New Memoir by Gunther Schuller

Earlier this week I received news that Gunther Schuller’s latest book, the first volume of his autobiography, had just been released.  The title is Gunther Schuller: A Life in Pursuit of Music and Beauty, and is published by the University of Rochester Press (cover photo at left linked from the URP page).  If you haven’t heard of Gunther Schuller, you probably will at some point, as he has had a long and extremely wide-ranging career as a composer, author, conductor, teacher, and performer.  For a brief bio, visit his composer page on the G. Schirmer website. You won’t have to read very far to realize that Schuller has had enough musical experiences to fill several lifetimes and careers, working with groups as diverse as the Metropolitan Opera and Miles Davis.  This brief quote from the URP website will serve nicely has an introduction to the book.

Simultaneously the memoir of a famed composer, conductor, and music educator, and an important historical sourcebook on the American musical scene during the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, the autobiography of Gunther Schuller chronicles the first thirty-five years of this multifaceted and expansive figure’s life and work.

Horn players are probably most familiar with him as the author of  Horn Technique, which has become a classic resource for players and teachers everywhere.  And though he is generally more recognized today as a composer, author, and conductor, Schuller began his musical career as a professional horn player, holding Principal positions with the Cincinnati Symphony and the Metropolitan Opera.  You can find another biography with more details on his performing career on the International Horn Society‘s site.  I’ve had the opportunity to work with Mr. Schuller several times over the years, first while attending the Brevard Music Center, where he ran an intensive two-week conductor’s workshop.  One of the BMC ensembles I played with that summer served as the “lab” orchestra for Mr. Schuller’s conducting students.  Schuller possesses an amazing ear, and is able to hear incredibly small details through even the thickest orchestrations.  It wasn’t always easy performing under his baton, but I certainly came away from the experience with a greater knowledge of music and musicianship.  Later, during doctoral work at UW-Madison, I got a chance to work with Schuller again as an assistant for a course he was teaching as a visiting lecturer.  The course was called simply “The Creative Process,” and involved a number of great discussions between Schuller and the students about composition and art in general.  The first volume of Schuller’s autobiography promises to be a fascinating read, and I plan to put it on my reading list for next summer, if not sooner.  To close this post I’ve included a list of Schuller’s other books, as well as several of his solo and chamber works which involve the horn.  I culled most of the information from his works list on the G. Schirmer site.  Having played several of his pieces, I can say that they are often difficult, but well worth the time and effort spent learning them.  If you are new to Schuller’s music, I highly recommend the Studies for Unaccompanied Horn.  They are a great introduction to his musical language.

Books (all published by Oxford University Press)

  • Horn Technique. , 1962 and 1992
  • Musings: The Musical Worlds of Gunther Schuller. 1986
  • Early Jazz: Its Roots and Musical Development, 1986.
  • The Swing Era: The Development of Jazz, 1940-1945, 1989
  • The Compleat Conductor. , 1997

Works for Horn

  • Concerto No. 1 for Horn and Orchestra
  • Trio [oboe, horn, viola]
  • Suite for Woodwind Quintet
  • Lines and Contrasts [16 horns]
  • Music for Brass Quintet
  • Studies for Unaccompanied Horn
  • Duets for Unaccompanied Horns
  • Double Quintet [brass quintet, woodwind quintet]
  • Wood Curtain Raiser [flute, clarinet, horn, piano]
  • Diptych for Brass Quintet and Orchestra
  • Five Pieces for Five Horns
  • Little Brass Music [trumpet, horn, trombone, tuba]
  • Wind Quintet
  • Concerto No. 2 for Horn and Orchestra
  • Octet [clarinet, bassoon, horn, 2 violins, viola, cello, bass]
  • Trois Hommages  [horn and piano]
  • Three Pieces for Horn and Violin
  • Blues  [brass quintet, bass, and drums]
  • Nocturne for Horn and Piano
  • Sonata for Horn and Piano
  • Romantic Sonata [clarinet, horn, piano]
  • Impromptus and Cadenzas [bassoon, clarinet, horn, oboe, violin, cello]
  • Brass Quintet No. 1
  • Brass Quintet No. 2
  • Sextet for Left Hand Piano and Woodwind Quintet
  • Ohio River Reflections [horn, violin, viola, piano]
  • Quodlibet [oboe, horn, violin, cello, harp]
  • Quintet for Horn and Strings
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