Gunther Schuller

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Gunther Schuller
Schuller in 2008
Background information
Born(1925-11-22)November 22, 1925
Queens, New York, U.S.
DiedJune 21, 2015(2015-06-21) (aged 89)
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
GenresJazz, classical, third stream
Occupation(s)President of the New England Conservatory
Instrument(s)French horn, flute

Gunther Alexander Schuller (November 22, 1925 – June 21, 2015)[1] was an American composer, conductor, horn player, author, historian, educator, publisher, and jazz musician.

Biography and works[edit]

Early years[edit]

Schuller was born in Queens, New York City,[1] the son of German parents Elsie (Bernartz) and Arthur E. Schuller, a violinist with the New York Philharmonic.[2] 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.[3] During his youth, he attended the Precollege Division at the Manhattan School of Music, later going on to teach at the school.[4] But, already a high school dropout because he wanted to play professionally, Schuller never obtained a degree from any institution.[5] He began his career in jazz by recording as a horn player with Miles Davis (1949–50).[6]

Performance and growth[edit]

In 1955, Schuller and jazz pianist John Lewis founded the Modern Jazz Society,[6] 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.[7] He became an enthusiastic advocate of this style and wrote many works according to its principles, among them Transformation (1957, for jazz ensemble),[8] Concertino (1959, for jazz quartet and orchestra),[9] Abstraction (1959, for nine instruments),[10] and Variants on a Theme of Thelonious Monk (1960, for 13 instruments) utilizing Eric Dolphy and Ornette Coleman.[10] In 1966, he composed the opera The Visitation.[11] He also orchestrated Scott Joplin's only known surviving opera Treemonisha for the Houston Grand Opera's premiere production of this work in 1975.[12]

Career maturity[edit]

In 1959, Schuller largely 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.[6] Schuller wrote over 190 original compositions in many musical genres.[13]

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.[14]

In the 1970s and 1980s Schuller founded the publishers Margun Music and Gun-Mar and the record label GM Recordings.[15][16] Margun Music and Gun-Mar were sold to Music Sales Group in 1999.[17]

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: "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."[18]

Schuller was editor-in-chief of Jazz Masterworks Editions, and co-director of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra[19] 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.[20] He was the author of two major books on the history of jazz, Early Jazz (1968)[21] and The Swing Era: The Development of Jazz, 1930-1945.[22]

His students included Irwin Swack,[23] Ralph Patt,[24] John Ferritto, Mohammed Fairouz, Gitta Steiner, Oliver Knussen, Nancy Zeltsman, Riccardo Dalli Cardillo[25] and hundreds of others. See: List of music students by teacher: R to S#Gunther Schuller.

Accomplishments in final decades[edit]

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 Bach Festival Chorus, composed of professional singers in Eastern Washington, and the BachFestival, composed of members of the Spokane Symphony and others. Other notable performances Schuller 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.[26] He then served as Music Director from 1984 to 1985[27] and later regularly appeared as a guest conductor. Schuller also served as Artistic Director to the nearby Festival at Sandpoint.[28]

In 2005, the Boston Symphony, New England Conservatory, and Harvard University presented a festival of Schuller's music, curated by Bruce Brubaker, titled "I Hear America." At the time, Brubaker remarked, "Gunther Schuller is a key witness to American musical culture."[29] His modernist orchestral work Where the Word Ends, organized in four movements corresponding to those of a symphony, was premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 2009.[7]

In 2011 Schuller published the first volume of a two-volume autobiography, Gunther Schuller: A Life in Pursuit of Music and Beauty.[30]

In 2012, Schuller premiered a new arrangement, the Treemonisha suite from Joplin's opera. It was performed as part of The Rest is Noise season at London's South Bank in 2013.[31]

Schuller died on June 21, 2015, in Boston, from complications from leukemia. He married Marjorie Black, a singer and pianist, in 1948, and the marriage lasted until her death in 1992.[32][1] His sons George and Ed survived him, as did his brother Edgar.

