|Lukas Foss (Piano, Conductor,
Born: August 15, 1922 - Berlin, Germany
Died: February 1, 2009 - Bridgehampton, New York City, NY, USA
The German-born American composer, conductor, pianist, and educator, Lukas Foss, began his musical studies in Berlin, where he studied piano and theory with Julius Goldstein. Goldstein introduced Foss to the music of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven, which had a profound effect on Foss musical development. In 1933, Foss went to Paris where he studied piano with Lazare Lévy as well as composition with Noël Gallon, orchestration with Felix Wolfes, and flute with Louis Moyse. He remained in Paris until 1937, when he moved with his family to the USA, continuing his musical instruction at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. In addition, he studied conducting with Serge Koussevitzky during the summers from 1939 to 1943 at the Berkshire Music Center. He also studied composition with Paul Hindemith as a special student at Yale from 1939 to 1940.
Lukas Foss began to compose at the age of 7 and was first published at 15. At the age of 22, he won the New York Music Critic's Award for his cantata Prairie, which was premiered by the Collegiate Chorale, under the direction of Robert Shaw. From 1944 to 1950 he served as the pianist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In 1945 he was the youngest composer ever to receive a Guggenheim fellowship. From 1950-1951 he was a fellow at the American Academy in Rome [photo below], and received a Fulbright grant for 1950-1952.
In February of 1953 Lukas Foss received an appointment as professor of music at the University of California at Los Angeles - succeeding Arnold Schoenberg - where he taught composition and conducting. While at UCLA, he founded the groundbreaking Improvisation Chamber Ensemble. He served from 1963 to 1970 as music director and conductor of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1963, at the State University of New York at Buffalo, Foss founded, and became the director of, the Center for Creative and Performing Arts. In 1971, Foss became the conductor of the Brooklyn Philharmonic, a position which he held until 1990 when he was named Conductor-Laureate. In 1972, he was appointed conductor of the Kol Israel Orchestra of Jerusalem. In 1972-1973 he served as composer-in-residence at the Manhattan School of Music in New York, and from 1981 to 1986 was conductor of the Milwaukee Symphony.
Lukas Foss was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and in 1989-1990 served as composer in residence at the Tanglewood Music Center. He became professor of music at the School for the Arts at Boston University in 1991. He has also traveled widely, appearing as a guest conductor with many American and European Orchestras, and lecturing at many North American colleges and universities, including Harvard and Carnegie Mellon.
Lukas Foss had contributed profoundly to the circulation and appreciation of music of the 20th century. His compositions illustrate two main periods in his artistic development, separated by a middle, avant-garde phase. The works of his first period are predominantly neo-classic in style, and reflect his love of J.S. Bach and Igor Stravinsky. In the transitional period he fused elements of controlled improvisation and chance operations with 12-tone, and serialist techniques. Notable works of this period include the Baroque Variations for orchestra, and the chamber works Time Cycle (1960), Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird (1978), and Echoi (1963). His later period works, including the Renaissance Concerto (1990) for flute, embrace a wide variety of musical references, displaying a keen awareness of idioms and styles that span the history of western art music.
|A true Renaissance man, Lukas
Foss (born August 12, 1922, Berlin, Germany) was that rare breed of
musician, equally renowned as a composer, conductor, pianist, educator
and spokesman for his art. The many prestigious honors and awards he
received testify to his importance as one of the most brilliant and
respected figures in American music. As a composer, Mr. Foss eagerly
embraced the musical languages of his time, producing a body of over
one hundred works that Aaron Copland described as including “among the
most original and stimulating compositions in American Music.” As Music
Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Brooklyn Philharmonic
and Milwaukee Symphony, Foss was an effective champion of living
composers of every stripe and has brought new life to the standard
repertoire. His legendary performances as a piano soloist, in repertory
ranging from J. S. Bach’s D Minor Concerto to Leonard Bernstein’s Age
of Anxiety, have earned him a place among the elite keyboard artists of
As a conductor, Mr. Foss has been hailed for the adventurous mix of traditional and contemporary music that he programs, and he appeared with the world’s greatest orchestras, including the Boston, Chicago, London and Leningrad Symphonies, the Philadelphia and Cleveland Orchestras, Santa Cecilia Orchestra of Rome, and the New York, Berlin, Los Angeles and Tokyo Philharmonics.
