William Howard Schuman (August 4, 1910 – February 15, 1992) was an American composer and arts administrator.
Schuman was born into a Jewish family in Manhattan, New York City, son of Samuel & Rachel Schuman. He was named after the 27th U.S. president, William Howard Taft, though his family preferred to call him Bill. Schuman played the violin and banjo as a child, but his overwhelming passion was baseball. He attended Temple Shaaray Tefila as a child. While still in high school, he formed a dance band, "Billy Schuman and his Alamo Society Orchestra", that played local weddings and bar mitzvahs in which Schuman played string bass.
In 1928 he entered New York University's School of Commerce to pursue a business degree, at the same time working for an advertising agency. He also wrote popular songs with E. B. Marks Jr, a friend he had met long before at summer camp. Around that time, Schuman met lyricist Frank Loesser and wrote some forty songs with him. Loesser's first published song, "In Love with a Memory of You", credits the music to William H. Schuman.
On April 13, 1930, Schuman attended a Carnegie Hall concert of the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Arturo Toscanini. According to the Philharmonic's archives, the program included works by Brahms, Mendelssohn, Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Smetana. Of this experience, Schuman later said, "I was astounded at seeing the sea of stringed instruments, and everybody bowing together. The visual thing alone was astonishing. But the sound! I was overwhelmed. I had never heard anything like it. The very next day, I decided to become a composer."[This quote needs a citation]
Schuman dropped out of school and quit his part-time job to study music at the Malkin Conservatory with Max Persin and Charles Haubiel. From 1933 to 1938, he studied privately with Roy Harris. In 1935, he received a B.S. degree in music education from Teachers College at Columbia University. Harris brought Schuman to the attention of the conductor Serge Koussevitzky, who championed many of his works and conducted Schuman's Symphony No. 2 in 1939. Possibly Schuman's best known symphony, the Symphony for Strings, was commissioned by the Koussevitzky Foundation, dedicated to the memory of Natalie Koussevitzky, and was first performed under Koussevitzky on November 12, 1943.
Schuman won the inaugural Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1943 for his Cantata No. 2. A Free Song, adapted from poems by Walt Whitman. From 1935 to 1945, he taught composition at Sarah Lawrence College. In 1945, he became president of the Juilliard School, founding the Juilliard String Quartet while there. He left in 1961 to succeed John D. Rockefeller III as president of Lincoln Center, a position he held until 1969. He won a special Pulitzer Prize in 1985 citing "more than half a century of contribution to American music as composer and educational leader" and he received the National Medal of Arts in 1987.
He died at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City at age 81, following hip surgery. Schuman was survived by his wife Frances (they married in 1936); two children, Anthony William and Andrea Frances; and one grandchild.
Schuman left a substantial body of work. His "eight symphonies, numbered Three through Ten", as he himself put it (the first two were withdrawn), continue to grow in stature. His concerto for violin (1947, rev. 1959) has been hailed as among his "most powerful works ... it could almost be considered a symphony for violin and orchestra." Other works include the New England Triptych (1956, based on melodies by William Billings), the American Festival Overture (1939), the ballets Undertow (1945) and Judith (1949) (the latter written for Martha Graham), the Mail Order Madrigals (1972) to texts from the 1897 Sears Roebuck catalog, and two operas, The Mighty Casey (1953, based on Ernest Thayer's "Casey at the Bat"), which reflected his lifelong love of baseball, and A Question of Taste (1989, after a short story by Roald Dahl). He also arranged Charles Ives' organ piece Variations on "America" for orchestra in 1963, in which version it is better known. Another popular work by William Schuman is his George Washington Bridge (1950), for concert band.
William Schuman appeared as the opening guest on the CBS game show, What's My Line? on September 30, 1962 (episode No. 632). Because of his recognizability, panel members Dorothy Kilgallen, Martin Gabel, Arlene Francis and Bennett Cerf were blindfolded. Schuman's title card identified him as "Composer and President of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts (New York City)". Schuman displayed his wit in response to panel questions. After the panel exhausted a few categories, Kilgallen asked, "What about music?" Schuman replied, "What about it?" When asked if he was Leonard Bernstein, Schuman replied, "I'm his friend." When asked if he was Rudolf Bing, Schuman repeated, "I'm his friend", prompting Francis to wonder who was not his friend. When asked if he had ever sung for the Metropolitan Opera, Schuman said, "Often desired to, never invited." Cerf identified him after host John Charles Daly had flipped over all the cards. Daly announced that Schuman's Eighth Symphony would be performed at Philharmonic Hall (now David Geffen Hall) the following Thursday, which date, October 4, 1962, marked the première of the work. It was recorded for Columbia Masterworks Records five days later by its performers, the New York Philharmonic conducted by Bernstein.
|date=(help) (American Muse: The Life and Times of William Schuman features many photos and excerpts from William Schuman's scores)