Awards and honors[edit]


As arranger[edit]

As conductor[edit]

As a sideman[edit]

With Gigi Gryce

  • Smoke Signal (Signal, 1955)
  • In a Meditating Mood (Signal, 1955)
  • Speculation (Signal, 1955)
  • Kerry Dance (Signal, 1955)[38][44]

all tracks appearing on "Nica's Tempo"

With John Lewis

With Mitch Miller

  • Conversation Piece (Columbia, 1951)
  • Horns O' Plenty (Columbia, 1951)
  • Horn Belt Boogie (Columbia, 1951)
  • Serenade For Horns (Columbia, 1951)[45]

With Frank Sinatra

With others


  • Gunther Schuller: A Life in Pursuit of Music and Beauty. University of Rochester Press, 2011.[48]
  • The Compleat Conductor. Oxford University Press, 1998.[48]
  • The Swing Era: The Development of Jazz, 1930–1945. Oxford University Press. 1991.[48]
  • Gunther Schuller: A Bio-Bibliography by Norbert Carnovale, Greenwood Publishing Group, 1987.[48]
  • Musings: The Musical Worlds of Gunther Schuller. Oxford University Press. 1986.[48]
  • Early Jazz: Its Roots and Musical Development. Oxford University Press. 1968. New printing 1986.[48]
  • Horn Technique. Oxford University Press, 1962. New Printing 1992.[48]


