Remembering Gunther Schuller

Last month the musical world lost Gunther Schuller, an immensely talented artist with wide ranging interests (image linked from hornsociety.org). There have already been a number of excellent tributes to Mr. Schuller, including his obituary in the New York Times, and today I would like to share a few items in memory of him.

First, here is a summary of my previous interactions with Mr. Schuller, originally posted here.

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.

Next, I have some brief excerpts recorded from lectures he gave during his residency at UW-Madison (mentioned in the above quote) in fall 2005. I was delighted to find these buried on an old hard drive, and have been fascinated (again) listening to Schuller’s thoughts on horn playing, creativity, and talent. These are only a small sampling of the materials – recorded with Schuller’s permission – and perhaps a way to share all of them can be worked out with his estate. Details for each excerpt are included below.

Gunther Schuller will certainly be missed, not just by his friends and family, but also by the numerous performers, composers, and other musicians with whom he worked during his long and productive career. As a horn player, I can think of no better way to remember and honor him than by performing some of his music. Here’s a listing of several of his solo and chamber works which involve the 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

A Solo Voice: Douglas Hill

As an undergraduate I wasn’t a huge fan of modern music for the horn, but studying with Douglas Hill at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for my masters and doctoral degrees definitely opened my mind and ears to the range of sound possibilities on our instrument.  Professor Hill has been a lifelong champion of new music, and I think one of the best of his several solo recordings is A Solo Voice, released in 1987 by GM Recordings. This album is devoted to 20th-century works for unaccompanied horn, and contains several interesting pieces.  Unfortunately, A Solo Voice is not available on CD, but you can find it on LP in university libraries and perhaps purchase a used copy online.  I got mine directly from Professor Hill, who had a cache of them in his studio.  The highlight of this album is Hill’s Jazz Set, a four movement extravaganza of extended techniques in jazz style.  To hear the composer perform his own work is a fabulous resource, and proves that everything written in the Jazz Set is in fact possible and more importantly musically convincing.  Verne Reynolds’ Elegy for Solo Horn is another work to which the soloist has a direct connection, as the piece was written for and premiered by him.  There are now several recordings of this work available, but this one is a must-hear for anyone working on the Elegy.  The other side of the album contains two studies from Gunther Schuller’s Studies for Unaccompanied Horn, the Sonata for Horn Solo, Op. 101 by Avram David, and the Sonatine for Horn Solo, Op. 39b by Hans Erich Apostel, all of which are expertly rendered.  Avram David’s Sonata has also been recorded by Eric Ruske on his album Just Me and My Horn, another highly recommended album of solo horn music.

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