Joseph Schillinger

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Joseph Schillinger and the Rhythmicon

Joseph Moiseyevich Schillinger (Russian: Иосиф Моисеевич Шиллингер, 1 September [O.S. 20 August] 1895[1][2] (other sources: 31 August [O.S. 19 August] 1895[3]) – 23 March 1943) was a composer, music theorist, and composition teacher who originated the Schillinger System of Musical Composition. He was born in Kharkiv, in the Kharkov Governorate of the Russian Empire (present-day Ukraine) and died in New York City.

Life and career[edit]

The unprecedented migration of European knowledge and culture that swept from East to West during the first decades of the 20th Century included figures such as Prokofiev and Rachmaninov, great composers who were the product of the renowned Russian system of music education. Schillinger came from this background, dedicated to creating truly professional musicians, having been a student of the St Petersburg Imperial Conservatory of Music. Unlike his more famous contemporaries, Schillinger was a natural teacher and communicated his musical knowledge in the form of a precise written theory, using mathematical expressions to describe art, architecture, design and (most insistently, and with most detail and success) music.[citation needed]

In New York, Schillinger flourished, becoming famous as the advisor to many of America's leading popular musicians and concert music composers including George Gershwin, Earle Brown, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Oscar Levant, Tommy Dorsey and Henry Cowell.[citation needed]

George Gershwin spent four years (1932–1936) studying with Schillinger. During this period, he composed Porgy and Bess and consulted Schillinger on matters concerning the opera, particularly its orchestration. There has been some disagreement about the nature of Schillinger's influence on Gershwin. After the posthumous success of Porgy and Bess, Schillinger claimed he had a large and direct influence in overseeing the creation of the opera; George's brother Ira Gershwin completely denied that his brother had any such assistance for this work. A third account of Gershwin's musical relationship with his teacher was written by Gershwin's close friend Vernon Duke, also a Schillinger student, in an article for The Musical Quarterly in 1947.[4] Some of Gershwin's notebooks from his studies with Joseph Schillinger can be found at the Library of Congress.

In the field of electronic music, Schillinger collaborated with Léon Theremin, the inventor of an early electronic musical instrument, the Theremin. Schillinger wrote his First Airphonic Suite for Léon Theremin, who played the instrument at the premiere in 1929 with the Cleveland Orchestra, conducted by Nikolai Sokoloff.[citation needed]

Chart by Joseph Schillinger graphing Johann Sebastian Bach's Invention no. 8 in F Major, BWV 779

His mathematical principles were applied to various fields other than music. For example, Schillinger collaborated with the film maker Mary Ellen Bute and he also published a new method of dance notation.[5]

In the USA Schillinger taught at a number of educational institutions, including The New School, but his greatest success was his postal tuition courses,[citation needed] which later became The Schillinger System of Musical Composition, published posthumously in a 2 volume set compiled by Lyle Dowling and Arnold Shaw.

Schillinger accredited a small group of students as qualified teachers of the System and after his death, one of them, Lawrence Berk, founded a music school in Boston to continue the dissemination of the System. Schillinger House opened in 1945 and later became the Berklee College of Music where the System survived in the curriculum until the early 1970s.[citation needed]

There has been debate surrounding how many teachers were certified by Schillinger himself. The numbers cited range from seven to twelve certified teachers. Yet, to date, only seven certified teachers of the Schillinger System have been substantiated. Three certified teachers were Asher Zlotnik of Baltimore, Maryland, a student and personal friend of Lyle Dowling,[6] Edwin Gerschefski,[7] and Roland Wiggins.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gojowy, Detlef (2005). "Schillinger, Joseph". In Finscher, Ludwig (ed.). Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart. Personenteil 14 (Riccati – Schönstein) (2 ed.). Kassel/Stuttgart: Bärenreiter/Metzler. ISBN 978-3-7618-1134-4.
  2. ^ "Schillinger, Joseph". SNAC. Retrieved 6 September 2018.
  3. ^ Burk, James M.; Schneider, Wayne J. (2001). "Schillinger, Joseph (Moiseyevich) [Lynn, Frank]". Grove Music Online (8th ed.). Oxford University Press.
  4. ^ Dukelsky, Vladimir (Vernon Duke) (1947). "Gerswhin, Schillinger, and Dukelsky: Some Reminiscences". The Musical Quarterly. 33: 102–115. doi:10.1093/mq/xxxiii.1.102.
  5. ^ "A Modern Instantiation of Schillinger's Dance Notation". doi:10.1080/07494467.2011.636204. S2CID 62206676. Retrieved 5 August 2019. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  6. ^ "Asher G. Zlotnik Papers". University of Maryland Special Collections in Performing Arts. hdl:1903.1/1210. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  7. ^ Goss, Glenda Dawn, Jean Sibelius: A Guide to Research, Routledge (Routledge Music Bibliographies), 1997. ISBN 978-0-8153-1171-3. Cf. p.216 on Edwin Gerschefski in the summary of his son's (Peter Edwin Gerschefski) Ph.D. thesis at Florida State University in 1962 on Jean Sibelius.
  8. ^ "House Joint Resolution #419". Virginia's Legislative Information System. Virginia Legislature. Retrieved 19 July 2020.