  1. ^ a b c Matt Schudel (June 22, 2015). "Gunther Schuller, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer who bridged jazz and classical music, dies at 89". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 23, 2015.
  2. ^ a b Allan Kozinn (June 22, 2015). "Gunther Schuller Dies at 89; Composer Synthesized Classical and Jazz". The New York Times. Retrieved June 23, 2015.
  3. ^ "BMI Mourns the Loss of Jazz and Classical Great Gunther Schuller". BMI Foundation. June 22, 2015. Retrieved June 23, 2015.
  4. ^ "1950s". Manhattan School of Music. Archived from the original on June 23, 2015. Retrieved June 23, 2015.
  5. ^ "Gunther Schuller". New Music Box. July 2009. Retrieved June 24, 2015./
  6. ^ a b c "Gunther Schuller, Pulitzer-winning jazz and classical musician, dies aged 89". The Guardian. June 21, 2015. Retrieved June 23, 2015.
  7. ^ a b "Loomis, George, "Boston Symphony Orchestra/Levine, Symphony Hall, Boston", Financial Times (February 10, 2009)". Financial Times. February 10, 2009. Retrieved October 26, 2010.
  8. ^ Young, Logan (April 11, 2013). "Jazz Appreciation Month: Gunther Schuller, 'Transformation'". Classicalite. Retrieved June 23, 2015.
  9. ^ Giola, Ted (July 28, 2008). "Gunther Schuller: Concertino for Jazz Quartet and Orchestra". Archived from the original on April 19, 2014. Retrieved June 23, 2015.
  10. ^ a b Yanow, Scott. "John Lewis Presents Jazz Abstractions". AllMusic. Retrieved June 23, 2015.
  11. ^ Berger, Joseph (July 19, 2010). "Reclaimed Jewel Whose Attraction Can Be Perilous". The New York Times. Retrieved July 21, 2010.
  12. ^ Scherer, Barrymore Laurence (December 6, 2011). "'Treemonisha' as It Was Intended To Be". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved June 23, 2015.
  13. ^ "Gunther Schuller (1925–2015)". Horn Society. Retrieved June 23, 2015.
  14. ^ Dyer, Richard. "From the Audio Archives: Schuller, Spectra". Retrieved July 29, 2012.
  15. ^ Carnovale, Norbert; Dyer, Richard (2019). Schuller, Gunther. Oxford University Press.
  16. ^ "GM Recordings home page". Retrieved June 13, 2020.
  17. ^ Lichtman, Irv (December 4, 1999). "Words & Music". Billboard.
  18. ^ Christgau, Robert (1981). "Consumer Guide '70s: S". Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies. Ticknor & Fields. ISBN 089919026X. Retrieved March 12, 2019 – via
  19. ^ "Jazz Exhibits, Jazz Events, Smithsonian Masterworks Orchestra, Jazz Listserv, Jazz Merchandise". Smithsonian Jazz. Retrieved October 26, 2010.
  20. ^ "Mingus' Magnum Opus: 'Epitaph' In Concert". NPR. July 24, 2008. Retrieved June 23, 2015.
  21. ^ Early Jazz. The History of Jazz. Oxford University Press. June 19, 1986. ISBN 978-0-19-504043-2. Retrieved June 23, 2015.
  22. ^ The Swing Era: The Development of Jazz, 1930-1945, archived from the original on October 16, 2019, retrieved January 9, 2024
  23. ^ Dwight Winenger (September 11, 1999). "Irwin Swack Music". Archived from the original on May 12, 2013. Retrieved October 26, 2010.
  24. ^ Peterson, Jonathon (2002). "Tuning in thirds: A new approach to playing leads to a new kind of guitar". American Lutherie: The Quarterly Journal of the Guild of American Luthiers. 72 (Winter). Tacoma, WA: The Guild of American Luthiers: 36–43. ISSN 1041-7176. Archived from the original on October 21, 2011. Retrieved October 9, 2012.
  25. ^ "A music life". Archived from the original on February 19, 2014. Retrieved February 2, 2014.
  26. ^ Marty Demarest (February 8, 2002). "The Spokane Connection". Retrieved October 26, 2010.
  27. ^ "Music Director". Spokane Symphony. Retrieved October 26, 2010.
  28. ^ Michael Delucchi. "Gunther Schuller makes the music beautiful". Retrieved October 26, 2010.
  29. ^ Cleary, David, "Review of Festival – I Hear America: Gunther Schuller at 80" Archived June 15, 2012, at the Wayback Machine, New Music Connoisseur, 2005
  30. ^ "University of Rochester Press". September 9, 2020. Retrieved August 1, 2021.
  31. ^ "The Rest is Noise: American mavericks". Time Out. February 2013.
  32. ^ Jeremy Eichler (June 22, 2015). "Gunther Schuller, 89; classical-jazz giant". Boston Globe. Retrieved August 26, 2015.
  33. ^ a b "Former NEC President Gunther Schuller To Receive 2015 Edward MacDowell Medal". New England Conservatory. April 7, 2015. Retrieved June 23, 2015.
  34. ^ Musings: The Musical Worlds of Gunther Schuller by Gunther Schuller (1986), Oxford University Press
  35. ^ Tsioulcas, Anastasia (June 21, 2015). "Gunther Schuller, Who Bridged Classical Music And Jazz, Dies At 89". NPR. Retrieved June 23, 2015.
  36. ^ "American Brass Quintet Pays Tribute to Retiring Members". The Juilliard School. September 4, 2014. Retrieved June 23, 2015.
  37. ^ Cleary, David, "Review of Festival – I Hear America: Gunther Schuller at 80" Archived June 15, 2012, at the Wayback Machine, New Music Connoisseur, 2005
  38. ^ a b Mathieson, Kenny (2002). Cookin' Hard Bop and Soul Jazz, 1954–65. Edinburgh: Canongate. ISBN 9780857866165.
  39. ^ Price, Emmett G. (2010). Encyclopedia of African American Music. Oxford: Greenwood. ISBN 9780313341991.
  40. ^ Erlewine, Michael; Bogdanov, Vladimir; Woodstra, Chris; Yanow, Scott, eds. (2002). All Music Guide to Jazz (4th ed.). San Francisco: Backbeat. ISBN 9780879307172.
  41. ^ Schuller, Gunther (1999). Musings (1st Da Capo Press ed.). New York: Da Capo. ISBN 9780306809026.
  42. ^ Kirchner, Bill (2005). The Oxford companion to jazz. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195183597.
  43. ^ Cooke, Mervyn; Horn, David (2002). The Cambridge Companion to Jazz. Cambridge Companions to Music (1 ed.). New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521663205.
  44. ^ Silver, Horace (2006). Let's Get to the Nitty Gritty: The autobiography of Horace Silver. Berkeley, California: University of California Press. p. 211. ISBN 9780520243743.
  45. ^ Lambert, Philip (2013). Alec Wilder. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. p. 63. ISBN 9780252094842.
  46. ^ Do Nascimento Silva, Luis Carlos (2000). Put Your Dreams Away. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0313310556.
  47. ^ Summers, Claude (2004). The Queer Encyclopedia of Music, Dance & Musical Theater (1st ed.). San Francisco: Cleis Press. pp. 165–166. ISBN 9781573441988.
  48. ^ a b c d e f g "Books by Gunther Schuller". Goodreads. Retrieved June 23, 2015.


  • Bruce Brubaker. "Surrounded by this Incredible Vortex of Musical Expression: A Conversation with Gunther Schuller", Perspectives of New Music, Volume 49, Number 1 (Winter 2011), pp. 172-181

External links[edit]