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Alec Wilder

Alec Wilder

Philip Lambert
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 184
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  • Book Info
    Alec Wilder
    Book Description:

    The music of Alec Wilder (1907-1980) blends several American musical traditions, such as jazz and the American popular song, with classical European forms and techniques. Stylish and accessible, Wilder's musical oeuvre ranged from sonatas, suites, concertos, operas, ballets, and art songs to woodwind quintets, brass quintets, jazz suites, and hundreds of popular songs. In this biography and critical investigation of Wilder's music, Philip Lambert chronicles Wilder's early work as a part-time student at the Eastman School of Music, his ascent through the ranks of the commercial recording industry in New York City in the 1930s and 1940s, his turn toward concert music from the 1950s onward, and his devotion late in his life to the study of American popular songs of the first half of the twentieth century. The book discusses some of his best-known music, such as the revolutionary octets and songs such as I'll Be Around, While We're Young, and Blackberry Winter, and explains the unique blend of cultivated and vernacular traditions in his singular musical language.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09484-2
    Subjects: Music, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xx)
  6. 1 Awakenings: Musical Experiences through the Early 1930s
    (pp. 1-16)

    From the moment of his birth, on February 16, 1907, in Rochester, New York, Alexander Wilder was a child of privilege. His father’s family were prominent local bankers. His mother’s family, descended from the Chews of New Orleans, had similarly prospered at the First National Bank of nearby Geneva. His full name, Alexander Lafayette Chew Wilder, sustained a legacy from his mother’s father, Alexander Lafayette Chew, whose godfather was the Marquis de Lafayette. Writing about his early life years later, Wilder recalled a childhood of comfort and affluence in a large house well stocked with material possessions and maintained by...

  7. 2 Breakthroughs: First Professional Successes in the 1930s and 1940s
    (pp. 17-45)

    In the late 1930s, with the United States moving from economic depression to global military conflict, the Swing Era was reaching its zenith in the recordings and radio broadcasts of big bands led by Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey, and Glenn Miller. Smaller groups like the John Kirby Sextet and the Raymond Scott Quintette flourished as well, playing original compositions or arrangements of popular songs by Irving Berlin and George Gershwin and other pillars of American songwriting. Alec Wilder remembered the flavor of the center of the jazz world, West Fifty-second Street in New York,...

  8. 3 Evolutions: Compositional Maturity in the 1950s
    (pp. 46-72)

    From the late 1940s through the 1950s, Alec Wilder pursued a long-held goal with growing confidence and perseverance. Having made his name as a songwriter-arranger, he now aspired to become more of a “composer.” He never abandoned the popular song; in a way, the popular song abandoned him, in the voices and antics of Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis Presley. “As the new amateur, noisy, clumsy, tasteless writers came into power,” Wilder later recalled, “it became increasingly less fun to try to write a respectable, professional, stylish, tasteful song” (The Search, 92). But he did continue to try,...

  9. 4 Loyalties: The Prolific 1960s
    (pp. 73-91)

    In november 1972, Alec Wilder wrote a reflective essay for the New York Times about the state of music at the end of a tumultuous decade.¹ “My particular complaint about rock,” he explained, “is its continuing amateur point of view. For while amateurs can produce miracles, they can do it only once.” Wilder wrote that he had witnessed remarkable professionalism in students at traditional music schools and colleges all over America, but that their efforts were seldom publicized, that they were “too calm, too quiet, and too civilized to constitute good copy.” Rock musicians with “no destination” were getting all...

  10. 5 Celebrations: Reflection and Reaffirmation in the 1970s
    (pp. 92-110)

    Alec wilder’s final decade unfolded with recurring themes and new ones. His catalog of original compositions for instrumental groups, large and small, continued to grow, as did his collection of distinguished contributions to the popular-song genre. His interest in writing for the stage persisted as well. But a deepening friendship with Marian McPartland inspired a new fascination with piano jazz, manifested in a series of short compositions and one larger one. Still more pivotal was a new attitude of reflection and historical contemplation, both personal and professional, and a commitment to preserve his thoughts for posterity. He had always been...

  11. 6 The Music of Alec Wilder: An Assessment
    (pp. 111-114)

    In histories of american music in the twentieth century, Alec Wilder has stood just where he wanted to be: in the gaps. While his claims of embracing obscurity never seem completely genuine, he certainly took pleasure in testing the limits of traditional categories and prejudices, writing music that makes us question how and why conventional margins had been defined. “Labels bore me,” he wrote (The Search, 41). Unfortunately, his self-definition has been an obstacle to a full assessment of his significance and contributions. Having no true home in either jazz or classical spheres, his work has been too readily dismissed...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 115-130)
    (pp. 131-142)
    (pp. 143-144)
    (pp. 145-146)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 147-153)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 154-157)