A popular concert, contemporary and chamber music composer, William Schuman put not only notes in his music, but also compassion and human qualities. His works range from orchestra pieces to tangos. As an American composer, he received many awards and held many teaching positions. His cantata "A Free Song" won the first Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1943.
William Schuman was born in New York in 1910. His childhood interests were more in baseball than in music. It was not until he was 16 that he began composing, his first piece being a tango. In high school, he formed a jazz band in which he played the violin and banjo. Soon, Schuman began composing concert works as he attended Columbia University Teachers' College; he later studied with American composer Roy Harris. In 1939, Serge Koussevitzky conducted a performance of Schuman's "American Festival Overture." He gained international recognition as a composer when his 1933 "Symphony No. 3" won the New York Critics' Circle Award.
While composing, William Schuman also pursued a teaching career. From 1935-1945, he taught at the Sarah Lawrence College, followed by a position at the Juilliard School of Music from 1945-1962. During his time at Juilliard, Schuman founded the Juilliard String Quartet, added a dance division and implemented the study of the history of music. In 1962, he was president of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City. While there he founded the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. His passion for educating led him to establish a summer art series and a city schools chamber program.
William Schuman's works combined jazz and folk styles and were written for a variety of media. His credits include the baseball opera The Mighty Casey; several ballets including Choreographic Poem, Undertone and Night Journey; music for the film Steeltown; ten symphonies, numerous concertos and choruses.
During his career, Schuman held many positions in both the education and administration side of music. He was the director of the Koussevitzky Music Foundation, the Walter W. Naumburg Foundation, the Chamber Society of Lincoln Center, National Television and the Film Society of Lincoln Center. With his great compositions and performances came rewards also. He was inducted into both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Royal Academy of Music. In 1987 he received the National Medal of Arts and was honored at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. in 1989. William Schuman died at New York City at the age of 81. ~ Kim Summers, Rovi