto for violin and cello (1982); and the Mann Duo for violin and violin and cello (1982) and the Mann Duo for violin and viola (1983).

Recognition for his work has come in the form of numerous awards, grants, and commissions including the following: Alma Morgenthau Commission (1953) for String Quartet No. 4; Dimitri Mitropoulos Commission (1953) for ChallengeThe Family of Man; representative for the United States (1958) at the I.S.C.M. Festival in Strasbourg, France; Stern Foundation Award (1959) for Rituals; Fromm Foundation Commission (1960) for Dimensions and (1967) for Songs of Ecstasy; Brandeis Creative Arts Award (1962); Rockefeller Foundation Grant (1964); Naumburg Recording Award (1966) for Rituals; National Institute of Arts and Letters Award (1966); Koussevitzky Foundation Commission (1967) for the Partita-Fantasy; Fromm Music Foundation Commission (1972) for String Quartet No. 7; and Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation Commission (1979) for Song of Songs. Shapey’s music is published by Theodore Presser and was recorded mostly on the CRI label.

In honor of his seventy-fifth birthday, a concert featuring the strikingly dissimilar works of Shapey and Brahms was conducted at Columbia University’s Miller theater. As if to confirm his curmudgeonly reputation Shapey, despite his relative obscurity away from the University of Chicago, refused to provide biographical information or program notes in the timeless belief that the music be allowed to speak for itself.

Shapey died on June 13, 2002, from heart and kidney disease, at the Bernard Mitchell Hospital of the University of Chicago. The Juilliard String Quartet of New York paid tribute to Shapey that year by performing his String Quartet No. 10, originally composed in 1998, at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

Selected compositions

String Quartet No. 2, 1949.

Piano Quintet, 1946-47.

String Quartet No. 1, 1946.

Piano Quintet, 1946-47.

String Quartet No. 2, 1949.

Oboe Sonata, 1951-52.

Fantasy for Symphony Orchestra, 1951.

Cantata (soprano, tenor, bass, narrator, chamber orchestra, percussion), 1951; rev. as String Quartet No. 5, 1957-58.

SymphonyNo. 1, 1952.

Quartet (oboe, violin, viola, cello), 1952.

Cello Sonata, 1953.

String Quartet No. 4, 1953.

Piano Trio, 1953-55.

Concerto (clarinet, chamber ensemble), 1954.

ChallengeThe Family of Man, 1955.

String Quartet No. 5, 1957-58.

Ontogeny, 1958.

Evocation (violin, piano, percussion), 1959.

Rituals (orchestra), 1959.

Soliloquy (narrator, string quartet, percussion), 1959.

Violin Concerto, 1959.

De Profundis (double bass, piccolo or flute, oboe or English horn, clarinet or bassoon, clarinet or alto saxophone), 1960.

Dimensions (soprano, 23 instruments), 1960.

Movements (woodwind quintet), 1960.

Discourse (four instruments), 1961.

Incantations (soprano, ten instruments), 1961.

Chamber Symphony (ten instruments), 1962.

Convocation (chamber ensemble), 1962.

Praise (oratorio for bass-baritone, double chorus, chamber ensemble), 1962-71.

StringQuartet No. 6, 1963.

BrassQuintet, 1963.

StringTrio, 1965.

Partita (violin, eleven instruments, two percussion), 1966.

Partita-Fantasy (cello, 14 instruments, percussion), 1966.

Songs of Ecstasy (soprano, piano, percussion, electronic tape), 1967.

Praise (bass-baritone, double chorus, ensemble), 1971.

String Quartet No. 7, 1971-72.

Sonata No. 1 (violin solo), 1972.

Fromm Variations (piano), 1973.

Oh Jerusalem (soprano, flute), 1975.

Songs of Eros (soprano, orchestra, tape), 1975.

The Covenant for Soprano (chamber orchestra, tape), 1977.

3 for 6 (chamber ensemble), 1979.

