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Gunther Schuller

Gunther Schuller: A Life in Pursuit of Music and Beauty

Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 700
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  • Book Info
    Gunther Schuller
    Book Description:

    Simultaneously the memoir of a famed composer, conductor, and music educator, and an important historical sourcebook on the American musical scene during the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, the autobiography of Gunther Schuller chronicles the first thirty-five years of this multifaceted and expansive figure's life and work. Schuller began composing music at an early age and joined the Cincinnati Symphony as its principal French horn player at seventeen. Since then he has written for many major orchestras and his work has earned him a MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant and the Pulitzer Prize in 1994 for his large-scale orchestral piece ‘Of Reminiscences and Reflections’. Perhaps most famously, Schuller contributed to a new stylistic blend between progressive factions of jazz and classical music, for which he coined the term "Third Stream," and collaborated with John Lewis, the Modern Jazz Quartet, and others in the development of this style. In this exquisitely detailed reflection on his early influences, experiences of good fortune, and powers of curiosity, as well as firsthand recounting of critical cultural and social moments and major movers of the jazz world, Schuller here beautifully and honestly narrates a life lived beyond limits. Gunther Schuller has been on the faculties of the Manhattan School of Music and Yale University; he was, for many years, head of contemporary music activities (succeeding Aaron Copland) and director of the Tanglewood Music Center, and served as president of the New England Conservatory. He is the author of ‘The Swing Era: The Development of Jazz, 1930-1945’; ‘Early Jazz: Its Roots and Musical Development’; ‘The Complete Conductor’, and many other books.

    eISBN: 978-1-58046-783-4
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. INTRODUCTION: The Musician as Mediator
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    Joan Shelley Rubin

    Near the beginning of his landmark study Early Jazz (1968), Gunther Schuller describes a chord pattern called “fours” that jazz musicians sometimes introduce into the conventional thirty-two bar song form. After noting that the pattern can give rise to intriguing sounds when the improvisers play different parts of the whole structure as the piece progresses, he remarks, “The ‘bridge’ produces especially interesting combinations.” It is tempting to apply Schuller’s characterization of a musical device to the man himself. In the course of the career that this rich memoir documents, Schuller bridged Europe and the United States, whites and African-Americans, classical...

    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. Chapter One CHILDHOOD
    (pp. 1-35)

    I felt that i had never before seen such an intensely radiant yet translucent green. It was overwhelming and incomprehensible: how could there be something so beautiful, so magical, so mystical—and yet so common, so universal. Maybe it was its very universality, its omnipresence, that made it so unique—a vivid, pellucid green that seemed to burn into my very soul.

    Or was it the bright, clear sky blue that set off the sunlit green and made it so luminescent? The leaves trembling in a gentle breeze, boundless in their variety of shape and size, were gathered in my...

  6. Chapter Two BOYHOOD
    (pp. 36-97)

    It was only a little toy glockenspiel, but, curiously, it inspired me to do something that I had never contemplated, even in my wildest daydreams, namely, to compose some music. On a scale of one to ten (a Stradivarius being a ten and my father’s early nineteenth-century Klotz violin a solid eight), Edgar’s toy glockenspiel was a minus one. It wasn’t a real glockenspiel; it produced a tinny, clinky-clanky, resonantless sound. But somehow—weirdly—I became drawn to it as my eight-year-old brother kept banging away endlessly at the thing. Our parents had given Edgar the toy for Christmas, and...

  7. Chapter Three YOUTH
    (pp. 98-166)

    It was in one of those enormous apartments that used to be so plentiful on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, especially around Seventy-Second or Eighty-Sixth Street, that I was ushered into a large, richly carpeted living room. It was virtually empty except for some highbacked chairs, tables, and lamps; around the perimeter were large earthen jars with flowers, and at one end a huge baronial fireplace. On the far side of the room stood a seven-foot grand piano, loaded with piles of scores. Oddest of all, and unexpected in a living room, was a large crib at one end,...

    (pp. 167-181)

    It didn’t take me long to realize that forsaking Marjorie in my last few weeks in Cincinnati, abandoning her for Gussie, was a colossal stupidity. Soon after I got home to New York, staying with my parents in Jamaica, Queens, I began to see how foolish I had been to allow myself to be enticed away from my true love. Back in New York, I had some time to reflect on my new situation, to ponder why deep down I was in a kind of emotional torpor. For the first time in my life I sat around listless, unfocused, oddly...

