William Schuman!

Few people have had a greater impact on the performing arts in America than William Schuman. Elsewhere in this Blog, I wrote about Dr. Joseph Polisi’s Book about William Schuman, and the amazing accomplishments that Schuman achieved to benefit education in the arts in the US.

Schuman was President of The Juilliard School from 1945 to 1961 and of Lincoln Center from 1962 to 1968. He was not only instrumental in shaping how America benefited from the performing arts, but he was also an amazing composer.

Now, Naxos celebrated the 100th anniversary of William Schuman’s birth, by issuing a CD that features his symphonies. Gerard Schwartz directs the Seattle Symphony Orchestra.

The CD was released: July 27, 2010

Schuman’s symphonies date from between 1941 and 1976. Some of the symphonies, such as numbers 3, 5, and 7, have been recorded frequently by conductors including Leonard Bernstein and Eugene Ormandy. Others have been performed and recorded only rarely. His symphonies as a group constitute a major accomplishment. This recording may bring them the attention that they deserve.

Like any composer, Schuman changed as a creative artist over time, but listening to this CD shows that his works have some common characteristics. They are strongly rhythmic and have a distinctive orchestration which makes great use of brass and percussion. The music is occasionally dissonant, but it remains tonal for the most part. Most importantly, the symphonies are clearly the work of an American composer in their directness, boldness and basic optimism.

This CD also includes several of Schuman’s shorter orchestral compositions, including his famous “New England Triptich: Three Pieces for Orchestra after William Billings” (1956) and his arrangement of Charles Ives’ “Variations on America” (1964).

I find Schuman’s music frequently quite moving. This is particularly the case in his 3rd symphony. Listen to that sad and beautiful opening, as played by the violas in this tragic music as you can hear in the recording below.

Here is the recording of the first part of William Schuman’s Symphony #3, as performed under the direction of Leonard Bernstein: (Painting shown on the video must be by American artist Edward Hopper!)


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