Song of Songs I-III (soprano, chamber orchestra, tape), 1079-80

Concerto Grosso (woodwind quintet), 1981.

Passacaglia (piano), 1982.

Discourse II (violin, clarinet, cello, piano), 1983.

Double Concerto (violin, cello, orchestra), 1983.

Mann Duo (violin, viola), 1983.

Groton: 3 Movements (young orchestra), 1984.

Concertante I (trumpet, ten performers), 1984.

Soli (solo percussion), 1985.

Kroslish Sonate (cello, piano), 1985.

Symphonie concertante, 1985.

Concerto (piano, cello, string orchestra), 1986.

Concertante II (alto saxophone, 14 performers), 1987.

In Memoriam Paul Fromm (soprano, baritone, nine performers), 1987.

Variations (viola, nine performers), 1987.

Concerto Fantastique, 1989.

Intermezzo (dulcimer, piano or celesta), 1990.

Duo (two wind players), 1991.

Centennial Celebration (soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor, baritone, 12 players), 1991.

Movement of Varied Moments for Two (flute, vibraphone), 1991.

Trio (violin, cello, piano), 1992.

Trio Concertante (violin, piano, percussion), 1992.

Inventions (clarinet, percussion), 1992.

Dinosaur Annex (violin, vibraphone marimba), 1993.

Constellations for Bang on a Can All-Stars (chamber ensemble), 1993.

Rhapsody (cello, piano), 1993.

String Quartet No. 8, 1993.

Evocation IV (violin, cello, piano, percussion), 1994.

Sonata Appassionata (cello, piano), 1995.

Goethe Songs (soprano, piano), 1995.

String Quartet No., 1995.

Interchange (percussion quartet), 1996.

Stony Brook Concerto, 1996.

The Quatagonists, 1997.

Inter Two (Between Two) (percussion duo), 1997.

Celebration (soprano, tenor, baritone, bass-baritone, chorus, dancers, orchestra), 1997.

Images (oboe, piano, percussion), 1998.

Ode a la Cuore (bass-baritone, violin, viola, cello, piano), 1998.

Gamper Festival Concerto, 1998.

String Quartet No. 10, 1998.

Solo-Duet-Trio (cello, tape), 1998; rev. 1999.

The Voice: The Coming of the Second Flood (narrator, soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor, bass-baritone, chamber orchestra), 1999.

Sources

Books

Encyclopedia of World Biography, second edition, Gale Research, 1998.

Ewen, David, American Composers: A Biographical Dictionary, Putnam, 1982.

Mellers, Wilfrid, Music in a New Found Land, Knopf, 1965.

Salzman, Eric, Twentieth Century Music: An Introduction, Prentice Hall, 1972.

Slonimsky, Nicolas, editor emeritus, Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, Centennial Edition, Schirmer, 2001.

Periodicals

Musical Quarterly, 1966.

New York Times, January 13, 1984.

David Foster

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Ralph Shapey

Ralph Shapey

Beginning in the early 1950s, the American composer, conductor, and teacher Ralph Shapey (born 1921) devoted himself to the cause of new music. His own powerful and complex compositions reflecta personal vision uncompromised by rapidly changing trends.

Ralph Shapey was born on March 12, 1921, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At age seven he began studying the violin, which he continued later under Emmanuel Zeitlin. He rose through the ranks of the Philadelphia National Youth Symphony Orchestra, first as a playing member, then as youth conductor, and finally as assistant conductor (1938-47). The later years also included study with his principal composition teacher, Stefan Wolpe.

After three years in the army he moved to New York City in 1951. Here, through the early 1960s, Shapey established himself by composing, conducting, and teaching both privately and at the Third Street Music Settlement. His conducting abilities, especially in new and difficult works, led to other assignments with orchestras and chamber groups in Buffalo, New York; London, Ontario, Canada; New York City; and Philadelphia. From 1963 to 1964 he taught at the University of Pennsylvania, and in 1964 he accepted a post at the University of Chicago, where he founded the Contemporary Chamber Players. Maintaining this post, later as professor of music, Shapey achieved considerable success both with his own compositions and with the ensemble, whose performances have become the major impetus for new music in the Midwest.

