Joseph Schwantner

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Joseph Schwantner
Born (1943-03-22) March 22, 1943 (age 80)
Chicago, Illinois
OccupationModern classical composer
Notable workAftertones of Infinity
AwardsPulitzer Prize for Music (1979)
WebsiteOfficial site

Joseph Clyde Schwantner (born March 22, 1943, Chicago, Illinois) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning[1] American composer, educator and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 2002.[2] He was awarded the 1970 Charles Ives Prize.[3]

Schwantner is prolific, with many works to his credit.[4] His style is coloristic and eclectic, drawing on such diverse elements as French impressionism, African drumming, and minimalism. His orchestral work Aftertones of Infinity received the 1979 Pulitzer Prize for Music.[1]

Biographical information[edit]

Schwantner began his musical study at an early age in classical guitar; this study also incorporated the genres of jazz and folk. He also played the tuba in his high school orchestra. His first compositional aspirations were noticed by his guitar teacher who consistently experienced Schwantner elaborating on pieces he would be studying. From this, Schwantner's teacher suggested he collect these ideas and create his own musical composition. One of his earliest compositions was in the jazz idiom. The piece Offbeats won the National Band Camp Award in 1959.[5]

Remaining in Chicago, he continued his musical study in composition to the city's American Conservatory, where he graduated with a bachelor's degree in 1964. Here, Schwantner studied with Bernard Dieter. He was exposed to and closely explored the music of Debussy, Bartók, and Messiaen. His graduate study also occurred in Chicago, obtaining master of music and doctorate of music degrees in composition from Northwestern University in 1966 and 1968 respectively. At Northwestern, he was guided under the tutelage of Alan Stout and Anthony Donato. Building on his experiences at the American Conservatory, Schwantner was engaged by the music of Berio and Rochberg.[6]

These influences, along with those from his undergraduate study, will prove to be distinct and effective influences on his compositional output. As a student of composition, Schwantner continued to aspire with three works being recognized with BMI Student Composer Awards.

After completing his education, Schwantner obtained an assistant professor position at Pacific Lutheran University in 1968. He moved to a similar position at Ball State in 1969 and continued to the Eastman School of Music as a faculty member in 1970. Briefly leaving college academia, Schwantner was composer in residence with the St. Louis Symphony from 1982 to 1984. In 1985, Schwantner's life and music were the subject of a documentary in WGBH Boston's Soundings series. The documentary focused mainly on the composition of his piece New Morning for the World, for narrator and orchestra.[7]

His faculty work continued at the Juilliard School in 1986, and he has currently maintained a position at Yale since 1999. Schwantner retired from his position at Eastman in 1999. His most notable commissions include the song cycle Magabunda for orchestra in 1983, A Sudden Rainbow in 1986, the guitar concerto From Afar... in 1987, and a piano concerto in 1988.[citation needed]

Compositional style[edit]

One of Schwantner's early works, Diaphonia intervallum (1967) distinctly foreshadowed the important style traits that would later exist in his music. Beyond its serial structure such elements as individualized style, pedal points, timbre experimentation, instrumental groupings, and the use of extreme ranges were apparent even at this formative stage of Schwantner's career. Upon his appointment to the faculty of the Eastman School of Music, Schwantner's work Consortium I was premiered in 1970. This piece clearly illustrates his personal use of serialism, including many twelve-tone rows hidden among the texture and using a specific intervallic structure to provide cohesion. Consortium II also continued this emphasis on his personal application of serialism.

From these works, Schwantner turned from this focus on serialism to delve into the effects of tone color in his compositions. This is clearly noticed in his extended use of percussion instruments. Examples of his use of timbre as an important compositional element are found in In aeternum (1973) and Elixir (1976). This can be seen in his larger works for band as well. In ...and the mountains rising nowhere (1977) the six percussionists play a total of 46 instruments in an effort to give the percussion section a more prominent role than what was typical for band works during the 1970s.[8]