  9. Chapter Four DISCOVERING JAZZ
    (pp. 182-204)

    Up to the time that I moved to Cincinnati in 1943 to join the orchestra there, my musical interests and studies had been primarily in classical music. I had discovered jazz by then, of course, although rather late compared to the average American youngster. That was a function of my spending four years in Germany, in the relative isolation of a private school in a country—Nazi Germany—where jazz was a forbidden (verboten) music from 1933 on. There was absolutely no way I could have heard any jazz during those four and a half years. When I did discover...

    (pp. 205-246)

    As happened so often in my young life, some event or chance meeting came to rescue me from some bad or worrying situation, in this case picking me up out of my conflicted doldrums. Suddenly in mid-September I received a call from the personnel manager of the Philadelphia La Scala Opera Company to join them on first horn for a two-week tour in the Midwest. My Italian connections were evidently at work again here, as my colleague Mimi Caputo had recommended me for the job. It was a perfect prelude and preparation for my joining the Met orchestra. The La...

    (pp. 247-299)

    Even on my very first day back in New York, after six weeks of touring and a passionate afternoon reunion with Margie—I wrote in one of my rare diary entries, “what a relief to get even with Mother Nature”—that same evening we went to the Three Deuces on Fifty-Second Street to hear Bill de Arango’s¹ Quintet (with the fine supportive pianist, Tony Aless) and a Charlie Ventura group featuring the young Danish-American trombonist Kai Winding and the wonderfully gifted, constantly inventive (only twenty-year-old) Shelly Manne.

    All kinds of momentous things were happening in jazz at the time. The...

  12. Photographs
    (pp. None)
    (pp. 300-375)

    The Met’s national tour in the spring of 1947 was divided into two segments, the first two weeks in Baltimore and Boston in March, the second part from early April to late May through the South and Midwest. For the week between those two segments we returned to New York, primarily to give our annual Good Friday performances of Parsifal, a work I loved so much that I would have been happy to play it ten or twenty times a season, as opposed to the two or three performances we gave every year.¹ I realized that many of my Met...

  14. Chapter Eight GREAT YEARS AT THE MET
    (pp. 376-436)

    “Fifteen-minute demonstration follows last night’s performance at the Metropolitan.” Thus spake the New York Times in a headline. And indeed, it was one of the greatest triumphs in the sixty-five-year history of the Metropolitan Opera, maybe even the ultimate pinnacle of artistic achievement and audience approbation up to that time—a sustained wild ovation, the likes of which I had never previously witnessed, nor had any of my veteran orchestra colleagues. To put this in proper perspective, one has to realize that audience acclamations in the 1940s were not yet the overly ostentatious, instant standing ovations of today.¹ The event...

  15. Chapter Nine THE THIRD STREAM
    (pp. 437-498)

    During the early fifties so much of my involvement with jazz came about because of my close friendship and professional relationship with John Lewis. We talked just about every day on the telephone, sometimes for hours on end. We discussed all sorts of musical matters and issues and problems, in a sense educating each other about our different professional areas, but also beginning to plan all kinds of collaborative ventures—new musical organizations, concerts, recordings, workshops—all with the intent of bringing classical music and jazz (also classical and jazz musicians) together, in a variety of mutually creative ways.


    (pp. 499-568)

    It was in 1949 that I composed a work that several years later would bring me my first major recognition as a most promising new talent, as a composer of considerable significance. Thus spake some of New York’s most respected and powerful music critics about my Symphony for Brass and Percussion in 1956. Prior to that, all the music I had written in Cincinnati and then in New York had either never been performed at all or only in private, among a small circle of friends and colleagues (as was the case, for example, with my Trio for Oboe, Horn,...

  17. POSTLUDE Who I Am—Now
    (pp. 569-570)

    Well, to begin with, I’m a heck of a lot older—eighty-five, to be exact—and luckily still in very good health. In any case, I feel very young, more or less just as I felt when I was twenty-two. I am also fortunate that I love work, and love working hard. No, I’m not a workaholic. I just enjoy my work, and it consumes virtually my entire life. It may sound funny, but I wouldn’t know what to do if it weren’t for my work. In fact, the word “work” is hardly in my vocabulary, at least in the...

  18. NOTES
    (pp. 571-628)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 629-664)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 665-667)