"The Concept of It Is, Rather than the Traditional It Becomes"

Rugged independence and raw emotional power— perhaps reminiscent of the American composer Carl Ruggles—characterize his music. It acquires its boldness and immediacy through the initial presentation of ideas in their completely developed form, which Shapey calls the concept of 'it is', rather than the traditional 'it becomes'." While his works are atonal, not all of them adhere strictly to 12-tone principles, and none is as minutely controlled as the compositions of Milton Babbitt and other contemporaries. Shapey achieves order through diminutions of the musical image, and form often results from the initial image exploding into its own various states of being, juxtaposed against itself in ever new focuses." To aid the definition of these juxtaposed images or mosaics, Shapey very often divides his ensemble, both in terms of timbre and in actual placement on the stage. Larger ensembles may be broken into as many as seven distinct groups, as in Ontogeny for orchestra (1958).

In other respects Shapey's music closely follows the Schoenberg tradition. Except for a few compositions, such as Songs of Ecstasy for soprano, piano, percussion and electronic tape (1967), he uses traditional instruments sounded in their normal manner. Notation, too, is for the most part traditional. He has been called an Abstract Expressionist, no doubt after the painters with whom he associated in New York, but this label is misleading in that music is inherently an abstract art and Shapey's is certainly no more so than other Expressionists such as Schoenberg. Aleatoricism plays only a small part in Shapey's compositions, usually in the form of improvisation between worked out sections, as in the second movement of Rituals for orchestra (1959), or in one group playing material similar to another's, but at a different or unfixed tempo, as in Dimensions for soprano and 23 instruments (1960).

"A Protest Against All the Rottenness in the Musical World"

In addition to his teaching duties at the University of Chicago, Shapey was active as an educator in composing didactic pieces. In the late 1960s he contributed music to the University of Illinois String Research Project in an effort to fill the gap in contemporary music that is suitable for the early stages of string instruction.

In 1969 Shapey requested a moratorium on the performance of his works as a protest against all the rottenness in the musical world and in the world in general." A performance of his oratorio, Praise, for bass-baritone, double chorus, and ensemble (1971) in 1976, marked his return before an ever-increasing public.

Other important compositions by Ralph Shapey include the Violin Concerto (1959); Evocation for violin with piano and percussion (1959); Incantations for soprano and ten instruments (1961); Discourse for four instruments (1961); String Quartet Number 7 (1971-1972); Fromm Variations for piano (1973); Songs of Eros for soprano and orchestra (1975); Oh Jerusalem for soprano and flute (1975); Passacaglia for piano (1982); Double Concerto for violin and cello (1982); and the Mann Duo for violin and viola (1983).

Recognition for his work has come in the form of numerous awards, grants, and commissions including the following: Alma Morgenthau Commission (1953) for String Quartet Number 4; Dimitri Mitropoulos Commission (1953) for Challenge—The Family of Man; representative for the United States (1958) at the I.S.C.M. Festival in Strasbourg, France; Stern Foundation Award (1959) for Rituals; Fromm Foundation Commission (1960) for Dimensions and (1967) for Songs of Ecstasy; Brandeis Creative Arts Award (1962); Rockefeller Foundation Grant (1964); Naumburg Recording Award (1966) for Rituals; National Institute of Arts and Letters Award (1966); Koussevitzky Foundation Commission (1967) for the Partita-Fantasy; Fromm Music Foundation Commission (1972) for String Quartet Number 7; and Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation Commission (1979) for Song of Songs. Shapey's music is published by Theodore Presser and is recorded mostly on the CRI label.

In honor of his 75th birthday, a concert featuring the strikingly dissimilar works of Shapey and Brahms was conducted at Columbia University's Miller theater. As if to confirm his curmudgeonly reputation Shapey, despite his relative obscurity away from the University of Chicago, refused to provide biographical information or program notes in the timeless belief that the music be allowed to speak for itself."

