William Schuman (1910-1992, American)

William Schuman is one of the major American symphonists among the generation that came to prominence in the years around World War II, and whose most significant members include Copland, Barber, Piston, Harris, Hanson, Sessions and Mennin. This position Schuman attained not only through the number of symphonies he wrote – ten in all between 1935 and 1975, but if count was the yardstick then Hovhaness and Cowell would easily win the prize – but because each one represents a significant and serious statement, and also because, like Mennin’s and Sessions’, Schuman’s style evolved, bravely embracing its times by growing increasingly complex and dissonant, while remaining true to the basic parameters established in the earlier works.

Always in evidence is the dramatic sweep, the boisterous and syncopated scherzos, the sense of the American Epic so characteristic of the composers of that generation, to which Schuman, at his best (as in the Third and Eight Symphonies), adds unexpected twists and turns that challenge the listener’s expectations and capture his attention.

I heard and reviewed on Amazon.com a lot of CDs of Schumann’s music in 2006 and 2007, together with these other American symphonists. I didn’t have the scores back then, so my listening was perforce somewhat more superficial than it might have been. Since then I’ve acquired the scores of some of the string quartets and a number of symphonies. Following with score has modified to an extent my appreciation not only of the interpretations, but of the compositions themselves. I’ve substantially expanded some of these reviews upon repost on this website, and this as been, in a certain way, a dialogue between my present and my former selves.

String Quartet No. 3 (1939). The Kohon Quartet (1974) in The American Composers Series: American String Quartets 1900-1950 (with quartets of Howard Hanson, Virgil Thomson, George Gershwin, Roger Sessions, Charles Ives, Peter Mennin, Walter Piston, Aaron Copland). VoxBox CDX 5090 (1993)

String Quartets Nos. 2 (1937), 3 (1939) & 5 (1987). Lydian String Quartet. Harmonia Mundi HMU 907114 (1994)

Symphony No. 6 (1948). New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, Hugh Keelan. Koch International Classics 3-7290-2 H1 (2001) (with Roy Harris: Symphony No. 7)

Symphony No. 7 (1960). Utah Symphony Orchestra, Maurice Abravanel 1971 in The American Composers Series: American Orchestral Music (with works of Virgil Thomson, Ned Rorem, Howard Hanson, Gunther Schuller, Edward MacDowell). VoxBox2 CDX 5092 (1993)

Symphony No. 7 (1960). Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Lorin Maazel. New World Records NW 348-2 (1987) 093228034827, with Leonardo Balada’s Steel Symphony

Symphonies Nos. 7 (1960) & 10 “American Muse” (1975). Seattle Symphony, Gerard Schwarz Naxos  8.559255 (2005) 636943925522

Reviews on Amazon.com pending repost here:

Undertow (Ballet) (1945). Ballet Theatre Orchestra, Joseph Levine 1953.  EMI FDS CDM 5 66548 2 (1998) 724356654822 with George Antheil: Capital of the World, Raffaelo de Banfield: The Combat

Judith-Choregraphic Poem for Orchestra (1949), Night Journey-Choregraphic Poem for 15 Instruments (1947), In Sweet Music-Serenada On A Setting Of Shakespeare For Flute, Viola, Voice And Harp (1978). CRI CD 791 (1998) barcode 090438079129

(Ives) Variations on America (1963). Louisville Orchestra, Robert Whitney November 1964 in Variations (+ Copland Orchestral Variations, Carter Variations for Orchestra, Dallapiccola Variazioni). First Edition Music FECD 0001 (2001) 809157000013

Symphony No. 4 (1942), Prayer in the Time of War (1943). Louisville Orchestra, Jorge Mester. Louisville First Edition Encores Albany TROY027 (1990) 034061002727

Symphonies Nos. 4 (1942) & 9 “Le fosse adreatine” (1968), Orchestra Song, Circus Overture. Seattle Symphony, Gerard Schwarz. Naxos 8.559254 (2005) 636943925423


Comments are welcome