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CLASSICAL  September 2005

CLASSICAL September 2005

Subject:

Morton Gould Biography

From:

James Tobin <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Thu, 15 Sep 2005 09:14:24 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

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text/plain (107 lines)

MORTON GOULD: AMERICAN SALUTE.  Peter W. Goodman.  Portland, Or: Amadeus
Press, 2000.  382 p.

Although best known for popular, crossover and light classical music,
Morton Gould, from his earliest to his latest years had strong classical
aspirations and accomplishments.  This excellent biography shows the how
and why of the reputation and varied career of this musical genius.

Born in 1913, Morton Gould wrote his first composition as early as age
six and performed on the piano at the Brooklyn Academy of Music at age
8.  At age 13 he began study of composition and theory with the chair
of the Music Education Department at New York University.  At 14, his
Opus 8 Suite for orchestra, piano and solo instruments included tone
clusters in the spirit of Henry Cowell.  He had a strong talent for
improvisation, encouraged by his most important piano teacher, Abby
Whiteside.  In October 1929 he dropped out of high school to study
privately with another NYU professor.

At 17, in the summer of 1931 Gould gave an all-Gould concert at Wanamaker's
Auditorium, which was reviewed in the World Telegram, and at which he
improvised on themes submitted by Walter Damrosch and Henry Hadley in
the styles of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Brahms, Debussy, Stravinsky
and Gershwin, with dexterity "little short of prodigious." Shortly
afterwards the Baldwin company gave him a piano and offered to subsidize
his performances.  Schirmer planned to publish his "Three Conservative
Sketches." And Fritz Reiner recruited him to study conducting at Curtis,
where Reiner was about to go.  Unfortunately, Gould found it necessary
to turn this opportunity down.

 From the beginning of the Great Depression, Gould set out to support
his family--parents and siblings--as part of a duo-piano team in Vaudeville.
He also had experience playing in department stores and hotels.  He did
not like this kind of work, but it led to a successful career in broadcast
radio at its inception, when all music was live and nothing was recorded.
He went on to accept a position at the new Radio City Music Hall and
then, in 1935, moved to station WOR, as conductor and arranger.  Through
these experiences Gould learned to know what audiences liked.  He wrote
and published popular songs for money.  His taste was not considered
"commercial" though, "because it was too complicated." (p.  91) He was
successful, and his success was envied by composers in the European
tradition.  When Gershwin died in 1937 Gould was acclaimed his heir in
Down Beat and Radio Stars.  Goodman says that "no one but Gould matched
Gershwin until Bernstein came along." (p.  107)

Morton Gould had much in common with Leonard Bernstein and had some
significant differences from him.  Both were composer-conductors with
strengths both in classical music and the popular theatre; both wrote
ballets; both made many recordings; both became more interested in
emphasizing their classical over their popular side as they grew older.
However, Bernstein was much more successful in getting his public to
accept that emphasis than was Gould, who spent his life trying to shake
a reputation for writing "light" classical music.  Gould did end his
career by winning the Pulitzer Prize for his String Music, but he spent
much of his life minding the fact that in his maturity he was seldom
performed by the major orchestras, especially the New York Philharmonic.
 Gould could be witty and funny, but rarely smiled in public, and was
"boring and dull" on television.  He did not have the charisma, or talent
for self-promotion Bernstein did; he did not have the university and
conservatory training Bernstein did; he did not have the same kind of
professional network Bernstein did.  Some light on the last point is
cast by Nadine Hubbs' interesting but very flawed book, The Queer
Composition of America's Sound: Gay Modernists, American Music and
National Identity, a study of half a dozen New York based composers
including Bernstein, Copland and Thomson; the only one of this group
to put in good words for Gould was David Diamond, in Goodman's account;
Hubbs does not even mention the very heterosexual Gould.

Goodman glosses over Gould's many sexual affairs but tells us a great
deal about the two wives who left him-the first to pursue radical politics
and the second for reasons less clear but probably related to the affairs,
in part at least.  Both were strong women.  By the second he had children.
Gould expected to dominate his wives, as his father had dominated his
family.  His father was successful for a time, until the depression and
health problems did him in; he managed Gould's career longer than was
perhaps a good thing, as he managed it for financial success, not artistic
growth.

 Early in his career, most of the important conductors in America
were interested in Gould's music: Reiner, Stokowski, Szell, Toscanini,
Mitropoulos, and Barbirolli; so were soloists such as Heifetz.  Later,
with the exception of Solti, who performed Gould's Flute Concerto, Gould's
music continued to be published, performed, and recorded, but mostly
less prominent musicians and orchestras were involved, to Gould's
disappointment.  The challenge to all tonal music by the serialists
intensified the eclipse of his classical music.  Indeed, the coming of
rock music tended to eclipse his popular music also.  For about the last
eight years of his life Gould was President of ASCAP.  In spite of many
accomplishments and honors, he was disappointed with his career and
suffered from frequent depressions.

Goodman writes musically about many of Gould's compositions, which
include four symphonies, some concertos, and the ballet Fall River
Legend.  The book includes a selected discography.  The index lists
only names, unfortunately.  Goodman, a critic for Newsday who once wrote
a less-than-rave review of one of Gould's works, but who later acquired
a strong interest in Gould and his music, has produced a very well written
and balanced biography.  He does not psychologize, as Joan Peyser surely
would have; she had planned to write a biography of Gould but was unable
to find a publisher for her project.  A third writer had initially done
preliminary work concerning Gould's compositions with an eye to a
biography.  Between 1994 and 1997 Goodman interviewed well over a hundred
people, including Gould, for this book.  They are listed.  Some interviews
with Gould took place as early as 1985.  Gould died at the beginning of
1996.

Jim Tobin
Copyright 2005 by R. James Tobin

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