Further Reading

Little has been written on Shapey, but in the past, he has refused to provide biographical information or program notes in the belief that the music be allowed to speak for itself." Wilfrid Mellers' Music in a New Found Land and Eric Salzman's Twentieth Century Music: An Introduction both contain good but short descriptions placing Shapey in historical context. Good biographical coverage appears in David Lewin's American Composers: A Biographical Dictionary. To get beyond surface detail and into the music itself one must take recourse to periodicals, newspaper articles, and record jackets. Of these, Donal J. Henahan's articles in The Musical Quarterly, LII (1966) and LIII (1967), and in the New York Times (January 26, 1984); John Rockwell's article in the New York Times (January 13, 1984); and the liner notes for the recording of Evocation (CRI-141) are especially informative. □

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Shapey, Ralph

Shapey, Ralph (b Philadelphia, 1921; d Chicago, 2002.). Amer. composer, conductor, and teacher. Ass. cond. Philadelphia Nat. Youth Admin. SO 1938–47. Founder and mus. dir. Contemporary Chamber Players, Chicago Univ. 1954. Prof. of mus. Chicago Univ. 1964–85 and from 1986. Prof. of mus. Aaron Copland Sch. of Mus., Queen's Coll, City Univ. of NY 1985–6. Works incl sym. (1952); cl. conc. (1954); conc. for vn., vc., orch. (1983); conc. for pf., vc., str. (1986); 7 str. qts. (1946–72); pf. quintet (1946–7); vn. sonata (1949–50); vc. sonata (1953); brass quintet (1963).

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Shapey, Ralph

Shapey, Ralph

Shapey, Ralph, American conductor, teacher, and composer; b. Philadelphia, March 12, 1921. He studied violin with Zetlin and composition with Wolpe. He was asst. conductor of the Philadelphia National Youth Administration Sym. Orch. (1938–47). In 1954 he founded and became music director of the Contemporary Chamber Players of the Univ. of Chicago, with which he presented new works. In 1963–64 he taught at the Univ. of Pa., and then was made prof. of music at the Univ. of Chicago in 1964; after serving as Distinguished Prof. of Music at the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens Coll. of the City Univ. of N.Y. (1985–86), he resumed his duties at the Univ. of Chicago, retiring as prof. emeritus in 1991. Disappointed by repeated rejections of his works by performers and publishers, Shapey announced in 1969 that he would no longer submit his works to anyone for performance or publication. However, in 1976 he had a change of heart and once more gave his blessing to the performance and publication of his works. In 1982 he became a Mac-Arthur Fellow. In 1989 he was elected a member of the American Academy and Inst. of Arts and Letters. On Nov. 21, 1991, he conducted the premiere of his Concerto Fantastique with the Chicago Sym. Orch. In 1992 the judges of the Pulitzer Prize in Music awarded him its prize for this score, but then the Pulitzer Prize board rejected its own judges’ decision and denied Shapey the honor. The ensuing scandal did little to enhance the reputation of the Pulitzer Prize in Music. In 1993 Shapey was honored with the Paul Fromm Award. In 1994 he was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His music employs serialistic but uncongested procedures in acrid counterpoint, while formally adhering to neo-Classical paradigms.

