Heroes: Koussevitzky, Copland, and Schuller

March 4, 2006

As a composer I have had different kinds of “heroes” at different times in my life. As a young rock musician, I became obsessed with different songwriter/performers at different times in my life. I have been obsessed with the Chad Mitchell Trio, Peter Paul and Mary, the Kingston Trio, the Beatles, the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, the Kinks, Joni Mitchell, k d lang, Frank Zappa, Pat Metheny, Lyle Mays, Bob Dylan, and Gram Parsons. Gene Clark, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Neil Young, David Byrne, Rufus Wainwright, Judy Collins, Leonard Cohen, Chris Hillman, Jim Morrison, and Jimi Hendrix, just to start the list, have all been my heroes in the rock/folk/country world that I lived in from 1960 to the present. I confess I lost hope in heroes in the pop world and turned to a life as a “classical composer.”

When I studied composition at University of Wisconsin/Madison with Randall Snyder and Les Thimmig, I had an entirely new pantheon of gods: Elliott Carter, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Luciano Berio, Pierre Boulez, Gyorgi Ligeti, Bruno Maderna, Paul Chihara, Iannis Xenakis, and a whole cast of characters associated with a complete split from tonality. In 1976 I almost went to study with my guru-of-the-moment, Karlheinz Stockhausen, with whose music I was obsessed. I went to the New England Conservatory of Music and studied with William Thomas McKinley instead. What a man! He wrote so much music, and was Soooooooo inventive, and magical and crazy. He was my new hero. He inspired me to write a lot of music, quickly — a great skill to have as a film composer.

I’ll spare you the whole progression of Roger’s heroes and cut to the chase: as I look back on the past hundred years, who are my heroes now?

Serge Koussevitzky, Aaron Copland, and Gunther Schuller.

The quality I find most admirable in these men, was their generosity in helping young or otherwise unknown composers. Each was instrumental in commissioning, promoting, and performing a wide variety of young composers.

Koussevitzky was the conductor of the Boston Symphony from 1929 to 1951 (correct?) and commisisioned and premiered many now-famous 20th century masterpieces.

Serge Koussevitzky

Serge Koussevitzky

Composer Aaron Copland fostered premieres of many North American, but more importantly, South American composers in the 20th century and was able to help this music be heard by the rest of the world through recordings.

Aaron Copland

Aaron Copland

Gunther Schuller is a hornist, composer, author, publisher, conductor, and … well you get it. His wildly eclectic tastes have launched many careers through his performances, commissions, and recordings.

Guntehr Schuller

Gunther Schuller

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