From this stage he began to also concentrate on obtaining clearer tonal centers in works such as Music of Amber (1981) and New Morning for the World: 'Daybreak of Freedom' (1982).[5] Even as he embraces tonal centers, Schwantner resists the very conventional employment of the dominant-tonic relationships and the Western music expansion of that concept. Rather, Schwantner's tonal centers are created by pitch emphasis, perhaps like the American composer Aaron Copland in a piece like El Salón México. His serialism roots even purvey his tonal structures; clearly defined major and minor scales are scarce in Schwantner's music. Instead, he uses pitch sets to establish organization. Schwantner's later works have integrated minimalist elements. This can be seen in his monumental percussion concerto. However, a very present focus on timbre and tone remain quite evident. His scores are published by the Schott Helicon Music Corporation.[citation needed]




  • A Play of Shadows for Flute and Chamber Orchestra
  • A Sudden Rainbow
  • Aftertones of Infinity (1978)
  • Angelfire (2002), Fantasy for Amplified Violin and Orchestra, written for the violinist Anne Akiko Meyers
  • Beyond Autumn, Poem for Horn and Orchestra
  • Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra (1994)
  • Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1988)
  • Distant Runes and Incantations for Piano solo (amplified) and Orchestra
  • Dreamcaller, three Songs for Soprano, Violin solo, and Orchestra
  • Evening Land Symphony
  • Freeflight, Fanfares & Fantasy
  • From Afar..., Fantasy for Guitar and Orchestra
  • Magabunda (Witchnomad), "four Poems of Agueda Pizarro" for Soprano and Orchestra
  • Modus Caelestis
  • Morning's Embrace (2006)
  • New Morning for the World "Daybreak of Freedom" for Narrator and Orchestra (1982)
  • September Canticle Fantasy (In Memoriam)
  • Toward Light
  • Chasing Light (2008)

Wind ensemble[edit]

  • ...and the mountains rising nowhere (1977)
  • From a Dark Millennium (1980)
  • In evening's stillness... (1996)
  • Recoil (2004)
  • Percussion Concerto (transcribed by Andrew Boysen) (1997)
  • Beyond Autumn (transcribed by Timothy Miles) (2006)
  • New Morning for the World "Daybreak of Freedom" (transcribed by Nikk Pilato) (2007)
  • Luminosity: Concerto for Wind Orchestra (2015)
  • The Awakening Hour (2017)

Chamber ensemble[edit]

  • Black Anemones, for soprano and piano
  • Canticle of the Evening Bells, for solo flute, oboe/English horn, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, horn, trombone, piano, percussion, and strings
  • Chronicon, for bassoon and piano
  • Consortium I, for flute, clarinet, violin, viola, cello
  • Consortium II, for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano, and percussion
  • Distant Runes and Incantations, for flute, clarinet, 2 violins, viola, cello, piano, and percussion
  • Elixir, for flute, clarinet, violin, viola, cello, and piano
  • Diaphonia Intervallum, for alto saxophone, flute, clarinet, 2 violins, viola, 2 celli, string bass, and piano
  • In Aeternum (Consortium IV), for cello/bowed crotales, alto flute (flute, piano watergong, 2 crystal glasses), bass clarinet (clarinet, watergong, 2 crystal glasses), viola (violin, crotales), and percussion
  • Music of Amber, for flute, clarinet/bass clarinet, violin, cello, piano and percussion
  • Rhiannon's Blackbirds, for flute/piccolo, clarinet/bass clarinet, violin/viola, cello, piano, and percussion
  • Soaring, for flute and piano
  • Sparrows, for flute/piccolo, clarinet, violin, viola, cello, piano, soprano, and percussion


  • Velocities (Moto Perpetuo) for solo marimba (1990)

Representative performances[edit]

Concerto for Percussion, Movement 1: Con Forza on YouTube

  • University of Michigan Band, 8 March 2012
  • Michael Haithcock, conductor
  • Jonathan Ovalle, percussion

... and the mountains rising nowhere on YouTube

  • The President's Own United States Marine Band: The Bicentennial Collection

New Morning for the World: Daybreak of Freedom on YouTube

  • The Lamont Wind Ensemble
  • Dr. Joseph Martin, conductor
  • Mayor Michael B. Hancock, guest narrator

