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By the age of four Morton Gould was showing signs of musical precociousness, playing the piano by ear; and by the time he was six he had composed his first piece of music, a waltz for piano entitled Just Six. With the help of a scholarship given to him by Walter Damrosch he entered the New York Institute of Musical Art (later the Juilliard School) when he was eight, and went on to study at the New York University School of Music, where he completed the two-year curriculum by the time he was fifteen. Soon afterwards he was giving piano recitals in and around New York, playing the piano in dance bands, theatres and cinemas, and touring as half of the piano duo Gould and Shefter. When the RKO Radio City Music Hall opened in 1932, the young Gould was its staff pianist, and by the age of twenty-one he was conducting, composing and arranging a series of orchestral programmes called Music for Today for WOR Mutual Radio, New York. This series continued on a weekly basis for eight years, during which Gould attained national prominence by appealing to a wide-ranging audience with his combination of classical and popular musical programming. He also acquired the discipline of writing to a deadline and in place of tempo indications started to provide descriptive titles for individual movements.

In parallel with this radio-driven side of his work, Gould also composed symphonic works, notably Chorale and Fugue in Jazz (1933), which was first performed by Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra. One of his most famous concert works, Spirituals, was first given under his own direction in New York in 1941, and was later performed by the New York Philharmonic and Cleveland Orchestras. In 1943 he became the musical director of another radio show The Chrysler Hour, for which he composed one of the first commercial jingles, and appeared on the Cresta Blanca Carnival programme. One of his most popular compositions, American Salute (1943), also dates from this period.

During the 1940s Gould began to write for the stage, film and ballet, as well as continuing to work for radio and in the concert hall. As a result of his enormous radio popularity he and his orchestra appeared in the film Delightfully Dangerous (1945), and in the same year he composed the music for the Broadway musical Billion Dollar Baby. Following the creation of his score for the Jerome Robbins ballet Interplay (1945), he wrote the music for Fall River Legend (1947), with choreography by Agnes de Mille, and Audubon (1969–1983) for George Balanchine. He successfully integrated jazz, blues, gospel, country-and-western, and folk elements (to name just a few) into these compositions, as well as demonstrating his unequalled mastery of orchestration and his creation of imaginative formal structures. The instantly recognizable American sounds which Gould was able to conjure up led to his receiving three commissions for the US Bicentennial in 1977 (including American Ballads, Symphony of Spirituals, and Something to Do). Always open to new styles, he incorporated a tap dancer into his Tapdance Concerto, a rapper/narrator into The Jogger and the Dinosaur, and the sounds of firefighters at work into Hosedown.

As a conductor, Gould led all the major American orchestras as well as those of Canada, Mexico, Europe, Japan, and Australia. In 1966 he won a GRAMMY® Award for his recording of Charles Ives’s Symphony No. 1 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, a recording that led the way for a new appreciation of Ives’s work. Gould received the American Symphony Orchestra League’s 1983 Gold Baton Award, was elected president of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers in 1986, a post he held until 1994, and in 1986 was also elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. He served on the board of the American Symphony Orchestra League and on the National Endowment for the Arts music panel. He was honoured by the Kennedy Center in 1994, in recognition of his lifetime’s contribution to American culture, and received the 1995 Pulitzer Prize for his Stringmusic, commissioned by the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington.

Like Leonard Bernstein, André Previn and Arthur Fiedler, Gould was able to move with a natural facility between the different musical worlds of the symphony orchestra, musical comedy, films, jazz and popular music. The fact that he was able to do so should not obscure his considerable strengths in all of these fields. On record, apart from his recordings of his own works such as Spirituals, American Symphonette No. 2, Latin American Symphonette and Fall River Legend, his discography as a conductor was highly discriminating. It included excellent accounts of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Symphony No. 2 ‘Antar’, Myaskovsky’s Symphony No. 21, Nielsen’s Symphony No. 2, Ives’s Symphony No. 1, Three Places in New England, Orchestral Set No. 2 and Robert Browning Overture, Copland’s Clarinet Concerto and Shostakovich’s Symphonies Nos 2 and 3. Gould’s lighter side is well displayed in albums such as Blues in the Night and Morton Gould Makes The Scene.

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Conductors, Naxos 8.558087–90).

Box Set Release Catalogue Number
AMERICAN SPIRIT (The): Roots and Transformations Naxos 8.505233

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