composer

Gunther Schuller represented, for countless musicians, concertgoers, and record buyers around the world, American music making at its best, almost as much as Leonard Bernstein did a half century earlier. He was composer, conductor, horn player, jazz performer, writer, administrator, publisher, and teacher, all wrapped up into one tidy bundle of seemingly endless energy. Like American music itself. However, Schuller did not always steered clear of controversy—the very masses that admired him were sometimes baffled by his uncompromising attitudes and blunt statements.

His father played violin in the New York Philharmonic Orchestra for many decades, and it was he who oversaw Schuller's early training. Schuller mastered the French horn with remarkable speed as a student at the Manhattan School of Music (1939-1941)—in 1942, aged just 16, his horn playing was heard across the country in the American radio premiere of Shostakovich's then brand-new "Leningrad" Symphony. A series of high-profile orchestra jobs followed: first the American Ballet Theater Orchestra, then the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and then 14 seasons in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. During the 1950s Schuller became interested in jazz and made a name for himself as a performer in that field, playing with Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and other jazz stars; in the years to come, Schuller combined jazz and traditional composition in new ways—something that he called "third stream music." After the 1958-1959 season, Schuller gave up his career at the Met to build a new career as a composer.

Success in the sometimes persnickety world of American serious composition came to Schuller nearly as easily and quickly as success as a performer did, and by 1964 he was on the composition faculty of Yale University. He taught and administered at the Manhattan School of Music, the New England Conservatory, and Tanglewood.

In 1975 he founded his own record label and music publishing companies, GM Recordings and Margun Music (the names are drawn from the first names of Schuller and his wife Marjorie Black). He also wrote several books, including the cherished manual Horn Playing (London and New York, 1962) and the landmark studies Early Jazz: Its Roots and Development (London and New York, 1968) and The Swing Era: the Development of Jazz 1930-45 (New York and Oxford, 1989). In 1997 he poured his many years' experience as a professional conductor into The Compleat Conductor.

As a composer, Schuller ranks among the most eclectic of his generation or any other. Schoenberg's techniques meet jazz meets Stravinskian rhythmicism meets Haydn in ways that one could never imagine without the score on the table. And his output is very large: 20-plus concertos for solo instrument(s) and orchestra, several dozen other orchestral items (including the 1965 Symphony and the 1994 Pulitzer Prize-winning Of Reminiscences and Reflections), better than 70 miscellaneous chamber pieces for ensembles and combinations of all kinds, a pair of operas, and a library of arrangements of other composers' music.

Gunther Schuller passed away on June 21, 2015 in Boston, at the age of 89.

Performances

Jordan Hall at New England Conservatory | November 22, 2015
John Knowles Paine Hall at Harvard University | March 23, 2007
Jordan Hall at New England Conservatory | January 17, 2004
Jordan Hall at New England Conservatory | February 24, 2002
Jordan Hall at New England Conservatory | October 9, 1999
Jordan Hall at New England Conservatory | May 8, 1999

News and Press

[CD Review] MusicWeb International reviews Gunther Schuller: Journey Into Jazz

The Variants for Jazz Quartet and Orchestra prove the point that jazz and straight music don’t mix!

MusicWeb International Full review
[News Coverage] Independent labels embrace a D.I.Y. ethos

The major classical recording labels, a few notable exceptions aside, seemed determined to continue their march toward irrelevance and oblivion this year. For independent outfits the prognosis was better: The budget-priced Naxos reigned supreme, while hardy concerns like Hyperion, Kairos, Testament and Bridge produced invaluable offerings. But some of the most robust activity in 2008 involved labels operated by those with the most to gain: musicians, orchestras, composers.

The New York Times Full review
[CD Review] Fanfare reviews Gunther Schuller: Journey Into Jazz

Gunther Schuller is not merely an award-winning composer, former principal horn of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, retired artistic director of the Tanglewood Music Festival, and member of the American Classical Music Hall of Fame, he also wrote the book on jazz. Two books actually, Early Jazz and The Swing Era (both Oxford University Press), and over a long and acclaimed career he has collaborated with or performed music by such distinctive jazz artists as Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman, Bill Evans, and the Modern Jazz Quartet, among many others.

Fanfare Full review
[CD Review] Jazz Times reviews Gunther Schuller: Journey Into Jazz

If Third Stream music, the merger of classical music and jazz, never took hold within either musical world as it might have since its official inception in the late 1950’s, the best examples of the genre still prove that it was more that just an academic pipedream.

Jazz Times Full review
[CD Review] ClassicalCDReview reviews Gunther Schuller: Journey Into Jazz

Arnie the Hep-Cat. Gunther Schuller became a working musician at the young age of 16, picking up professional gigs as a horn player in New York. By the time he turned 18, he was principal horn of the Cincinnati Orchestra under Goossens. By 20, he had joined the horn section of the Met Orchestra. He also became a busy studio musician. Perhaps his most famous dates came to him as a player in the Gil Evans-Miles Davis Birth of the Cool sessions.

ClassicalCDReview Full review
[CD Review] BMOP/sound releases its fourth album

BMOP/sound, the nation’s foremost label launched by an orchestra and devoted exclusively to new music recordings, announces the release of its fourth CD Gunther Schuller: Journey Into Jazz. Representative of the “Third Stream” genre, a revolutionary style of music brought forth into the mainstream by Schuller in the 1950’s, the three pieces on this album unite the structural complexities found in contemporary classical music with the improvisational elements of jazz.

All About Jazz Full review
[Press Release] BMOP/sound releases Gunther Schuller: Journey Into Jazz

BMOP/sound, the nation's foremost label launched by an orchestra and devoted exclusively to new music recordings, announces the release of its fourth CD Gunther Schuller: Journey Into Jazz. Representative of the Third Stream genre, a revolutionary style of music brought forth into the mainstream by Schuller in the 1950s, the three pieces on this album unite the structural complexities found in contemporary classical music with the improvisational elements of jazz.

Full review
[News Coverage] A record label of one's own

The news these days about the classical music recording industry is almost always bleak, so it’s a pleasure to report a bright spot on that landscape: the Boston Modern Orchestra Project has finally launched its own record label called BMOP/sound.

The Boston Globe Full review
[Press Release] The Boston Modern Orchestra Project performs in 2007 Fromm Players at Harvard Festival

Presented by Harvard University's Department of Music, this year's "Fromm Players at Harvard" music series features works of five composers to be performed by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP), the nation's only orchestra dedicated to performing, commissioning, and recording new music of the 21st century. Curated by British composer and Harvard faculty member Julian Anderson, the 2007 Fromm Festival takes places Thursday, March 22nd, and Friday, March 23rd @ 8:00pm, in the John Knowles Paine Concert Hall at Harvard University (Oxford Street, Cambridge).

Full review