In 1937, as a fifteen-year old prodigy, Lukas Foss came to America to study at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. By that time, he had already been composing for eight years, starting under the guidance of his first piano teacher, Julius Herford, in Berlin the city of his birth. He also studied in Paris with Lazare Levy, Noel Gallon, Felix Wolfes and Louis Moyse, after his family fled Nazi Germany in 1933. At Curtis, his teachers included Fritz Reiner (conducting) and Isabelle Vengerova (piano). By age 18, the young musician had graduated with honors from Curtis, and was headed for advanced study in conducting with Serge Koussevitsky at the Berkshire Music Center, Tanglewood and in composition with Paul Hindemith at Tanglewood and Yale University. From 1944 to 1950, Foss was the pianist in the Boston Symphony Orchestra and in 1945 he was the youngest composer ever to receive a Guggenheim fellowship.
When Foss succeeded Arnold Schoenberg as Professor of Composition at the University of California at Los Angeles in 1953, the University probably thought it was replacing a man who made traditions with one who conserved them. But that was not how things turned out. In 1957, seeking the spontaneous expression that lies at the root of all music, he founded the Improvisational Chamber Ensemble, a foursome that improvised music in concert, working not from a score, but from Foss’ ideas and visions. The effects of these experiments soon showed in his composed works, where Foss began probing and questioning the ideas of tonality, notation and fixed form. Even time itself came up for scrutiny in his pioneering work, Time Cycle, which received the New York Music Critic’s Circle Award in 1961, and was recorded on the CBS label. At its world premiere (for which the Improvisational Chamber Ensemble provided improvised interludes, between the movements), Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic performed the entire work twice in the same evening, in an unprecedented gesture of respect.
Lukas Foss’ compositions of the last fifty years prove that a love for the music of the past can be reconciled with all sorts of innovations. Whether the musical language is serial, aleatoric, neoclassical or minimalist, the “real” Lukas Foss is always present. The essential feature of his music is the tension, so typical of the 20th Century, between tradition and new modes of musical expression. Many of his works – Time Cycle (1960) for soprano and orchestra, Baroque Variations (1960) for orchestra, 13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird (1978) for soprano and small ensemble, Tashi (1986), for piano, clarinet and string quartet and Renaissance Concerto (1985), for flute and orchestra – are landmarks of the 20th Century repertoire.
His ideas – and his compelling way of expressing them – garnered considerable respect for Foss as an educator as well. He taught at Tanglewood, and has been composer-in-residence at Harvard, the Manhattan School of Music, Carnegie Melon University, Yale University and Boston University. In 1983 he was elected to membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters and in May, 2000 received the Academy’s Gold Medal in honor of his distinguished career in music. The holder of eight honorary doctorates (including a 1991 Doctor of Music degree from Yale), he was in constant demand as a lecturer, and delivered the prestigious Mellon Lectures (1986) at Washington’s National Gallery of Art.
Still an active musician into his 80s, Foss continued to teach, conduct and compose. Recent works include two new string quartets (No. 4 – 1999; No. 5 – 2000), a Piano Concerto for the Left Hand and Orchestra (1993), Toccata: Solo Transformed (2000) for Piano and Orchestra, Symphonic Fantasy for Orchestra (2002), Concertino: Baroque Meditations (2003) for Orchestra, For Aaron for Chamber Ensemble or Chamber Orchestra (2002) and a Concerto for Band (2002), written for a consortium of independent secondary schools and private colleges.
Lukas Foss, a long time resident, of New York City, died there at home on February 1, 2009. He is survived by his wife Cornelia, a noted painter, two children, a grown son and daughter, and three grandchildren.
This interview was recorded in Chicago on February 2,
Portions (along with recordings)
were used on WNIB later that year, and again in 1992 and 1997. It
also used on WNUR in 2007 and 2009. An audio copy of the unedited
conversation was placed in the Archive
of Contemporary Music at
made and posted on this
website in 2011.
To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.
Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001. His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests. He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago. You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.