Gunther Schuller, 88, still composing 15 hours a day

Gunther Schuller, 88, still composing 15 hours a day


norman lebrecht

November 17, 2013

He played with Toscanini and Miles Davis before he was 30. Now 88, the old bridge-builder still has lots to say. Read here.



  • harold braun says:

    Amazing!!!Great Composer,great writer(read the published more than 1o00 pages strong first part of his autobiography!)

  • Andrew Rudin says:

    His new Sonata for Two Pianos was recently premiered in Philadelphia, presented by Orchestra 2001.

    Charles Abramovic and James Freeman were the pianists. Schuller was there at both

    performances, to give background on how the piece came about. A very welcome addition

    to this literature.

  • Michael Schaffer says:

    I have known about Schuller for many years and I have read parts of his book “The Compleat (sic!) Conductor” which contains some very interesting detail analyses of how various conductors interpret standard works of the repertoire.

    But I realize I have never actually heard any of his own pieces. Which ones would be best to start with?

  • Peter Ellis says:

    And a very fine French Horn player too!!

  • PK Miller says:

    For what it’s worth, I think this kind of focused activity keep the mind sharp and may stave off dementia and other problems. I think the nuns were on the right track millennia ago: idle hands are the devil’s workshop–in more ways than one!

  • Any word about the next installment of his history of Jazz?

  • Gunther Is a powerhouse, a major, major figure in music. He helped to birth our Composers String Quartet in the 1960s, of which I was the violist, so that composers like Babbitt, Carter, et al (including himself) might be heard, regardless of the length of time needed to learn and perform them. He personally selected works by worthy composers for us and we performed his 1st string quartet to appreciative audiences. And that’s only a small portion of what he has achieved, and continues to do so.

    Bravo, Gunther.

    • “He personally selected works by worthy composers for us…” Worthy. Some feel Schuller was among a small group of gatekeepers who unnecessarily restricted accepted musical styles during the 60s and 70s. It was part of the ethos of the time which almost exclusively supported the high modernism of composers like Carter, Perle, and Babbitt. Little variation was tolerated among the Northeastern establishment.

      This was odd in Schuller’s case, because his use of musical styles and techniques was much wider. I suspect that even now my comment will be viewed as heresy by some who prefer to forget this history. Things finally opened up in the 80s with postmodern groups like the Kronos Quartet, and many other developments, one of which was Schuller’s work with the music of Joplin. Given Schuller’s eclectic work, I still wonder why he didn’t do more to oppose the stifling narrowness of that era.

      • You think that when you say something downright wrong, you can hang a lantern on its non-acceptance by suggesting it is “heretical.” In fact, your response is not only wrong, it is not even as interesting as heresy.

        The mentality at this blog that Modernism was in any way successful at precluding backward styles is conspicuous as insular. Modernism does not and has never enjoyed anywhere a real capacity to preclude other styles, even if it wanted to, even when it may have wanted to. A few festivals, for limited times. But never across the field. You are overhasty in your persecution of Modernists for being as closed-minded as you long since have proven yourself to be. You want open-mindedness, but not too much of it. Evidently open-mindedness to Modernism is too much open-mindedness to ask for. It’s that presumption that causes me to label persons like yourself as “enforcers.”

        And of all Modernists who have tried to widen tastes, Gunther Schuller is least guilty of such accusations. The man who tried to give us “Third Stream” music is now being accused of not being open-minded enough. You’re not heretical, you’re preposterous.

  • Anent William Osborne’s comment:

    “Stifling narrowness of that era (the 1960s)”, indeed. Who else was playing the quartet music of LaMonte Young, Henry Brant, Ives, Benjamin Franklin, et al but the Kohon Quartet (of which I was also a member)? The LaSalle did 2nd generation Vienna only.Yes, the Kronos, whose 2nd violinist was a student of the Fine Arts Quartet (with whom I played for 12 years in the 1970s and premiered quartets by Ben Johnston, Karel Husa, Seymour Shifrin and others too numerous to mention). To label the ’80s as “postmodern” makes distinctions that hold little sway today.

    Gunther broke ground that none had done till then, by giving American composers a sorely needed hearing.

  • Garrett Keast says:

    I was a student of Gunther Schuller for one memorable summer at the Sandpoint Festival in Northern Idaho, 1995. He was a big proponent of needing only 3 or 4 hours of sleep a night, as he said it gave him so much more time to work, to study, to write. He suggested it strongly for everyone in his conducting class. He told us it was basically a way to extend one’s lifetime. Wonderful in his own way.

    He also was a stickler for doing only, exactly what was in the score, and nothing more. He was a bit too much in this regard, but a wonderful and warm human being, a history book of American 20th century music making.