Composer, educator, classical / jazz crossover artist and promoter, French horn virtuoso, conductor, writer and historian, indeed musical giant of the widest-ranging sort, Gunther Schuller died last Sunday in Boston, age 89.
Born in NYC into a family of classical musicians, he became a jazz hound in high school, telling his NY Philharmonic violinist father “I heard some Duke Ellington last night [on the radio], and that music is as great as Beethoven’s and Mozart’s. He almost had a heart attack.” He went on to blow his horn with the ABT and Cincinnati and eventually the Met orchestras, as well as in NYC bebop groups at the most exalted levels. In 1967 he turned from performance to presidency of NEC, instituting jazz degrees and helping spur the Joplin revival among much else. His heart and mind also remained solidly and intricately in modern classical idioms; he received the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for his Of Reminiscences and Reflections written for the Louisville Orchestra, and a MacArthur Grant in 1991. He completed 19 commissions since 2012.
Initial good life survey and obituary writeups are here and here; naturally there will be longer, detailed appreciations this week in all of the usual places. BMInt’s coverage begins here and works backward, but first see this birthday summary as well as a remarkable recent interview of our fertile, influential, beloved, towering figure.