Gunther Schuller was born in New York on November 22, 1925. He began his professional music career as a French horn player, performing with the American Ballet Theater as a teen, as principal horn in the Cincinnati Symphony (1943-1945), and with the Metropolitan Opera from 1945-1959. He also played French horn on Miles Davis’s Birth of the Cool recording (1949-1950), and composed and conducted for jazz greats John Lewis and Dizzy Gillespie. He was named the 2015 Edward MacDowell Medalist in April 2015. Sadly, he died on June 21 as preparations for his acceptance of the Medal were underway.
As an educator, Schuller first taught at the Manhattan School of Music before moving on to Yale University. He began teaching at the Berkshire Music Center (at Tanglewood) at the request of Aaron Copland, and subsequently served as its artistic director from 1969-1984. From 1967-1977, Schuller served as president of the New England Conservatory where he formalized NEC’s commitment to jazz by establishing the first degree-granting jazz program at a major classical conservatory, instituting the Third Stream department (subsequently named the Contemporary Improvisation department) to explore the musical regions where classical and jazz come together.
Schuller composed more than 200 works, spanning all musical genres, including solo works, orchestral works, chamber music, opera, and jazz. Among Schuller’s orchestral works are Symphony (1965), Seven Studies on Themes of Paul Klee (1959), and An Arc Ascending (1996). Schuller’s large scale work Of Reminiscences and Reflections was composed as a tribute to his wife of 49 years, Marjorie Black, and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1994. The Boston Symphony Orchestra recently performed Schuller’s Dreamscape (2012). Other recent commissions are From Here to There (2013) for the New England Conservatory, and Four Chromatic Adventures (2014) commissioned by Contempo. He never stopped composing.
Schuller was the recipient of the William Schuman Award (1988), the MacArthur Foundation Genius Award (1991), the Gold Medal for Music from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1997), the Downbeat Lifetime Achievement Award, and an inaugural membership in the American Classical Music Hall of Fame. He was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master in 2008.