William Schuman (1910-1992)



Donald Macleod explores the life and career of American composer William Schuman.

Donald Macleod introduces the life and career of composer William Schuman - one of the most influential American music and arts administrators of the 20th century.

No-one makes statues of arts administrators.

They slip quietly into the background, unfussily bringing their glamorous peers - orchestras, conductors, composers, virtuosos - to the attention and adulation of the public.whilst simultaneously helping to teach and nurture the next generation of young musical stars.

They are, in short - vital.

And William Schuman was unquestionably the greatest music administrator of the entire 20th century - a man who as President of New York's Juilliard School and the Lincoln Center, became perhaps the most influential musician in the whole of America: a whole nation's music-making in the palm of his hand.

Not bad for a largely self-taught composer, who'd once ran a jazz band called "Billy Schuman and his All-Stars", and peddled songs on Tin Pan Alley in the heyday of Gershwin and Irving Berlin.

But William Schuman was no pen-pushing bureaucrat - he was also one of the most prolific and critically-acclaimed composers in America: his symphonies, concerti and chamber works ranked with those of his good friends and colleagues Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein.

Unlike this iconic duo, Schuman's legacy has rather fallen off the radar on this side of the Atlantic.

This week, Donald Macleod reintroduces us to one of the most respected and important American musicians of the 20th century.

Monday's episode takes us through this future Juilliard School President's unlikely musical beginnings, selling pop songs in Manhattan in the early 1930s, with his friend, the future jazz legend Frank Loesser.

Donald Macleod also introduces two of the young composer's first mature works - his Piano Concerto and 3rd Symphony - as well as the popular American Festival Overture.


Including Schuman's Pulitzer Prize-winning cantata and much-loved New England Triptych.

As the USA found itself at war in the early 1940s, William Schuman wrote the first of a series of patriotic works that would cement his place with Copland and Bernstein as one of America's leading composers.

Donald Macleod introduces a rare performance of his cantata "A Free Song" - the first-ever composition to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music - as well as his Fifth Symphony, written the same year.

We'll also hear perhaps Schuman's most enduring and most-performed work - the charming "New England Triptych" for orchestra, and hear how this one-time pop song plugger became the President of one of the greatest music institutions in the world: the Juilliard School.


Schuman's all-American baseball opera The Mighty Casey and his Violin Concerto.

William Schuman had one other great love in his life, aside from music: the swish of the bat and the roar of the crowd at the all-American ball game.

Donald Macleod explores the composition of the composer's unique 'baseball opera', "The Mighty Casey", as well as his Violin Concerto - arguably the greatest American concerto since Barber's.


Donald Macleod explores the political wrangling that dogged Schuman.

In 1961, William Schuman became President of New York's young Lincoln Center - and arguably the most powerful man in the arts in America.

Yet it was to prove a turbulent experience.

Donald Macleod introduces the political machinations and wrangling that dogged Schuman's attempts to forge a new musical America.

We'll also hear the work bearing Schuman's name that features most in concert halls across the world - his sparkling orchestration of Charles Ives' "Variations on 'America'".

The bulk of the programme is devoted to a Radio 3 premiere - of a truly unusual piece: the composer's "Concerto On Old English Rounds", for viola, women's chorus and orchestra.

Written in 1974 (but sounding like it was written half a century earlier) and performed in this recording by Leonard Bernstein, it's hauntingly eerie - and utterly unique.

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Donald Macleod introduces Schuman's final years, including his witty Mail Order Madrigals.

As American music moved into the 1970 and 80s, William Schuman - born in the time of Gershwin and Cole Porter - increasingly seemed an anachronism, with his symphonies, concertos and quartets.

Yet his creative fire was undiminished - in this final programme, Donald Macleod introduces a set of madrigals set to words from a 19th-century mail-order catalogue, and a virtuoso 'wine guessing game' aria from an opera to a libretto by Roald Dahl.