Gunther Schuller

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Gunther Schuller
Gunther Schuller and A.B. Spellman.jpg
Gunther Schuller (left) receiving the NEA Jazz Masters Award for Jazz Advocacy in 2008, alongside A. B. Spellman
Background information
Born(1925-11-22)November 22, 1925
DiedJune 21, 2015(2015-06-21) (aged 89)
Occupation(s)president of New England Conservatory
InstrumentsFrench horn, flute
Associated actsModern Jazz Society, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra

Gunther Alexander Schuller (November 22, 1925 June 21, 2015) [1] was an American composer, conductor, horn player, author, historian and jazz musician.

French horn type of brass instrument

The French horn is a brass instrument made of tubing wrapped into a coil with a flared bell. The double horn in F/B is the horn most often used by players in professional orchestras and bands. A musician who plays a French horn is known as a horn player or hornist.

Jazz is a music genre that originated in the African-American communities of New Orleans, United States. It originated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and developed from roots in blues and ragtime. Jazz is seen by many as "America's classical music". Since the 1920s Jazz Age, jazz has become recognized as a major form of musical expression. It then emerged in the form of independent traditional and popular musical styles, all linked by the common bonds of African-American and European-American musical parentage with a performance orientation. Jazz is characterized by swing and blue notes, call and response vocals, polyrhythms and improvisation. Jazz has roots in West African cultural and musical expression, and in African-American music traditions including blues and ragtime, as well as European military band music. Intellectuals around the world have hailed jazz as "one of America's original art forms".


Biography and works

Early years

Schuller was born in Queens, New York City, [1] the son of German parents Elsie (Bernartz) and Arthur E. Schuller, a violinist with the New York Philharmonic. [2] He studied at the Saint Thomas Choir School and became an accomplished French horn player and flute player. At age 15, he was already playing horn professionally with the American Ballet Theatre (1943) followed by an appointment as principal hornist with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (1943–45), and then the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in New York, where he stayed until 1959. [3] During his youth, he attended the Precollege Division at the Manhattan School of Music, later going on to teach at the school. [4] But, already a high school dropout because he wanted to play professionally, Schuller never obtained a degree from any institution. [5] He began his career in jazz by recording as a horn player with Miles Davis (1949–50). [6]

Queens Borough in New York City and county in New York, United States

Queens is the easternmost of the five boroughs of New York City. It is the largest borough geographically and is adjacent to the borough of Brooklyn at the southwestern end of Long Island. To its east is Nassau County. Queens also shares water borders with the boroughs of Manhattan and the Bronx. Coterminous with Queens County since 1899, the borough of Queens is the second largest in population, with an estimated 2,358,582 residents in 2017, approximately 48% of them foreign-born. Queens County also is the second most populous county in the U.S. state of New York, behind Brooklyn, which is coterminous with Kings County. Queens is the fourth most densely populated county among New York City's boroughs, as well as in the United States. If each of New York City's boroughs were an independent city, Queens would be the nation's fourth most populous, after Los Angeles, Chicago, and Brooklyn. Queens is the most ethnically diverse urban area in the world.

New York Philharmonic American symphony orchestra in New York, NY

The New York Philharmonic, officially the Philharmonic-Symphony Society of New York, Inc., globally known as New York Philharmonic Orchestra (NYPO) or New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra, is a symphony orchestra based in New York City. It is one of the leading American orchestras popularly referred to as the "Big Five". The Philharmonic's home is David Geffen Hall, located in New York's Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

Saint Thomas Choir School

Saint Thomas Choir School is a church-affiliated boarding choir school in Manhattan, New York, founded in 1919. The school is supported by the nearby Saint Thomas Church, an Episcopal church, continuing the Anglican tradition of all-male choral ensembles. Saint Thomas is one of three choir schools that exclusively educate boy trebles of the choir, and where all boys are required to board at the school.

Performance and growth

In 1955, Schuller and jazz pianist John Lewis founded the Modern Jazz Society, [6] which gave its first concert at Town Hall, New York, the same year and later became known as the Jazz and Classical Music Society. While lecturing at Brandeis University in 1957, he coined the term "Third Stream" to describe music that combines classical and jazz techniques. [7] He became an enthusiastic advocate of this style and wrote many works according to its principles, among them Transformation (1957, for jazz ensemble), [8] Concertino (1959, for jazz quartet and orchestra), [9] Abstraction (1959, for nine instruments), [10] and Variants on a Theme of Thelonious Monk (1960, for 13 instruments) utilizing Eric Dolphy and Ornette Coleman. [10] In 1966, he composed the opera The Visitation. [11] He also orchestrated Scott Joplin's only known surviving opera Treemonisha for the Houston Grand Opera's premiere production of this work in 1975. [12]

John Lewis (pianist) American jazz pianist, composer and arranger

John Aaron Lewis was an American jazz pianist, composer and arranger, best known as the founder and musical director of the Modern Jazz Quartet.

