Gunther Schuller

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Gunther Schuller (left) receives the NEA Jazz Masters Award for Jazz Advocacy 2008, AB Spellman (right).

Gunther Alexander Schuller (born November 22, 1925 in New York City , New York , † June 21, 2015 in Boston , Massachusetts ) was an American horn player , composer , musicologist and conductor .

The instrumentalist and educator

The son of German immigrants studied flute , horn and music theory . At the age of 17 he became a horn player in the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra , and two years later in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra (until 1959). Schuller came into contact with the New York bebop scene early on and played with major jazz musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie , Miles Davis ( Birth of the Cool 1949/50 and Porgy and Bess 1958) and John Lewis .

From 1950 he taught horn at the Manhattan School of Music; he then held a professorship in composition at the School of Music at Yale University . From 1967 to 1977 he was President of the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston . He also served as Artistic Director of the Tanglewood Berkshire Music Center and the festival in Sandpoint ( Idaho ), as co-director of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra and the Artistic Director of the Spokane Bach Festival .

The composer

Cast sheet for the 1966 opera The Visitation

Schuller composed more than 160 works in practically all musical genres, including commissioned compositions by various orchestras (including the Baltimore Symphony, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Boston Symphony, Chicago Symphony, Minneapolis Symphony, National Symphony, New York Philharmonic).

Examples: Of Reminiscences and Reflections (Louisville Orchestra), An Arc Ascending (American Symphony Orchestra League and Cincinnati Symphony), The Past is in the Present (Cincinnati Symphony), a sextet for Leon Fleisher and the Kennedy Center Chamber Players, the Brass Quintet No. 2 for the American Brass Quintet or Ritmica-Melodica-Armonica for the Newton Symphony Orchestra. In 1959 he composed Seven Studies on a Theme of Paul Klee .

His jazz opera The Visitation , set in an Afro-American milieu, is a free adaptation of Kafka's fragment of the novel The Trial and an indictment against racism . The opera was commissioned by the Hamburg State Opera and premiered in October 1966 under Schuller's direction. In 1968 the opera was released for the first time in German under the title Visitation and directed by János Kulka in Wuppertal.

Schuller also worked successfully with other artists of different directions such as Arturo Toscanini , Miles Davis , Aaron Copland , Ornette Coleman , Leonard Bernstein , Eric Dolphy , Charles Mingus , John Updike , Joe Lovano (whose pieces from Rush Hour he arranged for big band in 1994), Elvis Costello , Wynton Marsalis and Frank Zappa together.

Schuller and jazz

As an instrumentalist, Schuller was involved in, among other things, the nonet recordings by Miles Davis in March 1950, which some time later were compiled together with the material from two previous sessions for the LP Birth of the Cool . In 2006 he recorded the Birth of the Cool Suite in collaboration with a band around saxophonist Joe Lovano , in which the original arrangements by Gil Evans , John Lewis and Gerry Mulligan can be heard again. In the mid-1950s he was the co-founder and in the following years a main representative of the music genre called Third Stream , from which the name comes. This genre tried to overcome the difference in style between jazz as improvisation- based light music (to which jazz is still often counted today) and composed art music (so-called 'serious music') and to achieve a fusion of the two directions.

In 1961 the album Jazz Abstractions appeared with his works Abstractions , Variants on a Theme of John Lewis and Variants on a Theme of Thelonious Monk and the Piece for Guitar and Strings by Jim Hall (with the soloists Bill Evans , Scott LaFaro , Eric Dolphy, Jim Hall, Ornette Coleman).

The rediscovery of ragtime in the late 1960s, especially the music of Scott Joplin , is largely due to Schuller's commitment to this then completely forgotten music. The subsequent popularity of ragtime, especially in the wake of the film " Der Clou " (original title The Sting , 1973), was used again by Schuller for his ambitious project of the premiere of Scott Joplin's only opera Treemonisha .

Schuller is also the author of a three-volume “ History Of Jazz ” that has not yet been translated into German. The previously published volumes “Early Jazz” (1968) and “The Swing Era ” (1989) are considered standard works of jazz research because of the well-founded derivation of the author's theses . Schuller contributed an excellent article on jazz to the 2003 edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica .

Over the decades, Schuller supported many musicians of the respective jazz avant-garde , including the saxophonists Sonny Rollins , Ornette Coleman , the pianist Ran Blake and the vocalist Jeanne Lee . He has conducted numerous third-stream compositions and was instrumental in the premiere of Mingus' Epitaph . Jazz and third-stream recordings (as well as classical compositions with a high repertoire value) are published on his label GM Recordings .

Schuller's sons have become jazz musicians: George as drummer , Edwin "Ed" Schuller as double bass player .


He has received numerous prizes, including the Stoeger Prize (1987), William Schuman Award (1988), MacArthur Foundation "genius" award (1991), BMI Lifetime Achievement Award (1994), Pulitzer Prize (1994) (for Of Reminiscences and Reflections ), Gold Medal for Music from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1997) and various Grammy Awards , as well as twelve honorary doctorates from various universities and colleges.

In 1967 Schuller was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Letters .

He is a founding member of the American Classical Music Hall of Fame . In 2000 he was honored by the International Horn Society for his life's work as a musician and horn player. In 2008 he received the NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship .

Publications (selection)

  • Early Jazz: Its Roots and Musical Development. Oxford University Press 1968, reprint 1986.
  • The Swing Era: The Development of Jazz 1930-1945 , Oxford University Press 1989 (continuation of his jazz history that began in Early Jazz )
  • Horn Technique. 1st edition 1962; 2nd edition Oxford University Press 1991
  • Musings: The Musical Worlds of Gunther Schuller. Oxford University Press 1986
  • The Compleat Conductor. Oxford University Press 1998
  • Gunther Schuller: A Life in Pursuit of Music and Beauty University of Rochester Press 2011


Catalog raisonné

  • [1] - Works in the German Music Archive

Works for wind orchestra

  • 1950 Symphony for Brass and Percussion
  • 1963 Meditation for Concert Band
  • 1966 Study in Textures for Concert Band
  • 1967 Diptych for Brass Quintet and Concert Band
  • 1980 A little trombone music
  • 1981 In Praise of Winds Symphony for Large Wind Orchestra
  • 1985 A little bassoon music
  • 1989 On Winged Flight for wind orchestra and 3 cellos
  • 1990 Song and Dance for wind orchestra and violin
  • 1998 Witchi-Tai-To: The Music of Jim Pepper for jazz ensemble and symphony orchestra

Works for horn

  • Two horn concerts ( Horn concerto 1942/1944)
  • Hornsonate, Lines and Contrasts for 16 horns
  • Five Pieces for Five Horns , of which a recording with Barry Tuckwell and the NFB Horn Quartet is available.


  • The Visitation (1966)

Secondary literature

  • Mark Tucker: Schuller, Gunther (Alexander) . In: Barry Kernfeld (Ed.): The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz , Macmillan, London 1988, p. 1096
  • Ian Carr : Gunther Schuller . In: Ian Carr et al. (Ed.): The Rough Guide to Jazz . Rough Guides, London 2004, p. 704

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Just in: A towering music personality has died
  2. ^ GM Recordings
  3. ^ American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Book of Members ( PDF ). Retrieved April 10, 2016
  4. Members: Gunther Schuller. American Academy of Arts and Letters, accessed April 24, 2019 .
  5. ^ Biography of the Horn Society ( Memento from September 28, 2007 in the Internet Archive )