New Morning for the World: Daybreak of Freedom (Premiere of wind ensemble version) on YouTube

  • Florida State University Wind Orchestra
  • Dr. Nikk Pilato, conductor
  • Dr. David Eccles, narrator

From A Dark Millennium

  • North Texas Wind Symphony
  • Eugene Migliaro Corporon, conductor

Selected discography[edit]

The Music of Joseph Schwantner (1997)

  • Velocities
  • Concerto for Percussion and Wind Orchestra
  • New Morning for the World
  • The National Symphony Orchestra, Evelyn Glennie, percussion and solo marimba, Leonard Slatkin, conductor
  • BMG Classics/RCA Red Seal CD 09026-68692-2

From Afar..."A Fantasy for Guitar" and "American Landscapes" (1987)

  • Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Sharon Isbin, guita, Hugh Wolff, conductor
  • Virgin Classics CDC 7243-5-55083-2-4

New Morning for the World for narrator and orchestra

  • The Eastman Philharmonia Orchestra, Willie Stargell, narrator, David Effron, music director
  • Mercury 2890411 031-1

New Morning for the World "Daybreak of Freedom" (1982)

  • Oregon Symphony, Raymond Bazemore, narrator, James DePreist, conductor
  • Koch International Classics CD 3-7293-2H1

From a Dark Millennium "Dream Catchers" (1981)

  • North Texas Wind Symphony, Eugene Corporon, conductor
  • Klavier Records KCD 11089

In Evening's Stillness..."Wind Dances" (1996)

  • North Texas Wind Symphony, Eugene Corporon, conductor
  • Klavier Records KCD 11084

...and the mountains rising nowhere (1977)

  • The Eastman Wind Ensemble
  • Donald Hunsberger, music director
  • Sony Records SK 47198

From a Dark Millennium (1981)

  • Ithaca College Wind Ensemble, Rodney Winther, conductor
  • Ithaca College School of Music
  • Mark Records, Inc MCBS 35891

Notable students[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "1979 Winners". Pulitzer Prize. Retrieved 23 March 2014. Music : Aftertones of Infinity by Joseph Schwantner. First performed by the American Composers Orchestra on January 29, 1979 in Alice Tully Hall New York City.
  2. ^ "Current Members". American Academy of Arts and Letters. Archived from the original on June 24, 2016. Retrieved March 23, 2014. Joseph Schwantner – Music – 2002
  3. ^ a b "Award Winners – Music – Charles Ives prize". American Academy of Arts and Letters. Archived from the original on 31 January 2016. Retrieved 23 March 2014. Joseph C. Schwantner – Charles Ives Scholarship – 1970
  4. ^ "Schwantner, Joseph C." WorldCat. Retrieved 23 March 2014. Works: 193 works in 402 publications in 2 languages and 5,372 library holdings
  5. ^ a b Chute, James. "Schwantner, Joseph." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press.
  6. ^ Higbee, Scott. "Joseph Schwantner." In A Composer's Insight: Thoughts, Analysis, and Commentary on Contemporary Masterpieces for Wind Band, edited by Timothy Salzman, pp. 131–146.
  7. ^ Atwood, David, dir. "Joseph Schwantner and His Music." Soundings. WGBH-TV, Boston, Massachusetts, 1985.
  8. ^ Nikk, Pilato (2007). Conductor's Guide to the Wind Music of Joseph Schwantner with a Transcription of the Composer's "New Morning for the World" (PhD thesis). Florida State University.

Further reading[edit]

  • Folio, Cynthia. (1985). "An Analysis and Comparison of Four Compositions by Joseph Schwantner: And the Mountains Rising Nowhere; Wild Angels of the Open Hills; Aftertones of Infinity; and Sparrows." Doctoral dissertation, University of Rochester.
  • Folio, Cynthia. (1985). "The Synthesis of Traditional and Contemporary Elements in Joseph Schwantner's Sparrows." Perspectives of New Music, vol. 24/1: 184–196.
  • Renshaw, Jeffrey. (1991). "Schwantner on Composition." The Instrumentalist, 45(6)

External links[edit]