Brandeis University private research university in Waltham, Massachusetts

Brandeis University is an American private research university in Waltham, Massachusetts, 9 miles (14 km) west of Boston. Founded in 1948 as a non-sectarian, coeducational institution sponsored by the Jewish community, Brandeis was established on the site of the former Middlesex University. The university is named after Louis Brandeis, the first Jewish Justice of the U.S Supreme Court.

Eric Dolphy American jazz musician

Eric Allan Dolphy, Jr. was an American jazz alto saxophonist, bass clarinetist and flautist. On a few occasions, he also played the clarinet and piccolo. Dolphy was one of several multi-instrumentalists to gain prominence around the time that he was active. His use of the bass clarinet helped to establish the instrument within jazz. Dolphy extended the vocabulary and boundaries of the alto saxophone, and was among the earliest significant jazz flute soloists.

Career maturity

In 1959, Schuller gave up performance to devote himself to composition, teaching and writing. He conducted internationally and studied and recorded jazz with such greats as Dizzy Gillespie and John Lewis among many others. [6] Schuller wrote over 190 original compositions in many musical genres. [13]

Dizzy Gillespie American jazz trumpeter

John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie was an American jazz trumpeter, bandleader, composer, and singer.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Schuller was president of New England Conservatory, where he founded The New England Ragtime Ensemble. During this period, he also held a variety of positions at the Boston Symphony Orchestra's summer home in Tanglewood, serving as director of new music activities from 1965 to 1969 and as artistic director of the Tanglewood Music Center from 1970 to 1984 and creating the Tanglewood Festival of Contemporary Music. [14]

Boston Symphony Orchestra American symphony orchestra in Boston, MA

The Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) is an American orchestra based in Boston, Massachusetts. It is one of the five major American symphony orchestras commonly referred to as the "Big Five". Founded in 1881, the BSO plays most of its concerts at Boston's Symphony Hall and in the summer performs at Tanglewood.

Tanglewood is a music venue in the towns of Lenox and Stockbridge in the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts. It has been the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra since 1937. Tanglewood is also home to three music schools: the Tanglewood Music Center, Days in the Arts and the Boston University Tanglewood Institute. Besides classical music, Tanglewood hosts the Festival of Contemporary Music, jazz and popular artists, concerts, and frequent appearances by James Taylor, John Williams, and the Boston Pops.

The Tanglewood Music Center is an annual summer music academy in Lenox, Massachusetts, United States, in which emerging professional musicians participate in performances, master classes and workshops. The Center operates as a part of the Tanglewood Music Festival, an outdoor concert series and the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO).

Schuller recorded the LP Country Fiddle Band with the Conservatory's country fiddle band, released by Columbia Records in 1976. Reviewing in Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies (1981), Robert Christgau wrote: "Why do I love this semiclassicized perversion when country fiddle and bluegrass music that strives for authenticity leaves me cold? It's all in the candor of the striving; as usual, I'm put off by the way so-called folk groups formalize a tradition that had spontaneity and unselfconsciousness at the root of its attraction. This silly symphony is something else. The melodies are fetchingly tried-and-true, the (unintentional?) stateliness of the rhythms appropriately nineteenth-century, and the instrumental overkill (twenty-four instruments massed on 'Flop-Eared Mule') both gorgeous and hilarious. A grand novelty." [15]

Columbia Records American record label; currently owned by Sony Music Entertainment

Columbia Records is an American record label owned by Sony Music Entertainment, a subsidiary of Sony Corporation of America, the North American division of Japanese conglomerate Sony. It was founded in 1887, evolving from the American Graphophone Company, the successor to the Volta Graphophone Company. Columbia is the oldest surviving brand name in the recorded sound business, and the second major company to produce records. From 1961 to 1990, Columbia recordings were released outside North America under the name CBS Records to avoid confusion with EMI's Columbia Graphophone Company. Columbia is one of Sony Music's four flagship record labels, alongside former longtime rival RCA Records, as well as Arista Records and Epic Records.

