Gunther Schuller (1925-2015, American)

As a performer, as a composer (both of “straight” contemporary music and as one of the main proponents of classical-jazz crossover) AND, may I had, as the founder of the GM recordings record label, Gunther Schuller has rendered good and loyal service to the public of classical music and jazz.

But, in view of the scathing comments he made in his famous or infamous book The Compleat Conductor (Oxford University Press, 1998), on performers who didn’t strictly adhere to score, the most salient trait that will remain in my memory about Schuller is how unfaithful he was to the score of Stravinsky’s Concerto in D – a complement to an otherwise great reading of Schoenberg’s Transfigured Night – itself a complement to a recording of Milton Babbitt’s essential Transfigured Notes (GM 2060 – link to my review from, pending transfer over here). Sometimes it’s best to keep quiet, lest your own words come back in your face like an ironic boomerang.

So far, only two reviews pertaining to Schuller transfered over here:

Recitative and Rondo for violin and piano (1954) by Robert Davidovici and Steven de Groote on New World Records 334-2 (1987), in “Robert Davidovici, violin”, with works of Hugh Aitken, Aaron Copland, Walter Piston, Paul Schoenfield. Tensely modern, sounding very much like an offshoot from Schoenberg’s Fantasy for Violin and Piano.

“Symphony 1965” by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Donald Johanos (circa 1971) on The American Composers Series: American Orchestral Music by Virgil Thomson, Ned Rorem, William Schuman, Howard Hanson, Gunther Schuller, Edward MacDowell. VoxBox2 CDX 5092 (1993) and let me quote my comment: “Its music language is post-late Schoenberg – the more radical Schoenberg of the Variations opus 31 and Violin Concerto. It is not easy listening, but its rewards are many, as it is full of musical “events” that constantly engage the listener’s attention. Hearing Schuller’s Symphony, I feel like reversing the cliché that anybody can write serial music, but that it takes a REAL composer to write a tune. Well, I’ve been hearing twenties of symphonies composed in the 40s by the Barbers, Pistons, Schumans, Harrises, Mennins and the likes and, whatever their merits, ultimately they all sound as much the same as Haydn sounds like Mozart. Based on them I’d say that anybody can write a tune, and has (that is the least a composer can do) – but devising a cogently argued serial symphony, now THAT takes a real composer.”

Comments are welcome