Schuller, Gunther Alexander

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Schuller, Gunther Alexander

Gunther Alexander Schuller, 1925–2015, American composer and conductor, b. Queens, N.Y. He studied French horn and flute, becoming principal hornist with the Cincinnati Symphony (1943–45) and Metropolitan Opera (1945–59). Developing an interest in jazz, he arranged Duke Ellington's music for the Cincinnati Pops and, in New York, composed works performed with the Modern Jazz Quartet, using the term "Third Stream" for his fusion of classical and jazz music. He also performed with Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Bill Evans, and other jazz greats.

As a composer, Schuller used elements of serial music and unusual combinations of instruments. His many compositions include Symphony for Brass and Percussion (1950); Transformation (1957); Concertino (1958), for jazz quartet and orchestra; Seven Studies on Themes of Paul Klee (1959); Spectra (1960); Impromptus and Cadenzas (1990); Of Reminiscences and Reflections (1994; Pulitzer Prize); The Black Warrior (1998), an oratorio based on Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Letter from the Birmingham Jail" ; Grand Concerto for Percussion and Keyboards (2005); Where the Word Ends (2009); and some 20 concertos and two operas.

Schuller taught at the Manhattan School of Music in the 1950s and Yale School of Music in the 60s; was president of the New England Conservatory (1967–77), where he formed the New England Ragtime Ensemble; and directed the Tanglewood Music Center (1970–84), where he taught from 1963. He also guest-conducted with many major orchestras, and wrote a textbook on horn technique (1962, rev. ed. 1992), a critique of modern conducting (1997), essays, and historical studies of jazz. He was awarded a MacArthur Foundation grant in 1991.

See his autobiography (2011).

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