<i>Christgaus Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies</i>

Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies is a music reference book by American music journalist and essayist Robert Christgau. It was first published in October 1981 by Ticknor & Fields.

Robert Christgau American music journalist

Robert Thomas Christgau is an American essayist and music journalist. One of the earliest professional rock critics, he spent 37 years as the chief music critic and senior editor for The Village Voice, during which time he created and oversaw the annual Pazz & Jop poll. He has also covered popular music for Esquire, Creem, Newsday, Playboy, Rolling Stone, Billboard, NPR, Blender, and MSN Music, and was a visiting arts teacher at New York University.

Schuller was editor-in-chief of Jazz Masterworks Editions, and co-director of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra [16] in Washington, D.C. Another effort of preservation was his editing and posthumous premiering at Lincoln Center in 1989 of Charles Mingus's immense final work, Epitaph , subsequently released on Columbia/Sony Records. [17] He was the author of two major books on the history of jazz, Early Jazz (1968) [18] and The Swing Era (1991). [19]

His students included Irwin Swack, [20] Ralph Patt, [21] John Ferritto, Eric Alexander Hewitt, Mohammed Fairouz, Oliver Knussen, Nancy Zeltzman, Riccardo Dalli Cardillo [22] and hundreds of others. See: List of music students by teacher: R to S#Gunther Schuller .

Accomplishments in final decades

From 1993 until his death, Schuller served as Artistic Director for the Northwest Bach Festival in Spokane, Washington state. Each year the festival showcased works by J.S. Bach and other composers in venues around Spokane. At the 2010 festival, Schuller conducted the Mass in B minor at St. John's Cathedral, sung by the chamber choir from Eastern Washington University, accompanied by the Spokane Symphony. [23] Other notable performances conducted at the festival include the St Matthew Passion in 2008 and Handel's Messiah in 2005.

Schuller's association with Spokane began with guest conducting the Spokane Symphony for one week in 1982. [24] He then served as Music Director from 1984–1985 [25] and later regularly appeared as a guest conductor. Schuller also served as Artistic Director to the nearby Festival at Sandpoint. [26]

His modernist orchestral work Where the Word Ends, organized in four movements corresponding to those of a symphony, premiered at the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 2009. [7]

In 2011 Schuller published the first volume of a two-volume autobiography, Gunther Schuller: A Life in Pursuit of Music and Beauty. [27]

In 2012, Schuller premiered a new arrangement, the Treemonisha suite from Joplin's opera. It was performed as part of The Rest is Noise season at London's South Bank in 2013. [28]

Schuller died on June 21, 2015 in Boston, from complications from leukemia. He married Marjorie Black, a singer and pianist, in 1948. Their marriage produced two sons, George and Edwin, and lasted until her death in 1992. [29] [1] His sons survive him, as does his brother Edgar.

Awards and recognition

Schuller was the recipient of many awards, including the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for his composition written for the Louisville Orchestra, Of Reminiscences and Reflections , the MacArthur Foundation "genius" award (1991), [30] 1st place in the Kennedy Center Friedheim Awards (1987), the William Schuman Award (1988), given by Columbia University for "lifetime achievement in American music composition", [2] [31] and ten honorary degrees. He received the Ditson Conductor's Award in 1970. [32] In 1993, Down Beat magazine honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to jazz; the BMI Foundation bestowed another Lifetime Achievement Award on him the following year. [33] In 2005, a festival of Schuller's music directed by Bruce Brubaker involved the Boston Symphony, Harvard University, and New England Conservatory. [34] Mr. Schuller was awarded The Edward MacDowell Medal in the Arts from the MacDowell Colony in 2015. [32] "As a composer and teacher," the composer Augusta Read Thomas, the chairwoman of the selection committee for the MacDowell award, said at the time, "he has inspired generations of students, setting an example of discovery and experimentation." [2]

Grammy Award for Best Album Notes :

Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance :

Partial discography

As arranger

With John Lewis [35] [36]

With Joe Lovano

As conductor

With The New England Conservatory Ragtime Ensemble

On Birth of the Third Stream [37] [38]

With The Modern Jazz Quartet [39] [40]

With Gerard Schwarz (cornet) and the Columbia Chamber Ensemble

With Dizzy Gillespie

With Charles Mingus

As a sideman

With Frank Sinatra [41]

With Mitch Miller [42]

With Gigi Gryce [35] [43]

With Johnny Mathis [44]

With Miles Davis

With Dizzy Gillespie

With John Lewis

With Gerry Mulligan

With Julius Watkins


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