Gunther Schuller at home working on a score in 2006
Gunther Schuller Dies at 89

Gunther Schuller Dies at 89

Gunther Schuller died on Sunday, June 21, 2015 at 7:55am at the age of 89. In the coming days, there will be a more extensive tribute to this major American composer, conductor, arranger, and historian who was equally fluent in the vocabulary of classical music and jazz and who coined the term “Third Stream” for music that incorporated elements of both.

We spoke to Gunther Schuller for NewMusicBox in May 2009:

The transcript of the entire conversation can be found here.

NewMusicBox provides a space for those engaged with new music to communicate their experiences and ideas in their own words. Articles and commentary posted here reflect the viewpoints of their individual authors; their appearance on NewMusicBox does not imply endorsement by New Music USA.

11 thoughts on “Gunther Schuller Dies at 89

  1. Alvaro Gallegos

    Another important loss for American music.

    Rest in peace, Mr.Schuller. Thanks for all the great music. Maybe you will see your friends Bernstein and Mingus again.

    His symphonic output is impressive. Orchestras all over the world should play his pieces more and more.

  2. Joel Krosnick

    Gunther Schuller was, for all the many years of his widely creative life, a dynamic force for serious thought in the world of music. He raised his voice as an intelligent musical presence as composer, conductor, organizer, essayist, publisher, and administrator. In his many solo, chamber, and orchestral works, Ginther Schuller has left us a powerful legacy of a life in music beautifully spent. Bravo! We will miss you. Rest well! Joel Krosnick, Juilliard String Quartet

  3. paul king 2nd. cl.

    “gunther is coming” these signs were all over spokane, wa. in 1984. our orchestra couldnt believe schuller would be our conductor for a year. it was a love affair at once. we applauded rehearsals sometimes.
    then summer conducting master workshops and concerts at sandpoint, id. a very kind man, gentle and calm. i remember he encouraged the 2nd. and 3rd. parts to play a little louder than the firsts. what balance. what an inspiration he was to us. paul king now in new zealand age 72

  4. Carl Atkins

    Gunther was a major influence on my life, both personally and musically. He gave me my start as a teacher and encouraged and supported my performing and composing. Words can’t express the sadness I am feeling at this moment. However, I feel happy and blessed that I knew him and considered him a friend and a mentor. Love you, man!

  5. Thomas Laweence Toscano

    A very sad day to find out that Gunther has passed on. Certainly there r some very lively conversations going on with those who have gone on before! Mr. Scullee and I had a very “interesting” relatiinshio he the president of NEC while I was a student there. I had the privilege of being a part if his country music band, and participating in Berg’s Wozeck, when he presented it at Jordan Hall. Thanks to bis leadership both NEC and Tanglewood were very powerful and inspiring places to be for young musicians. Tge wirld has lost a consumate musician and a true individual! Till we meet again!

  6. John Luther Adams

    It must’ve been 1982 that Gunther Schuller came to Alaska as guest composer and conductor with the Fairbanks Symphony. As timpanist and unofficial composer in residence with the orchestra, I was assigned as his hospitality host and chauffeur.

    The program Mr. Schuller conducted included Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun”, along with his own “Symphony for Brass and Percussion”, and “Seven Studies on Themes of Paul Klee”. This was challenging musical fare for a community orchestra, and Mr. Schuller was demanding on the podium, giving us ample measures of tough love. But he also walked the talk. I was quite impressed when he traipsed a mile and a half each way, in subzero temperatures, to attend a party at my cabin out in the spruce forest.

    Although I was very conscious of the difference between Mr. Schuller’s musical aesthetic and my own, I asked him if he would be willing to take a look at my first orchestral score, A Northern Suite, and listen to the recording we had recently made with the Arctic Chamber Orchestra. He agreed.

    The next day when I went to pick him up at his hotel, Mr. Schuller said to me:

    “OK. You’ve mastered the miniature…Now what?”

    Of course I hadn’t really mastered anything. (In fact I would continue to tinker with A Northern Suite for the next twenty-two years.) But his flattery softened my resistance and allowed me to realize that it was time for me to begin working in larger musical forms.

    Mr. Schuller would’ve been well aware that, like many young composers of the time, I was reacting against the 12-tone idiom that held sway in academia and which he embraced in his music. Yet he met me on my own musical ground, and he offered me encouragement and valuable perspective on my work.

    It took another decade but by the 1990s, under the influence of the wild landscapes of Alaska and the late music of Morton Feldman, I was composing extended works such as “In the White Silence” and “Strange and Sacred Noise”.