Works

DRAMATIC: Opera: The Quatagonists (1997). ORCH.: Fantasy for Symphony Orchestra (1951); Sym. No. 1 (1952); Concerto for Clarinet and Chamber Ensemble (1954; Strasbourg, June 9, 1958); Challenge—The Family of Man (1955); Ontogeny (1958; Buffalo, May 1, 1965); Invocation, concerto for Violin and Orch. (1958; N.Y., May 24, 1968); Rituals (1959; Chicago, May 12, 1966); Double Concerto for Violin, Cello, and Orch. (1983; N.Y., Jan. 24, 1984); Groton: 3 Movements for Young Orchestra (1984); Symphonie concertante (1985); Concerto for Piano, Cello, and String Orch. (1986); Concerto Fantastique (1989; Chicago, Nov. 21, 1991); Stony Brook Concerto (1996); Gamper Festival Concerto (1998). CHAMBER : 10 string quartets (1946; 1949; 1950–51; 1953; 1957–58; 1963; 1972; 1993; 1995; 1998); Piano Quintet (1946–7); Violin Sonata (1949–50); Oboe Sonata (1951–52); Quartet for Oboe, Violin, Viola, and Cello (1952); Cello Sonata (1953); Piano Trio (1953–55); De Profundis for Double Bass, Piccolo or Flute, Oboe or English Horn, Clarinet or Bassoon, and Clarinet or Alto Saxophone (1960); Movements for Woodwind Quintet (1960); Chamber Sym. for 10 Instruments (1962); Convocation for Chamber Ensemble (1962); Brass Quintet (1963); String Trio (1965; second movement for Solo Violin as Sonata No. 1, 1972); Partita for Violin, 11 Instruments, and 2 Percussion (1966); Partita-Fantasy for Cello, 14 Instruments, and Percussion (1966); 3 for 6 for Chamber Ensemble (1979); Concerto Grosso for Woodwind Quintet (1981); Discourse II for Violin, Clarinet, Cello, and Piano (1983); Concertante I for Trumpet and 10 Performers (1984) and II for Alto Saxophone and 14 Performers (1987); Soli for Solo Percussion (1985); Kroslish Sonate for Cello and Piano (1985); Variations for Viola and 9 Performers (1987); Intermezzo for Dulcimer and Piano or Celesta (1990); Duo for 2 Wind Players (1991); Movement of Varied Moments for Two for Flute and Vibraphone (1991); Trio for Violin, Cello, and Piano (1992); Trio Concertante for Violin, Piano, and Percussion (1992); Inventions for Clarient and Percussion (1992); Dinosaur Annex for Violin and Vibraphone Marimba (1993); Constellations for Bang on a Can All-Stars for Chamber Ensemble (1993); Rhapsody for Cello and Piano (1993); Evocation IV for Violin, Cello, Piano, and Percussion (1994); Sonata Appassionata for Cello and Piano (1995); Interchange for Percussion Quartet (1996); Inter Two (Between Two) for Percussion Duo (1997); Solo-Duet-Trio for Cello and Tape (1998; rev. 1999); Images for Oboe, Piano, and Percussion (1998). KEYBOARD: Piano and organ pieces. VOCAL : Cantata for Soprano, Tenor, Bass, Narrator, Chamber Orch., and Percussion (1951; rev. as String Quartet No. 5, 1957–58); Soliloquy for Narrator, String Quartet, and Percussion (1959); Dimensions for Soprano and 23 Instruments (1960); Incantations for Soprano and 10 Instruments (1961); Praise, oratorio for Bass-baritone, Double Chorus, and Chamber Ensemble (1962–71; Chicago, Feb. 28, 1976); Songs of Eros for Soprano, Orch., and Tape (1975); The Covenant for Soprano, Chamber Orch., and Tape (1977); Song of Songs I-III for Soprano, Chamber Orch., and Tape (1975); In Memoriam Paul Fromm for Soprano, Baritone, and 9 Performers (1987); Centennial Celebration for Soprano, Mezzo-soprano, Tenor, Baritone, and 12 Players (1991); Goethe Songs for Soprano and Piano (1995); Celebration for Soprano, Tenor, Baritone, Bass-baritone, Chorus, Dancers, and Orch. (1997); Ode a la Cuore for Bass-baritone, Violin, Viola, Cello, and Piano (1998); The Voice: The Coming of the Second Flood for Narrator, Soprano, Mezzo-soprano, Tenor, Bass-baritone, and Chamber Orch. (1999).

Bibliography

P. Finley, A Catalogue of the Works of R. S.(Stuyvesant, N.Y., 1997).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

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"Shapey, Ralph." Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians. . Retrieved November 16, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/shapey-ralph-0

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