- Schuller, Gunther
▪ 1995Of Reminiscences and Reflections by Gunther Schuller is a work filled with unique, changing sound colours, "a hazy exercise in luxuriant orchestration," according to one critic. Dedicated to Schuller's wife, who died in 1992, it was performed only by the Louisville Orchestra, conducted by the composer, before it won the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for musical composition. If only a comparative handful of people heard the work, many may have applauded the award, considering Schuller's extraordinarily diverse half century of composing, playing, producing, teaching, and conducting music.Gunther Alexander Schuller, who was born in New York City on Nov. 22, 1925, began composing music at age 11, "which is rather late; I mean, Mozart started at three or four," and won the disapproval of his father, a violinist in the New York Philharmonic, because of his fondness for jazz. As "one of the original dropouts," Schuller left high school at 17 to play French horn in the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. While playing French horn in the orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera (1945-59), he wrote music for chamber groups and orchestras, including Seven Studies on Themes of Paul Klee, possibly his best-known work. As a "conservative radical" composer, he championed "third-stream" music, which joined jazz improvisation to classical composition, as in his Conversations and Abstraction for, respectively, the Modern Jazz Quartet and alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman with string quartets. He also composed the opera The Visitation during the height of the civil rights movement; it recast K., the protagonist of Franz Kafka's The Trial, as a contemporary African-American.Schuller's preoccupation with American music resulted in the book Early Jazz (1968), the first volume of a proposed historical trilogy. As president of the New England Conservatory of Music (1967-77), he added jazz artists and a third-stream department to the faculty. He also organized a series of ensembles to preserve distinctively American music in danger of being neglected: bands to play swing music, country fiddle music, and the music of Duke Ellington and of the Paul Whiteman orchestra; the most noted of these groups was his New England Conservatory Ragtime Ensemble, a leading factor in the 1970s revival of ragtime music. After his conservatory years he composed his second, third, and fourth symphonies and several concertos, published the second volume of his history of jazz, The Swing Era (1989), and supervised the completion and performance of a major unfinished jazz work, Epitaph, by Charles Mingus.In the 1990s Schuller composed, ran his GM recording company, and transcribed music and conducted for the Smithsonian Institution's Jazz Repertory project. The MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" that he received in 1991 had a five-year limit, but there seemed to be no limits to Schuller's energy and creative ingenuity.(JOHN LITWEILER)
* * *▪ American composerborn Nov. 22, 1925, New York, N.Y., U.S.American composer, performer, conductor, teacher, and writer noted for his wide range of activity in both jazz and classical music and for his works embracing both jazz and advanced 12-tone (12-tone music) elements.Schuller was born into a family of musicians. His grandfather was a conductor in Germany, and his father was a violinist with the New York Philharmonic for 41 years. Though largely self-taught, Schuller became a virtuoso French hornist, playing with the Cincinnati (Ohio) Symphony and Metropolitan Opera orchestras. His interest in jazz developed early when he became a fan of Duke Ellington (Ellington, Duke); he made symphonic adaptations of several Ellington pieces and in 1955 composed Symphonic Tribute to Duke Ellington. Though not considered a jazz soloist, he played with jazz ensembles such as the Modern Jazz Quartet.In his work as a composer, Schuller began in the path of Anton Webern (Webern, Anton) (known for writing concise 12-tone compositions), as illustrated by the Cello Concerto (1945). Later, he used unusual combinations of instruments in chamber music such as the Fantasia concertante (1947) in versions for three oboes or three trombones and piano and the Quartet for four double basses (1947). By 1955 Schuller was well along in combining elements from disparate musical styles in works such as his Twelve by Eleven, for chamber orchestra with jazz improvisation. By 1957 he had coined the term third stream to describe the confluence of jazz and classical techniques. Many of his other compositions fused jazz elements with classical forms.Other notable works by Schuller include Spectra (1958, first performed 1960), for sextuple orchestra; Variants (1960), music for a ballet choreographed by George Balanchine; The Fisherman and His Wife (1970), an opera for children with a libretto written by John Updike; Deaï (1978), written for two orchestras and symbolizing the merging of East and West; and Concerto for Contrabassoon (1978), the first concerto ever written for that instrument. His later works include Of Reminiscences and Reflections for orchestra (1993; Pulitzer Prize, 1994); The Black Warrior (1998), an oratorio based on Martin Luther King's "Letter from the Birmingham Jail" ; and Refrains (2006), for 12 tubas, 10 euphoniums, and percussion.He taught at the Yale School of Music (1964–67) and was president of the New England Conservatory of Music (1967–77); for 20 years he was affiliated with the Tanglewood Music Center in Massachusetts. He worked as a guest conductor or as conductor in residence for several orchestras and music festivals. Schuller also formed the New England Conservatory Ragtime Ensemble, whose recording Red-Back Book, consisting of the works of Scott Joplin, became a best seller and won a Grammy Award in 1973.Schuller is the author of educational works such as Horn Technique, 2nd ed. (1992), and The Compleat Conductor (1997). He is also a leading scholar of jazz; his books on that subject include Early Jazz: Its Roots and Musical Development (1968, reissued 1986) and The Swing Era: The Development of Jazz, 1930–1945 (1989). He also wrote the current Britannica article on jazz.
* * *