The National Endowment for the Arts’ American Masterpieces: Choral Music initiative is designed to celebrate our national musical heritage by highlighting significant American choral composers and their works of the past 250 years. Stanton’s Sheet Music is proud to present this series highlighting the composers and their works featured in this groundbreaking project.
William Schuman (1910-1992) ranks among the most honored and distinguished American composers, although most of his works are less well-known among the general public than those of his contemporaries Copland, Bernstein, and Barber. An exception to this is his New England Triptych, an orchestral work often paired on programs with the similarly conceived (but very different sounding) Three Places in New England by Charles Ives.
In 1943 he won the first Pulitzer Prize for music ever given. He was the first composer ever commissioned to write a work by the U.S. government. He was president of The Juilliard School for 18 years, and president of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts for its first eight years. He was granted more than 20 honorary degrees in a lifetime as an educator, administrator, and composer, and had an enormous impact through his teaching and his tireless efforts to incorporate classical music into the lives of the American public.
Schuman’s catalogue is particularly rich in choral works. He was an acknowledged master of accompanied and a cappella choral music both complex and simple in scope (some pieces are written specifically for amateur singers). He made a point of emphasizing American poetry for his texts. His Carols of Death are settings of three powerful verses by Walt Whitman. On a lighter note, the choruses from Casey at the Bat (a 1976 “baseball cantata” adapted in turn from his 1953 opera The Mighty Casey) revel in the rollicking humorous verse of Ernest Lawrence Thayer, reflecting Schuman’s lifelong passion for baseball.