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Gunther Schuller (Composer, Conductor, Arranger)

Born: November 22, 1925 - New York City, New York, USA
Died: June 21, 2015 - Boston, Massachusetts. USA

Gunther (Alexander) Schuller was a significant American composer, conductor, and music educator. He was of a musical family; his paternal grandfather was a bandmaster in Germany before emigrating to America; his father was a violinist with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. He was sent to Germany as a child for a thorough academic training; returning to New York, he studied at the Saint Thomas Choir School (1938-1944); also received private instruction in theory, flute, and horn.

Gunther Schuller became an accomplished horn player and flute player. At age 15 he played horn professionally with the New York City Ballet orchestra (1943); then was 1st horn in the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (1943-1945) and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in New York (1945-1949). He taught at the Manhattan School of Music in New York (1950-1963), the Yale University School of Music (1964-1967), and the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, where he greatly distinguished himself as president (1967-1977). He was also active at the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood as a teacher of composition (1963-1984), head of contemporary-music activities (1965-1984), artistic co-director (1969-1974), and director (1974-1984). In 1984-1985 he was interim music director of the Spokane (Washington) Symphony Orchestra; then was director of its Sandpoint (Idaho) Festival. In 1986 he founded the Boston Composers' Orchestra. In 1988 he was awarded the 1st Elise L. Stoeger Composer's Chair of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in New York. In 1975 he organized Margun Music to make available unpublished American music. He founded GunMar Music in 1979. In 1980 he organized GM Recordings.

During his youth, Gunther Schuller attended the Precollege Division at the Manhattan School of Music. He became fascinated with jazz; and played the horn in a combo conducted by Miles Davis (1949-1950). He also began to compose jazz pieces. In his multiple activities, Schuller tried to form a link between serious music and jazz; he popularized the style of "cool jazz" (recorded as Birth of the Cool). In 1955 Schuller and jazz pianist John Lewis founded the Modern Jazz Society, which gave its first concert in Town Hall, New York, that same year and later became known as the Jazz and Classical Music Society. While lecturing at Brandeis University in 1957 he launched the slogan "third stream" to designate the combination of classical forms with improvisatory elements of jazz as a synthesis of disparate, but not necessarily incompatible, entities. He became an enthusiastic advocate of this style and wrote many works according to its principles. As part of his investigation of the roots of jazz, he became interested in early ragtime and formed, in 1972, the New England Conservatory Ragtime Ensemble; its recordings of Scott Joplin's piano rags in band arrangement were instrumental in bringing about the "ragtime revival."

In 1959 Gunther 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. Schuller wrote over 160 original compositions. In his own works he freely applied serial methods, even when his general style was dominated by jazz. Among jos works in the "third stream" style: Transformation (1957, for jazz ensemble), Concertino (1959, for jazz quartet and orchestra; one of its movements, Progression in Tempo, was sometimes performed separately), Abstraction (1959, for nine instruments), the opera The Visitation (1966), and Variants on a Theme of Thelonious Monk (1960, for 13 instruments), which was recorded by Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, and Bill Evans. He also orchestrated Scott Joplin's only known surviving opera Treemonisha for the Houston Grand Opera's premier production of this work. 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.

Gunther Schuller published the manual Horn Technique (New York, 1962; 2nd edition, 1992). He is the author of two major books on the history of jazz: the very valuable study Early Jazz: Its Roots and Musical Development (3 vols., New York: Oxford University Press, 1968; New printing 1986) and The Swing Era: The Development of Jazz, 1930-1945 (Oxford University Press. 1991). A volume of his writings appeared as Musings (New York, 1985). Other publications: Gunther Schuller: A Bio-Bibliography (Greenwood Publishing Group, 1987); The Compleat Conductor (Oxford University Press, 1998). Schuller is editor-in-chief of Jazz Masterworks Editions, and co-director of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra in Washington, D.C. Another recent effort of preservation was his editing and posthumous premiering at Lincoln Center in 1989 of Charles Mingus' immense final work, Epitaph, subsequently released on Columbia/Sony Records.

Gunther Schuller was the recipient of many awards. He received honorary doctorates in music from Northwestern University (1967), the University of Illionois (1968), Williams College (1975), the New England Conservatory of Music (1978), and Rutgers University (1980). In 1967 he was elected to membership in the National Institute of Arts and Letters, and in 1980 to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. He received the Ditson Conductor's Award in 1970. In 1989 he received the William Schuman Award of Columbia University for "lifetime achievement in American music composition". In 1991 he was awarded a MacArthur Foundation grant. In 1994 he won the Pulitzer Prize in Music for his orchestral work, Of Reminiscences and Reflections (1993), composed for the Louisville Orchestra in memory of his wife who died in 1992. In 1993, Down Beat magazine honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to jazz. He received two Grammy Awards: Best Album Notes - Classical: Gunther Schuller (notes writer) for for Footlifters performed by Gunther Schuller (1976), and Best Chamber Music Performance: Gunther Schuller (conductor) & the New England Conservatory Ragtime Ensemble for Joplin: The Red Back (1974).

