Biography and works
Schuller was born in Queens, New York City, the son of German parents Elsie (Bernartz) and Arthur E. Schuller, a violinist with the New York Philharmonic. 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. During his youth, he attended the Precollege Division at the Manhattan School of Music, later going on to teach at the school. But, already a high school dropout because he wanted to play professionally, Schuller never obtained a degree from any institution. He began his career in jazz by recording as a horn player with Miles Davis (1949–50).
Performance and growth
In 1955, Schuller and jazz pianist John Lewis founded the Modern Jazz Society, 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. He became an enthusiastic advocate of this style and wrote many works according to its principles, among them Transformation (1957, for jazz ensemble), Concertino (1959, for jazz quartet and orchestra), Abstraction (1959, for nine instruments), and Variants on a Theme of Thelonious Monk (1960, for 13 instruments) utilizing Eric Dolphy and Ornette Coleman. In 1966, he composed the opera The Visitation. He also orchestrated Scott Joplin's only known surviving opera Treemonisha for the Houston Grand Opera's premiere production of this work in 1975.
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. Schuller wrote over 190 original compositions in many musical genres.
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.
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."
Schuller was editor-in-chief of Jazz Masterworks Editions, and co-director of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra 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. He was the author of two major books on the history of jazz, Early Jazz (1968) and The Swing Era (1991).
His students included Irwin Swack, Ralph Patt, John Ferritto, Eric Alexander Hewitt, Mohammed Fairouz, Oliver Knussen, Nancy Zeltzman, Riccardo Dalli Cardillo 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. 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. He then served as Music Director from 1984–1985 and later regularly appeared as a guest conductor. Schuller also served as Artistic Director to the nearby Festival at Sandpoint.
In 2011 Schuller published the first volume of a two-volume autobiography, Gunther Schuller: A Life in Pursuit of Music and Beauty.
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. 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), 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", and ten honorary degrees. He received the Ditson Conductor's Award in 1970. 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. In 2005, a festival of Schuller's music directed by Bruce Brubaker involved the Boston Symphony, Harvard University, and New England Conservatory. Mr. Schuller was awarded The Edward MacDowell Medal in the Arts from the MacDowell Colony in 2015. "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."
- Gunther Schuller (notes writer) for Footlifters performed by Gunther Schuller (1976)
- Gunther Schuller (conductor) & the New England Conservatory Ragtime Ensemble for Joplin: The Red Back Book (1974)
- The Modern Jazz Society Presents a Concert of Contemporary Music (Norgran, 1955)
- Django (Verve, 1955)
With Joe Lovano
- Rush Hour (Blue Note, 1994)
- Scott Joplin - The Red Back Book (Capitol, 1973)
- Three Little Feelings (Columbia, 1957)
- Poem For Brass (Columbia, 1957)
- Pharaoh (Columbia, 1957)
- Suspensions (Columbia, 1957)
- Jazz Abstractions (Atlantic, 1961)
- Exposure (Atlantic, 1960)
- Turn of the Century Cornet Favorites (CBS/Columbia Records, 1977) (M 34553)
With Dizzy Gillespie
- Perceptions (Verve, 1961)
With Charles Mingus
As a sideman
- Come Back To Sorrento (Columbia, 1950)
- April in Paris (Columbia, 1950)
- I Guess I'll Have To Dream The Rest (Columbia, 1950)
- Nevertheless (Columbia, 1950)
- Conversation Piece (Columbia, 1951)
- Horns O' Plenty (Columbia, 1951)
- Horn Belt Boogie (Columbia, 1951)
- Serenade For Horns (Columbia, 1951)
- Smoke Signal (Signal, 1955)
- In A Meditating Mood (Signal, 1955)
- Speculation (Signal, 1955)
- Kerry Dance (Signal, 1955)
With Miles Davis
- Birth of the Cool (Capitol, 1949/50, released 1957)
With Dizzy Gillespie
With John Lewis
- Odds Against Tomorrow (Soundtrack) (United Artists, 1959)
- The Golden Striker (Atlantic, 1960)
- The Wonderful World of Jazz (Atlantic, 1960)
- Essence (Atlantic, 1962)
With Gerry Mulligan
With Julius Watkins
- French Horns for My Lady (Philips, 1962)
- Musings: The Musical Worlds of Gunther Schuller. Oxford University Press. 1986.
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- The Swing Era: The Development of Jazz, 1930–1945. Oxford University Press. 1991.
- Gunther Schuller: A Bio-Bibliography Greenwood Publishing Group, 1987.
- The Compleat Conductor. Oxford University Press, 1998.
- Horn Technique. Oxford University Press, 1962. New Printing 1992.
- Gunther Schuller: A Life in Pursuit of Music and Beauty. University of Rochester Press, 2011.
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- "American Brass Quintet Pays Tribute to Retiring Members, Raymond Mase and David Wakefield, and Welcomes New Members, Louis Hanzlik and Eric Reed, on Thursday, October 16, 2014 at 8 p.m., in Juilliard's Peter Jay Sharp Theater". The Juilliard School. September 4, 2014. Retrieved June 23, 2015.
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- Gunther Schuller at the Encyclopædia Britannica
- Pro Arte biography of Gunther Schuller
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- Art of the States: Gunther Schuller Phantasmata (1989)
- Extensive DTM interview
- Two interviews with Gunther Schuller by Bruce Duffie (May 8, 1981 & October 15, 1988)
- Gunther Schuller Interview NAMM Oral History Library (2011)
- The Gunther Schuller Society