Further reading[edit]

  • Anderson, Ruth. Contemporary American composers. A Biographical Dictionary, 2nd edition, G. K. Hall, 1982, ISBN 081618223X
  • Arden, Jeremy, "Keys to the Schillinger System, course A, Basic principles and foundations"; Rose Books 2006, ISBN 1-59386-031-5
  • Arden. Jeremy, Keys to the Schillinger System, course B, Basic principles and foundations.; Rose Books 2008, ISBN 978-1-59386-032-5
  • Arden, Jeremy, "Focussing the musical imagination: exploring in composition the ideas and techniques of Joseph Schillinger", Ph.D. thesis 1996, City University, London.
  • Brodsky, Warren. "Joseph Schillinger (1895-1943): Music Science Promethean" American Music 21/1 (Spring, 2003): 45-73.
  • Butterworth, Neil. A Dictionary of American Composers, Garland, 1984.
  • Lyman, Darryl. Great Jews in Music, J. D. Publishers, 1986.
  • Sadie, Stanley; Hitchcock, H. Wiley (Ed.). The New Grove Dictionary of American Music. Grove's Dictionaries of Music, 1986.
  • Schillinger.J; The Schillinger System of Musical Composition (two volumes.); Rose Books 2005; ISBN 1-59386-028-5
  • Sitsky, Larry. Music of the repressed Russian avant-garde, 1900–1929, Greenwood Press, 1994.
  • Dowling, Lyle. A Brief Note on the Schillinger System. New York: Allied Music, 1942.
  • Carter, Elliott. "The Schillinger Case: Fallacy of the Mechanistic Approach." Modern Music 23 (1946): 228-230.
  • Cowell, Henry and Sidney. "The Schillinger Case: Charting the Musical Range," Modern Music 23/3 (1946): 226-8
  • Cowell, Henry. "Joseph Schillinger as Composer," Music News 39/3 (1947): 5-6
  • Duke, Vernon. "Gershwin, Schillinger, Dukelsky: Some Reminiscences," Musical Quarterly 33/1 (1947): 102-115
  • Human, Alfred. "Schillinger Challenges Genius," Musical Digest 29/8 (April, 1947): 12-14, 16.
  • Previn, Charles. "Schillinger's Influence on Film Music," Music News 39/3 (1947): 39-40.
  • Shaw, Arnold. "What is the Schillinger System?" Music News 39/3 (1947): 37-38.
  • Slonimsky, Nicholas. "Schillinger of Russia and the World," Music News 39/3 (1947): 3-4.
  • Schillinger, Frances. Joseph Schillinger: a Memoir. New York: Greenberg, 1949 (Reprint: New York: Da Capo Press, 1976)
  • Solomon, Seymour. "Schillinger and 20th Century Rationalist Trends in Music," Music Forum and Digest (Jan., 1950): 4-5
  • Smith, Charles Samuel. "An Analysis of Selected Mathematical Aspects of Schillinger's Approach to Music," M.A. Thesis, University of Iowa, 1951.
  • Backus, John. "Pseudo-Science in Music," Journal of Music Theory 4 (1960): 221-232.
  • Gojowy, Detlef. "Sowjetische Avantgardisten," Musik und Bildung 1/12 (Dec. 1969): 537-542.
  • Vaglio, Anthony. "The Compositional Significance of Joseph Schillinger's System of Musical Composition as Reflected in the Works of Edwin Gerschefski," Ph.D., diss. University of Rochester, Eastman School of Music, 1977.
  • Augustine, Daniel. "Four Theories of Music in the United States, 1900-1950: Cowell, Yasser, Partch, Schillinger," Ph.D. diss., University of Texas, 1979.
  • Burk, James M. "Schillinger's Double Equal Temperament System." In The Psychology and Acoustics of Music: a Collection of Papers, ed. E. Asmus. Lawrence, KS: [publisher], 1979.
  • Gilbert, Steven E. "Gershwin's Art of Counterpoint." Musical Quarterly 70/4 (1984): 423-456.
  • Burk, James M. "Joseph (Moiseyevich) Schillinger," in New Grove Dictionary of American Music, ed. By H. Wiley Hitchcock. New York: Macmillan/Groves Dictionaries, 1986.
  • Isenberg, Arnold. "Analytical Philosophy and The Study of Art," Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 46 (1987)
  • Heath, James. "Joseph Schillinger: Educator and Visionary," Jazz Research Papers (IAJE) 10 (1990): 126-131.
  • Nauert, Paul. "Theory and Practice in Porgy and Bess: the Gershwin-Schillinger Connection," Musical Quarterly 78 (1994): 9-33.
  • Sitsky, Larry. Music of the Repressed Russian Avant-Garde, 1900-1929. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1994.
  • Beyer, Richard. "George Gershwin's Variations on 'I Got Rhythm'," Musica 49/4 (July-Aug 1995): 233-238.
  • Rosar, William H. "Letter to the Editor," Musical Quarterly 80 (1996): 182-184. [response and amplification to Nauert's article]
  • Levinson, Ilya. "What the Triangles Have Told Me: Manifestations of the Schillinger System of Musical Composition in George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess," Ph.D. diss., University of Chicago, 1997.
  • Weissberg, David Jeffrey. "Fractals and Music" Ph.D. dissertation, Rutgers University, 2000.
  • Quist, Ned. "Toward a Reconstruction of the Legacy of Joseph Schillinger" MLA Notes 58/4 (June 2002): 765-786.
  • Review of "Music from the Ether: Original Works for Theremin" American Music 22/1 (Spring 2004): [192]-197.

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