    To this day I tend to work on a very large scale. And I will always be grateful to Gunther Schuller for that brief, generous-spirited composition lesson.

  7. karen iglitzin

    1980-82 a student violinist at BMC Tanglewood,
    A fantastic experience all around!. But with Mr.Schuller as our music director- he had such a huge influence! Our student orchestra got to play with some very famous conductors- a different one every week. He must have conducted us 3 or 4 of those 8 weeks. One of the Schuller weeks was entitled “Pop Music”. There was not ONE ‘classical’ composer on the program I was appalled! We students were kvetching to one another about how stupid that was! I believe I was offended and actually irate. We were serious musicians, had flown in from far away state and even other countries to play Beethoven, Brahms, Bartok! First on the music stand was Gershwin’s “Tea for Two” from the musical “No, No Nanette”! irst rehearsal, we were tittering behind our music stands- “What silly music”!! . He took the podium and before the first note, started in: “I imagine that some of you might not think that this is important music. But it is from the American tradition of musical theatre- one of the few only American art forms!”He went on to give a passionate overview bringing in subjects of how jazz played into the style, and not only what historical and music forces led to musical theatre, and how music history was influenced by it. And why we need to be open minded to ALL kinds of music and styles. PHEW! Like lightening had hit us! Basically, in one MOMENT, he turned me from a 21 year old music snob, to a person with an open mind!!!!
    Soon thereafter I became a full time quartet player as first violinist with the Philadelphia String Quartet, by then based in Seattle. But teaching became my strongest identification and mission in life! That was chamber music coaching to teenagers/college students, etc. In 1987 I got into American folk dancing called ‘contra dancing” and learned how to play American folk /fiddle styles (and others), learning to play by ear, improvising, etc. I continue to be an avid fiddler and recently have delved into playing Brazilian “choro” music.
    What I am so grateful for is that I think I can’t help but to live that GUNTHER message by incorporating that attitude of joy, humour, optimism and open-mindedness/(open ears!) to other styles and musical messages, as a thread through all my teaching and just being with people. THANK YOU GUNTHER SCHULLER, let’s pass it on! :-)

  8. John Luther Adams

    In a time of pointed aesthetic partisanship, Schuller rose above and reached out “across the divide” to a young punk in Alaska who knew nothing.

    Following his visit to Fairbanks, he wrote me a letter and suggested that I might want to revisit Schoenberg’s “Ewartung”. I did. And he was right. It rocked!

  9. Michael Robinson

    In March 2014, I was surprised to receive a phone call from Gunther Schuller in response to a piece I wrote about his friend and colleague, Leonard Altman. Gunther said he had not thought about Altman in years, and thanked me for rekindling his memories. He also enquired where the piece would be published, not realizing that it had already appeared at the Azure Miles Records site. When I asked what he was currently working on, Schuller described spending something like sixteen hours a day composing, which I assume included the making of parts. With the subject of composers and scores in the air, I mentioned how it is estimated that only half of Johann Sebastian Bach’s music is believed to have survived, with the rest of the scores lost, and Gunther responded by marveling at how much time it most have taken for Richard Wagner simply to notate his music dramas. The tempo of Sculler’s speech was lively, and he spoke with much excitement. I recall that when I studied with Mel Powell at CalArts, he spoke with great admiration for Schuller. Before then, when I was a student at Tanglewood, I remember a class with Gunther where the room had become unbearably hot. This prompted him to walk over to the window, and with considerable strength, he pried it open before the rest of us could react, exclaiming: “I do everything around here!” The main point I recall that Gunther made about music (I can still see him stating this in my “video” memory), pertaining equally to composition and improvisation, is that technique itself is unremarkable and common, implying that it is only noteworthy when and if it serves to articulate meaningful content.

  10. Michael Colgrass

    I played percussion with Gunther many times in New York and I can say that, having played with most of the best conductors alive, I ranked Schuller among the very best if not the best I have ever played under. I used to drop into his West End Avenue apartment when helping organize the percussion section for his modern music series at the then Carnegie recital Hall. One day I walked into his living room with a dancer friend and when she saw that the entire floor was littered with open scores he was studying she exclaimed, “Oh, wonderful.” And I agreed with the sentiment. I knew hardly anyone else who was so dedicated and worked as hard as Gunther did.
    He will be missed, but we did have him for 89 years and that’s pretty good.

  11. Pingback: Gunther Schuller | The Toynbee convector

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