Gunther Schuller


On 22nd November 1925 Gunther Schuller was born in New York to German immigrant parents.  His horn ability took him to the Cincinnati Symphony at seventeen, and he joined the orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera when he was nineteen.  During this time, Schuller became involved in New york's jazz scene, playing with Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis.  A teaching career began with a position at the Manhatten School of Music, and Schuller went on to become Professor of Composition at Yale's School of Music and Artistic Director at the Tanglewood Berkshire Music Centre.  He presided over the New England Conservatory of Music from 1967-77.  Schuller has also written on a huge range of subjects, from Jazz to music aesthetics and education.  He has won many awards, including a Pulitzer Prize, a BMI Lifetime Acheivement Award, a MacArthur Foundation "genius" award, and ten honoray degrees.

Schuller's compositions combine classical and jazz influences in a style which came to be called 'third stream', in which traditional compositional techniques and instrumentation are spliced with jazz gestures, rhythms and improvisation, giving a distinctive American sound.  Schuller was not the only composer to make this fusion, but thanks to his experience and ability with both styles of music, pieces such as Symphonic Tribute to Duke Ellington and Seven Studies on Themes of Paul Klee stood out from other composers' more limp attempts.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning Of Reminiscences and Reflections is a five-part symphony for large orchestra written on the death of Schuller's wife, containing elements of 12-tone writing, dissonance and rich harmony.  The masterful An Arc Ascending takes the listener from a dark and rumbling winter through to a brilliant, jubilant summer, evoking the journey of the sun towards its highest point.  Schuller's richly textured and sophisticated music proves that modern composition can be highly emotionally expressive.

Related composers: Schonberg, Babbitt, Stravinsky

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