His notable students include Irwin Swack and John Ferritto. Gunther is the father of jazz percussionist George Schuller and bassist Ed Schuller.


Dramatic: Operas:
The Visitation (Hamburg, October 12, 1966)
The Fisherman and His Wife, children's opera (Boston, May 7, 1970)
A Question of Taste (Cooperstown, New York, June 24, 1989)

Variants for Jazz Quartet and orchestra (1960; New York, January 4, 1961)

Film Scores:
Automation (1962)
Journey to the Stars (962)
Yesterday in Fact (963)

Television Scores:
Tear Drop (966)
The 5 Senses, ballet (967)

2 horn concertos: No. 1 (1944; Cincinnati, April 6, 1945, composer soloist) and No. 2 (1976; Budapest, June 19, 1978)
Cello Concerto 0945; revised 1985)
Suite for Chamber Orchestra (1945)
Vertige d'Eros (1945; Madison, Wisconsin, October 15, 1967)
Symphonic Study (1947-1948; Cincinnati, May 1949)
Dramatic Overture (1951; Darmstadt, August 1954)
Recitative and Rondo for Violin and orchestra 0953; Chicago, July 16, 1967; also for Violin and Piano)
Symphonic Tribute to Duke Ellington (1955; Lenox, Massachusetts, August 19, 1976)
Little Fantasy (Englewood, New Jersey, April 7, 1957)
Contours for Chamber Orchestra (1958; Cincinnati, December 31, 1959)
Spectra (1958; New York, January 14, 1960)
Concertino for Jazz Quartet and Orchestra (1959; Baltimore, January 2, 1960)
7 Studies on Themes of Paul Klee (Minneapolis, November 27, 1959)
Capriccio for Tuba and Orchestra (1960)
Contrasts for Wind Quintet and Orchestra (1960; Donaueschingen, October 22, 1961)
Journey to the Stars (Toledo, Oh, December 1, 1962)
Movements for Flute and Strings (Dortmund, May 29, 1962)
2 piano concertos: No. 1 (Cincinnati, October 29, 1962) and No. 2 0981; Mainz, November 24, 1982)
Composition in 3 Parts (Minneapolis, March 29, 1963)
Diptych for Brass Quintet and Band (1963; also for Brass Quintet and Orchestra; Ithaca, New York, March 22, 1964)
Meditation for Band (Greensboro, N.C., March 7, 1963)
Threnos for Oboe and Orchestra (Cologne, November 29, 1963)
5 Bagatelles (Fargo, N. Dak., March 22, 1964)
American Triptych: 3 Studies in Textures (New Orleans, March 9, 1965)
Symphony (Dallas, February 8, 1965)
2 concertos: No. 1, Gala Music (Chicago, January 20, 1966) and No. 2 (Washington, DC, October 12, 1976)
5 Etudes (1966; New Haven, March 19, 1967)
Triplum I (New York, June 28, 1967) and II (Baltimore, February 26, 1975)
Colloquy for 2 Pianos and Orchestra (
Berlin, June 6, 1968)
Double Bass Concerto (New York, January 27, 1968)
Fanfare for St. Louis (St. Louis, January 24, 1968)
Shapes and Designs (Hartford, April 26, 1969)
Consequents (New Haven, December 16, 1969)
Museum Piece for Renaissance Instruments and Orchestra (Boston, December 11, 1970)
Concerto da camera for Chamber Orchestra 0971; Rochester, New York, April 24, 1972)
Capriccio stravagante (San Francisco, December 6, 1972)
3 Nocturnes (Interlochen, July 15, 1973)
4 Soundscapes - Hudson Valley Reminiscences (1974; Poughkeepsie, New York, March 7, 1975)
2 violin concertos: No. 1 (Lucerne, August 25, 1976) and No. 2 (1991)
Deai - Encounters for 7 Voices and 3 Orchestras. (Tokyo, March 17, 1978)
Contrabassoon Concerto (1978; Washington, D.C., January 16, 1979)
Trumpet Concerto (Jefferson, N.H., August 25, 1979)
Eine kleine Posaunenmusik for Trombone and Orchestra (Norfolk, Conn., July 18, 1980)
Music for a Celebration for Chorus, Audience, and Orchestra (Springfield, Massachusetts, Sept. 26, 1980)
In Praise of Winds for large Wind Orchestra (Ann Arbor, February 13, 1981)
Alto Saxophone Concerto (1983; Pittsburgh, January 18, 1984)
Concerto quarternio for Violin, Flute, Oboe, Trumpet, and Orchestra (New York, November 21, 1984)
Concerto festivo for Brass Quintet and Orchestra (Trier, November 29, 1984)
Jubilee Musik (Dayton, March 7, 1984)
Bassoon Concerto, Eine kleine Fagottmusik (Washington, D.e., May 17, 1985)
Farbenspiel, concerto (
Berlin, May 8, 1985)
Viola Concerto (New Orleans, December 17, 1985)
Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra (Madison, Wis., February 20, 1988)
Flute Concerto (Chicago, October 13, 1988)
On Winged Flight, divertimento for Band (Tallahassee, Florida, March 4, 1989)
Chamber Symphony (Cleveland, April 16, 1989)
Concerto for Piano, 3hands (2 Pianos) and Chamber Orchestra (1989; Springfield, Ill., January 19, 1990)
Ritmica Melodia Armonia (1992)
Of Reminiscences and Reflections (Louisville, December 2, 1993)
The Past is Present (1993; Cincinnati, March 25, 1994)
Organ Concerto (Calgary, October 14, 1994)

Romantic Sonata for Clarinet, Horn, and Piano 0941; rev. 1983)
Suite for Woodwind Quintet (945)
3 hommages for Horn or 2 Horns and Piano 0942-46)
Fantasia concertante No. 1 for 3 Oboes and Piano (947) and No. 2 for 3 Trombones and Piano (947)
Quartet for 4 Double Basses (947)
Perpetuum mobile for 4 Horns, and Bassoon or Tuba (1948)
Trio for Oboe, Horn, and Viola (948)
Oboe Sonata (1948-1951)
Duo Sonata for Clarinet and Bass Clarinet (1948-1949)
Fantasy for Cello (1951)
5 Pieces for 5 Horns (1952)
Recitative and Rondo for Violin and Piano (1953; also for Violin and Orchestra)
3 string quartets (1957, 1965, 1986)
Woodwind Quintet (1958)
Fantasy Quartet for 4 Cellos (1959)
Fantasy for Harp (1959)
Lines and Contrasts for 16 Horns (1960)
Double Quintet for Wind and Brass Quintets (1961)
Music for Brass Quintet (1961)
Fanfare for 4 Trumpets and 4 Trombones (1962)
Music for Carillon (1962, also arranged for other instruments)
Studies for Horn (1962)
Little Brass Music for Trumpet, Horn, Trombone, and Tuba (1963)
Episodes for Clarinet (1964)
Aphorisms for Flute and String Trio (1967)
5 Moods for 4 Tubas (1973)
Sonata serenata for Clarinet, Violin, Cello, and Piano (1978)
Octet (1979)
Piano Trio (983)
On Light Wings for Piano Quartet (1984)
Sextet for Bassoon, Piano, and String Quartet (1986)
The Sand point Rag for Ragtime Ensemble (1986; also for Brass Sextet)
Chimeric Images for Chamber Group (1988)
A Bouquet for Collage for Clarinet, Flute, Violin, Cello, Piano, and Percussion (1988)
Horn Sonata (1988)
5 Impromptus for English Horn and String Quartet (1989)
Hommage à Rayechla for 8 Cellos or Multiples Thereof (1990)
A Trio Setting for Clarinet, Violin, and Piano (1990)
Brass Quintet No. 2 (1993)
Sextet for Piano, Left-hand, and Woodwind Quintet (1994)

Sonata/Fantasia (Boston, March 28, 1993)

O Lamb of God for Chorus and Optional Organ (1941)
O Spirit of the Living God for Chorus and Optional Organ (1942)
6 Renaissance Lyrics for Tenor and 7 Instruments (1962)
Journey into Jazz for Narrator, Jazz Quintet, and Orchestra (Washington, DC, May 30, 1962)
5 Shakespearean Songs for Baritone and Orchestra (1964)
Sacred Cantata for Chorus and Chamber Orchestra (1966)
The Power within Us, oratorio for Baritone, Narrator, Chorus, and Orchestra (1971)
Poems of Time and Eternity for Chorus and 9 Instruments (1972)
Thou Art the Son of God, cantata for Chorus and Chamber Ensemble (1987)

Source: Bakerís Biographical Dictionary of 20th Century Classical Musicians (1997); Wikipedia Website (March 2010) NEC - Bachrach (Photo 06)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (May 2010, April 2017)

Gunther Schuller: Short Biography | Arrangements/Transcriptions: Works | Recordings | Northwest Bach Festival

Links to other Sites

Gunther Schuller (Wikipedia)
Gunther Schuller (
Gunther Schuller -American composer (Britannica Online Encyclopedia)

Gunther Schuller, Principal Guest Conductor (Pro Arte)
GM Recordings Gunther Schuller's recording label


J. Tassel: "Gunther Sschuller: Composer, Conductor and Musical Conscience," Ovation (November 1985)
N. Carnovale: Gunther Schuller: A Bio-Bibliography (Westport, Connecticut, 1987)

Biographies of Performers: Main Page | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z
Explanation | Acronyms | Missing Biographies | The Sad Corner


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