Period: Early 20th Century
Born: Sunday, November 22, 1925 in New York, New York (USA)
Died: Sunday, June 21, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts (USA)
Nation of Origin: United States
Of Reminiscences and Reflections (1994) - Pulitzer Prize
This biography is courtesy of GM Recordings. Thanks to Scott Menhinick.
Born in 1925 on the Day of St. Cecilia, the Patron Saint of music, Gunther Schuller is now one of the elder statesmen of both post-war jazz musicians and 20th Century American composers. An inaugural member of the American Classical Music Hall of Fame and winner of the DownBeat Lifetime Achievement Award, his careers as composer, conductor, educator, historian, and music advocate have each changed the face of contemporary music.
Schuller's musical odyssey began in 1942 with Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony when he was chosen as an extra French horn player for the maestro's American premiere of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 7. After six months with the American Ballet Theater Orchestra in 1943 , under Antal Dorati, Schuller was named principal French horn of the Cincinnati Symphony. It was in Cincinnati that Schuller would first meet Duke Ellington and recognize the compositional potential of jazz.
Two years later he would join the prestigious Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, playing bebop licks during warm ups and frequenting jazz clubs at night. Soon he was playing on seminal jazz albums, like "The Birth of the Cool" and "Porgy and Bess" with Miles Davis and Gil Evans, and combining jazz and classical forms in his own compositions, like "Symphonic Tribute to Duke Ellington" and "Seven Studies on Themes of Paul Klee". By the time he retired his French horn to focus on composing in 1963, Schuller had laid the foundation for the Third Stream movement with collaborators like Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy and John Lewis. Although Third Stream's attempt to splice together complex composition and virtuoso improvisation faltered with audiences and critics, endorsements of his composing from people like Leonard Bernstein propelled him to new heights in the classical arena. Schuller's works have been premiered by orchestras around the world and recognized with many honors, most notably the Pulitzer Prize and MacArthur Genius Award.
His work as an educator, at institutions like the Manhattan School of Music, Yale University, and the landmark Lenox School of Jazz, culminated in ten years as President of Boston's New England Conservatory (1967-77). He used this position, and his nearly twenty-five year stint at the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood, to legitimize jazz as a serious music and generate interest in ragtime, classic jazz, and contemporary classical music.
Never one to rest on his laurels, Schuller uses his accumulated economic and critical leverage to help others whose innovative work might otherwise remain unheard. Margun Music and GunMar Music published over 1000 works by diverse artists like William Russo, Alec Wilder, and Steve Lacy. GM Recordings has released over 100 uncompromising jazz and classical recordings, including many world premieres, debuts, and historical performances. The independent label will celebrate a rare 20th anniversary in 2001.
Still active as a world-traveling composer and conductor—winning both the Pulitzer and the DownBeat Critics Poll Jazz Album of the Year in the mid-90's—Schuller is also one of the foremost experts on the many geniuses and musical forms he has worked with over the past sixty years. His books, like The Swing Era and The Compleat Conductor, are praised for their honesty and depth of perspective. In Gunther Schuller's eyes, music is not about commercial success or a hierarchy of genres, but an understanding of the past that leads to innovation and new visions of the future.
Essay contributed by:
Slonimsky, Nicolas, Music Since 1900, Schirmer Books, July 1994, ISBN: 0028724186
Salzman, Eric, Twentieth Century Music: An Introduction, Pearson, October 2001, ISBN: 0130959413
Slonimsky, Nicolas and Kuhn, Laura; Editors, Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, Gale Group, December 2000, ISBN: 0028655257
Sadie, Stanley and Tyrrell, John; Editors, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, Groves Dictionaries, Inc., January 2004, ISBN: 0195170679
Rutherford-Johnson, Tim, Kennedy, Michael, and Kennedy, Joyce The Oxford Dictionary of Music, Oxford University Press, 6th Edition, 2012, ISBN: 0199578109
Links to essays at other sites: