Composer  Harold  Shapero

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Obituary: Harold Shapero, composer and teacher
Born April 29, 1920; died May 17, 2013

Harold Shapero was best known as the composer of the Symphony for Classical Orchestra (1947), perhaps the perfect expression of the neo-Stravinskyan aesthetic he shared with his lifelong friends Arthur Berger, Irving Fine and Leonard Bernstein, who conducted the Symphony’s premiere in 1948. Shapero first came to notice when his Nine-Minute Overture (1940) was performed in 1941 by a student orchestra at Tanglewood conducted by Copland. The Overture won the Rome Prize in the same year but the entry of the US into the Second World War prevented Shapero’s travelling to Italy as part of the award. At that time Shapero was a pupil of Hindemith, but he had previously studied with Slonimsky, Krenek (from whom he learned dodecaphony, later rejecting it) and, at Harvard, Walter Piston. [See my Interview with Nicolas Slonimsky, and my Interview with Ernst Krenek.]  Later he studied with Nadia Boulanger through whom he was introduced to Stravinsky. Shapero’s compositional voice may not have been the most distinctive, but he was not an uncritical emulator of the Russian and works like the Third of Three Amateur Sonatas for piano (1944) show him assimilating Stravinskyan rhythms within a basically lyrical-melodic style with a mildly American accent.

Shapero’s list of orchestral works include two further symphonies (for string orchestra, 1946; for orchestra, 1948, a revision of the overture The Traveler), the Serenade in D major for string orchestra (1945, arranged in 1998 as a string quintet), Credo for orchestra (1955), a Partita in C major for piano & orchestra (1960) and a Trumpet Concerto (1995). He also composed a String Trio (1937), String Quartet (1941) and sonatas for trumpet (1940) and violin (1942) as well as a larger, unnumbered Piano Sonata in F minor (1948) plus an earlier example for four hands (1941) – he was a fine pianist – and the Wind Quintet, Six for Five (1995). Shapero’s musical interests extended to other areas, as in his On Green Mountain for jazz ensemble (1957) and longstanding interest in electronic music. He taught music theory and composition at Brandeis University from 1951-88 during which time he cultivated the faculty’s electronic music studio and composed and improvised for electronic as well as acoustic instruments.

Shapero twice won Guggenheim Fellowships (1947-8) and Fulbright Fellowships (1948 and 1960) and was composer-in-residence at the American Academy in Rome in 1970. By this time he had largely withdrawn from composition in the face of critical disfavour, though resumed fitfully after Previn successfully revived and later recorded the Symphony for Classical Orchestra in Los Angeles. He had a wide range of interests, from ornithology and gardening to photography and the poetry of John Whittier (some of whose poems Shapero set for soprano, tenor, flute, cello & piano in 2005-7). One of his final works was a set of 24 Bagatelles for piano He was born in Massachusetts and died there peacefully in his sleep following a bout of pneumonia, aged 93. He is survived by his wife, Esther, and daughter Hannah (aka Pyra), both artists.

--  Guy Rickards, Gramophone Magazine 

On the last day of August of 1988, Harold Shapero agreed to speak with me.  As with several other composer interviews, this one was arranged as a phone call, and the exact time was dictated by the completion of a baseball game which my guest was watching on TV!  His Boston Red Sox lost, but that did not seem to affect his demeanor too much.  A few years previously, a different guest and I were actually viewing the same game, but this was not the case here.  My team is the Chicago Cubs, and 1988 was before inter-league play!

Once we got going, our conversation ranged over many facets of the creative and performing sides of music.  Here is what was said at that time . . . . . . .

Bruce Duffie:    You’ve been teaching at Brandeis for many years?

Harold Shapero:    Yes.  I’ve been teaching there... I haven’t added it up, but it’s probably 37 or 38 years.  I’m retiring this September.

BD:    In all those years, how did you divide your time between teaching and composing?

HS:    Brandeis is a small school and the teaching is relatively easy and light, so that’s never really been a problem.  There’s plenty of time for composition.  The problem in teaching, vis à vis composition, is a psychological one.  There’s something about the teaching that is deadening to composition, I’ve found.  You’re involved in other people’s problems.  Composition is a selfish process where you have to worry only about yourself, and teaching sort of dulls that attention to your interior world.

BD:    You never get inspired with an idea here or there?

HS:    [Laughs]  Teaching, I’d say, now that I’m retiring, has been sort of a disaster for me.  One of the things about it is it gives you a nice, steady job that makes life easy, and takes the anxiety out of things.  Composition should be full of anxiety.  Having insecurity and anxiety is good for creativity.

BD:    Would you have been a better composer if you were starving in a garret someplace?

shaperoHS:    That’s one of the problems you face when you have to go into teaching, because you can’t compose music very well starving in a garret.  To write prose, all you need is a typewriter, but for music composition you need a big piano and you need high fidelity equipment, and you need a space.  It’s not a very good starvation profession.  I don’t think you can do much composing starving in a garret.  You could write prose or poetry, thought.

BD:    I will get off of the teaching in a moment, but I have one more question about it.  How have the students changed over 30 or 35 years?

HS:    The students are amazingly bright, especially the graduate students.  The change that I notice in the long period that you mention is the change in performance.  Modern performers, student performers and young professionals, are unbelievably better than they were in my youth.  That’s the change I notice the most.  The players are fabulous compared to what they were earlier.

BD:    Are the composers any better?

HS:    I don’t know that they’re any better, but there are certainly more of them.  It was a rather mean joke, and he was kidding, of course, but I think it was Stravinsky that said, “We have to have extermination camps for the young composers.”

BD:    [Laughs]  Do we have too many?

HS:    Yes, we certainly do.

BD:    Then do you go about discouraging some from getting into the profession?

HS:    No, certainly not.  [Laughs]  Discouragement is built in.

BD:    What advice do you have for the young composers coming along?

HS:    That’s one of the advantages of wonderful America.  You have unequalled opportunity, but it’s just curious.  There are so many composers for so few opportunities, yet there are loads of fellowships and there’s loads of encouragement for them.  It’s that you can win a lot of fellowships, and you can win a lot of prizes, and then nobody will still play your music.  I think Andy Warhol said, “Pretty soon, everybody will be famous for ten minutes.”

BD:    Are you finding that each one of your young composers is getting his or her ten or fifteen minutes, or is it passing them by?

HS:    They tend to succeed rather nicely because there are lots of things to win.  There’s lot of encouragement for the young, and then they sort of repeat the cycle.  They go into teaching, and non-composing jobs open to them.

BD:    Is this like planned obsolescence?

HS:    Not obsolescence.  In a way there’s room for them, but there’s not room for the music.  There’s too much music of certain types.  Again, quoting from famous people, Aaron Copland once said he got nauseous when he thought of all the un-played music of the world.  I suppose he was afraid that his might join the pile, which it hasn’t, fortunately.

BD:    Are there any undiscovered masterworks laying around on shelves?

HS:    I’m sure there are.  As a matter of fact, the young composers are amazingly good.  The thing is, a lot of this music is not hugely original, but it’s full of vitality and interest.  If you take orchestral music, how many orchestras do you have in the United States?  Quite a few, of course.  I don’t know what the ratio would be, but I’m sure it’s a thousand to one, of music written for music played.

BD:    There is a lot of music written, but not very many opportunities to get it played?

HS:    Or they get it played once.

BD:    Thinking about the music that is being written, what are some of the strains that go into making a piece of music worthwhile, or perhaps even great?

HS:    Now you’re asking what the modern generation would call a
heavy question.

BD:    [With a gentle nudge]  I’ll lay it on ya!  [Both laugh]

HS:    Okay!  What makes a piece of music great?  I suppose to be great it has to be furious.   It has to be furious in intention.  It doesn’t have to be heavy in emotional character, particularly, because I like to think that there’s just so much skill and greatness in a beautiful divertimento kind of entertainment piece as there is in a heavy, philosophical piece.  But it has to be authentic emotionally.  Technically it has to be interesting, and it has to be competent; more than competent.  Great?  I don’t know.  There is not so much music that is great, truly great.  We said this was a heavy question!  Truly great music depends on a revelatory process, but that is truly heavy.  You take something like the end of Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms.  In the last movement you have a very striking kind of revelation and inspiration, which is not too common.  That’s a truly great movement, I’d say, among many others.

BD:    Is some of the music of Harold Shapero great?

HS:    Oh, certainly.  I certainly hope so, but I leave it to others to figure that out.

BD:    The other big, philosophical question is what is the purpose of music in society?

HS:    If you take our society and our culture, it has aspects which have never been present before.  We have huge areas of commercial music, that is, music and commerce, music as an advertising medium.  Most of the music we know is utilitarian because we have endless music behind the movies, behind all the television shows, behind all the jingles.  Then we have endless pop music and all the entertainment forces.  So as far as purpose, it has many purposes in society.  We could talk about the artistic purpose of it.  That might be something else, but a lot of it is utilitarian
to entertain, to trigger emotions behind movies.  The purpose of music for some composers is moral, to change the world, even.  The best purpose, in a way, is that people who are gifted should exercise their gift, and it gets me back to the original idea of it.  What do you have?  Concentration camps for the people who don’t have gifts?  You can’t have that.  [Laughs]  You have to let time winnow everything out.

BD:    Then who should be the judge of whether a piece of music is played
— is it the composer?  Is it the public?  Is it history?

HS:    I guess history.

BD:    Is history always right?

HS:    Mostly.  It takes a long time.  There are famous examples like Bach where it isn’t quite hundreds of years, but it’s a long time.  In Bach’s time, Telemann was the famous composer.  He’s very good, but Bach didn’t surface until the late nineteenth century.

BD:    It was Mendelssohn that brought him back.

HS:    Yes.  In modern times you have a case like Ives.  Imagine going to an insurance office every day, writing his music, having no one to talk to, no one to play it.  It’s an amazing, amazing adventure, if you think of it.

BD:    Would his music have been different if, like yours, it had been played and recorded a bit?

HS:    It might have been, but you can’t argue with the destiny you have.  If you think Ives would have been more accessible and more pleasant, or something like that, I doubt it.  He was too authentic a man.  Conversely, I don’t think it means in the slightest that those who were successful, by the luck of the draw, are any worse.  Somebody like Stravinsky had a mostly successful life, got everything recorded and played and published, certainly is a great composer; whereas someone who is blessed or cursed with a less pleasant kind of idiom, like Schoenberg, had an entirely unpleasant life.  He never heard his greatest work, Moses and Aron.  I don’t think he ever heard any of it.  So, that’s rather astonishing.

BD:    It’s very sad, actually.  Maybe he’s listening to it now.

HS:    Undoubtedly.

BD:    Have you been basically pleased with the performances you’ve heard of your music over the years?

HS:    My own case is less spectacular than the composers we’re talking about because I haven’t written that much.  My output diminished sharply the minute I began teaching, and I also spent many years experimenting with electronic music, so most of the things I have written I have heard.  The nice, stimulating thing that has happened to me recently is that my ancient Symphony for Classical Orchestra has been revived and given some excellent performances by the Los Angeles Philharmonic with André Previn conducting.  That’s been a lot of fun.  I’d completely forgotten the piece, and forgotten that I was any good.  It made me think I really had something when I was young, so maybe I better try some more.  So I’ve been having fun.  I’ve been writing music a lot.  It’s a little late, but I’m pouring out the notes.


BD:    Does this interest in an older piece of your give you cause to re-evaluate your current opinions of some of your other early works?

HS:    It’s not so much as that.  What happened to me is a rather complex web of circumstances.  Even though I always thought it was accessible and a rather likeable piece for an audience, it doesn’t create fierce problems that Schoenberg or Ives did, and yet it was still totally un-played.  It was played and then dropped immediately.  It’s also quite a difficult piece, and it’s long.  So I thought if I’d been accessible and still can’t get it played, it’s a rather discouraging prospect.  The big mistake I made was trying to change things to make them a little simpler so the conductors and orchestras could play them more easily, because the main complaint was that my piece took too much rehearsal time.  That was a big mistake I never should have made.  A composer should stick to his guns and never yield to circumstance.  If you write difficult music, you just write difficult music, that’s all, and don’t try to make it simpler.

BD:    Then for whom do you write it?

HS:    You don’t write in a totally impractical dreamland, but if they’re not playing your music and you’re quite sure that it’s good, you should hang in there because history shows, in general, that if you have anything at all that’s worth doing, it’s going to come out.  That’s nice to say, but it can be very discouraging when it doesn’t.  In the world of painting, the famous case of modern times is Van Gogh, who never sold one painting in his lifetime.

BD:    Now they’re worth millions!

HS:    Every single one, and I don’t think it bothered him... Well, perhaps it did.  I’d forgotten his story, but in music it can happen.  But I find discouraging prospects of the future.  I’ve lost faith in written music because of that degree of neglect, because writing pieces that were expensive — in the sense of copying the parts and publication and all that — was a sort of useless problem, useless venture.  At least electronically, if you play with electronics, the synthesizers played back at you, which was rather pleasant.

BD:    Then everything is done once you’ve finished tinkering with the piece?

HS:    That kind of thing, yes.  It’s worth exploring, and we had some interesting ventures.  Some engineers and I were trying to create a synthesizer which played exactly like the instruments, as well as an instrument which did all the electronic sounds, too.  That’s not an easy job, electronically, to imitate the instruments in the orchestra exactly.  But it was a fascinating one.

BD:    Did you succeed?

HS:    We succeeded in large part, but not commercially.  The venture’s sort of scrapped at the moment, but it’s soon coming.  There is a modern instrument which is successful in approaching it from a different way, a different tack from the way we tried with the Kurzweil, which is currently in great vogue, and quite an instrument.

BD:    A lot of people have spoken highly of it.

HS:    Yes.  It’s a little different from what we were trying to do.  The Kurzweil tends to store instrumental sounds electronically, and then regurgitate them with a scanning kind of keyboard.  So you can go to the Boston Symphony or the Chicago Symphony and get the first trumpet or the first horn player to record his best notes, and then play them on a keyboard so that you sound like a first desk player.  There are difficulties there which are technical, but it’s difficult to change the attacks of those tones.

BD:    But suppose you were able to manufacture a machine that would do exactly what you’re saying perfectly.  Would that mean the death of live musicians?

HS:    It tends to not mean that.  It tends to change the way a lot of music is played already.  I don’t think people realize how much synthesized music they’re listening to.  Most commercial music is heavily synthesized.  It saves money, but it throws musicians out of work.  It’s going to change things.  The engineers I was working with had this curious dream
because they were a little bit musically innocentthat every American family would be able to play a Brahms symphony in his living room.  I soon discouraged them because I pointed out that it’s rather difficult to play a Brahms symphony with two hands on a keyboard.

BD:    Yet it’s very easy to slap a disc on a machine
or in a machine, nowand pay a Brahms symphony.

HS:    Yes, you can do it that way.  But on the other hand, I pointed out to them that if you had two or three synthesizers with two or three players, you could make a rather amazing amount of noise.  The use of a machine of that type would not be to recreate a Brahms symphony.  For the composer, it’s a wonderful tool.  I’ve had the prototype we were working on in my house over the weekend
when my engineers went away and were afraid to leave it in the laband I find it immensely stimulating.  I had it when it was doing brass instruments, and I was able to run off huge cascades of brass clusters, and things that I still found fascinating.

BD:    Yes, but you’re a creative-type mind.

HS:    [Laughs]  Well, you could use it for anything you want.  If you’re just a guy who has a few beers and likes to think he’s a trumpet player, you could have fun with it that way.

BD:    [Laughs]  Is it right to get everyone who has a beer in his hand to think he’s Al Hirt or Doc Severenson?

HS:    It’s coming.  It’s coming.  And another thing that’s coming is like a local print-out from a computer company.  A computer software engineer will be saying, “Oh, look at this wonderful thing we’ve just invented.  All you have to do is put this software in your computer with all the present interfacing, and you can hum a tune into it.  After you’ve finished humming your tune, you can use software to harmonize, print out and orchestrate your hummed tune, and you’ll have a whole number.  So think of how wonderful it is.  Persons with no musical education whatsoever can now compose music!”  He thinks that’s a wonderful thing.

BD:    I assume you don’t agree with it being wonderful.

HS:    Well, we’ll see.  In any case, it can be done.

BD:    Is this where music is going today, into the home
— or back into the home?

HS:    I don’t know.  Where music is going, it seems to me, everything’s compressed.  There’s never been anything like the action and the noise that music has right now.  One of my favorite fantasies is the slice, the ten-second slice.  Take an instantaneous slice of all the world’s music being played right this second on all radio stations, on all sound tracks and all concerts everywhere.  It’s an incredible vision of kaleidoscopic activity, I think.  Not necessarily bad, but just fantastic; a vision that you couldn’t have had at previous times.

BD:    Is this an instantaneous vision, or vision that you then spend the rest of your life sorting out?

HS:    It’s just a fantasy.  Just try to think of what’s being played on every household hi-fi and every radio station and every movie sound track and every concert hall and every local beanery and every guy with a guitar and every rock group all at the same time
all the different styles, all the noise.  It’s a colossal amount of noise.

BD:    Do you draw a line between noise and music?

HS:    I probably do myself, certainly.  I’m in my own taste.  I’m highly prejudiced, I’m sure, but I certainly have no hatred for any particular style.  If anything, music’s kind of a miracle, and anybody who does it — even somebody who can only put three notes on a page or play three notes in a row
to me is amazing.  You have a lot of activity.  You have it on the low level and you have it on the highest level, and then it’s truly amazing.  I don’t know if that answers the question we were talking about.

BD:    That talks toward it, and that’s what I’m looking for.  Thinking about things that are all-inclusive, are you basically pleased with the recordings that have been issued of your music, because they have a little more universality?

HS:    As I said, I haven’t written much, and my recordings are very few.  I certainly have nothing to complain about.  It was a little easier to get published when I was a young composer, and I succeeded in getting some large pieces published, which is very fortunate and doesn’t happen much today.  My recordings are adequate.  I’m not very pushy.  I’m not very interested in myself, so I don’t push very hard in that area.  If I had, I could get many things recorded, I’m sure.  It’ll take place if the pieces are good, but I don’t do much in the way of self-promotion.


BD:    At least there are none of the recordings which misrepresent you?

HS:    I don’t think so.  Most are pretty good.  Well, some of the pieces misrepresent me.  [Laughs]

BD:    Do they misrepresent you, or they just simply represent an old time of you?

HS:    There are things that I’ve done that I’m not crazy about.  They’re not disasters, but they’re a couple of things recorded that are not my best things.  It does make a difference.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Let us talk about some of the things that are recorded.  Tell me a bit about the Partita in C for Piano and Small Orchestra.

HS:    Yes, that’s not one of my favorites.

BD:    [Facetiously]  Okay, I’ll throw it in the ash can!  [Laughs]

HS:    Throw it in the ash can???

BD:    [Laughs]  Is that what you want me to do with it?

HS:    No.  It’s not utterly terrible.  It’s got some interesting aspects to it.  I always thought it was rather interesting.  My daughter, who is quite a musician and has great musical taste said, “You know, Dad, that one really isn’t so good.”  So I guess if she doesn’t like it, it can’t be very good.  That piece has a curious mix of diatonic and atonal techniques.  The diatonic is much more visible, much more audible than the twelve-tone, but I thought it was rather interesting the way I stuck them in together.  There are subtle qualities where you didn’t really know the twelve-tone music was happening. 

BD:    If someone you respect comes up to you and says, “Boy, that’s a great piece,” would you believe them?

HS:    Well, I don’t think it’s great, but I think it’s kind of funny.  It’s supposed to be.  It has its humorous aspect, and if I remember, it has a good finale, a happy finale.  But it’s a curious piece. It’s an in-between piece.  I made the experiment with the two idioms, and that’s a dangerous experiment.

BD:    What about the Credo for Orchestra?  That was written on commission for the Louisville Orchestra.

HS:    Credo for Orchestra is a very small, short piece.  I like the music.  At the time, the reason it’s so short was practical.  We were a young family and we were moving into a new home, and I had very little time.  There was too much to do, practically, so I had to scout about, and that was the thing I had close to completion.  So I finished it up as best I could, and that was my Louisville commission.  I think the orchestra wasn’t too displeased because it was pretty.  Actually, the Credo for Orchestra is part of a larger piece.  It was a shortened version of a movement that would be much larger if I ever complete the whole thing, a concerto for orchestra that I have, which has problems that I never solved, and is still in progress.

BD:    When you continue writing it and work on it
perhaps after you’ve retiredwill you go back to that style?

HS:    It’s in that style and it’s close to completion, but it has little rag-tag in it that I never solved.  So yes, there I have a curious confidence, or arrogance, if you will.  As to my old pieces, the ancient ones, I feel if they have good materials, the style won’t make much difference, because if it’s good stuff that can be yanked out thirty years later, it still will be good.  Schoenberg had very, very early pieces that he kept on revising and fooling around with, and not really finishing.

BD:    Do you revise your scores much?

HS:    I don’t revise them that much.  My general way of writing is slow, and my general procedure is to get tangled up in my steps.  I get them to work for long sections very well, then I can’t solve a problem of how to connect a certain section.  That sometimes takes a long time.  I sometimes have to go to another piece to develop new techniques and new harmonies to show me how to finish old ones.  I’ve always done that.

BD:    Another recording I have is your Sonata for Trumpet and Piano.

HS:    [Surprised]  It’s not on a recording, is it?

BD:    Yes, on the Redwood label.  I interviewed Robert Palmer, and he sent me the disc with his Trumpet Sonata.  Your piece is on the other side.

HS:    It’s a recording I never knew anything about.  I never knew it even existed.

BD:    Surprise!

HS:    Who plays it?

BD:    Marice Stith.

HS:    Is he a famous trumpeter that I never heard of?

BD:    He’s Associate Director of Music, and Director of Bands at Cornell.

HS:    I’m sure he’s terrific.  By the way, if it’s too much to ask, since I don’t have the recording, can you send me a little copy of it on a cassette?

BD:    Sure, I can make it for you and send it along.

HS:    It’s only a few minutes long, maybe eight minutes long.  Maybe I can try to find the record.  It’s curious that it has a recording because in Los Angeles, when we were there last year, there’s a wonderful trumpeter named Thomas Stevens.  [Composer, author, and Principal Trumpet with the Los Angeles Philharmonic 1972-99.  He gave many performances and made many recordings of 20th Century music, including pieces by Henry Lazarof, Luciano Berio, Frank Campo, Iain Hamilton, William Kraft, Aurelio de la Vega, Chou Wen-Chung, Verne Reynolds, Alan Hovhaness, Peter Maxwell Davies, Charles Dodge, Meyer Kupferman, Leonard Bernstein, and Hans Werner Henze.]  I love the solos that he played in my symphony.  So we got to be kind of friends, and he came up to me this last time and asked if I would mind if he recorded my Trumpet Sonata.  I said, “Would I mind?  Of course not!”  I guess you have to sign releases and things like that to make sure.  So he said he was going to record it, but I didn’t know there was one already.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Tell me about the String Quartet No. 1.  This seems to have gotten a lot of notoriety.

HS:    Notoriety?  What kind of notoriety?  I’m pleased to hear it has notoriety, but...

BD:    It’s mentioned several times as being either a very representative piece, or being a very special piece in your repertoire.

HS:    That’s very early, again, and I was very productive in my college years.  A
ctually, when I was still a student at Harvard I managed to write probably more music than I did later.  The String Quartet dates from my college years, probably when I was a junior about 1938 or ’39.  It has good things in it.  I always thought it was a rather derivative piece.  It’s funny, the derivations don’t sound very obvious right now, because the composers that it derived from are not heard very often — people like Roy Harris.  You’d be hard put to ask a young composer of this generation what Roy Harris sounds like, which is tragic because I was always a Roy Harris fan.  He has his detractors, but I was not one of them.

BD:    Are you glad that we’re coming back, in a way, to the Roy Harris style?

HS:    I don’t know whether we’re coming back to the Roy Harris style, but I think his music’s due for a revival.  It’s uneven, sure, and it has its bad things about it as well as good things, but Roy Harris was one of the most authentic American gifts that we ever had.  In my youth he was played just as much as Aaron Copland.  But Copland was a little more practical, and it’s perhaps greater art.  It’s more sophisticated in its construction and it’s better in workmanship.  But Roy Harris certainly has something, and I couldn’t keep up with it.  How could I?  I have no idea what he’s got in the later symphonies.  I kept up with symphonies up to number five or six, but I think he’s up to twelve, and there must be piles of other music.  He was a composer that worked in his late years without much encouragement.  The joke used to be he always got the same reviews, the same bad reviews.  But he has an authentic gift.  I have on my piano rack his Sonata, Opus One, For Piano.  The very first piece, or the very first published piece, and it’s got amazing things in it.  It has passages of great originality.  It also has got some of the bad aspects.  It isn’t perfect, and it isn’t very neat, but it has amazing authentic stuff and it should be revived.  That gentleman is due for a revival.

BD:    I have a question about the photograph of you [on the record cover shown below] leaning on a porch railing with a top coat on.  Where was it taken?

HS:    That was in my little town of Natick, which is a suburb outside of Boston.  My child had just been born, and we weren’t too strong on funds.  So we rented an old house, an old Civil War New England house, and that was the balustrade; that was the porch of that house.  I think there’s a New England kind of church across the street, too.  That was idyllic.  It was kind of cold.


BD:    Are you pleased with the old recording of the Symphony for Classical Orchestra?

HS:    That one is on CRI, but the original is on a Columbia Record which is long out of print.  The CRI is a reconstituted stereo version of the early one.  That record came out in the very earliest days of high fidelity, 1951 or ’52, and considering it was the early days, the sound’s pretty good.  I hope the new one that’s going to come out is better; I’m not sure.  The orchestra is better, I’m sure.  That early recording was made by a pick-up group.  They were the best players in New York, but they still were thin on the strings because it was a recording.  They used six or eight first violins and that proportion in the string group.  It was rather mangy in the string group.  They tried to make up for it with miking techniques in those days, but it’s pretty good.  And of course, Lenny Bernstein is good.  The way that recording was made, it was all done in one day.  Lenny was knocking himself out and came down with a flu.  He went uptown to the doctor in the luncheon break, and was running a fever of 102, or something like that.  So he went and got shot full of penicillin, and came back like a hero and finished it all up.  I remember he thought the last movement was the hardest and needed the most energy, so we recorded that first and went progressively down to the first movement.  The first movement wasn’t so easy, though, so the first movement got the least recording time.  It sounds it, as I remember.  The new one that will come out as a compact disc on New World Records is with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, taken from a live performance.  That had plenty of rehearsal, and the orchestra is very good and gave it a bang-up performance.  Taking it from a live performance, you don’t have time to correct the balance and things that happen, but I recently listened to the tape and it’s very accurate.  There are not many mistakes in it, if any at all.

shaperoBD:    There’s enough fire in it?

HS:    Yes, I’d say so.  It has different qualities, but I hope it’s better all-around, otherwise people will say, “Oh, we liked the old one better.”  [Both laugh]

BD:    Are there any other recordings that I should know about?

HS:    Well, you found that Redwood one with the Trumpet Sonata.  I don’t know.  There may be some more.  [Laughs]

BD:    One of the articles I read mentions some recordings of piano music with you playing.

HS:    There’s an early recording that used to exist on Columbia.  [See photo of record jacket at right.]  I think it has been re-issued several times — I don’t know whether it’s current — of my old Four-Hand Sonata played by Leo Smit, my close friend, and myself.  [See my Interview with Leo Smit.]  That dates from way back.  He’s one of my oldest friends.  He’s a wonderful pianist and he’s also composing like crazy.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Is composing fun?

HS:    I have true joy when the piece is finished and I can look at it all done.  That really gives me pleasure.  I’ve never found it easy, like certain composers.  There are composers for whom the process, just by the luck of the draw, is relatively easy.  Prokofiev is one who said it came very readily to him.  The composers that I know, to whom the notes and texture come easy, have more fun out of it.  To me there’s always an aspect of agony about it, even the simplest passages, and that takes the fun out of it.  I have to get involved, and it sort of makes you crazy, so it’s not too much fun.  But when it’s done it’s a lot of fun.

BD:    When you’re working on it, how do you know when it is time to put the pencil down?

HS:    [Laughs]  It has ways of letting you know when it’s right.  I tend to go from wrong to right in anything, if I’m even trying to write the simplest melody.  I have to write it down wrongly before I come right.  My mind tends to work like that.  It very rarely comes right the first time, even when I’m in good shape and have been writing.  I have to think it.  I have to write it down in a wrong form, and then re-cycle it until it comes out right, and that’s not so much fun as the composers who get it right the first time.

BD:    Are you in control of the pencil, or is the pencil really controlling you?

HS:    That’s another heavy subject.  The pencil should never control you because then you run away and think you’re doing a wonderful thing, and you’re not.  It’s not so much the pencil; it’s the musical imagery that you want to be right, and the design and the pattern of the notes to be right, which has little to do with the pencil.  In my youth I studied with Paul Hindemith, who was a great modern master.  He wrote very quickly most of his life, and at that point in the 1940s when I studied with him, he was already a very mature man and had written masterpieces.  He said, “I’ve shortened the time from my head to the pencil.”  [Both laugh]  “I’ve shortened it completely, so it comes right out, bang,” which was very nice.

BD:    Do you strive to shorten that time?

HS:    I studied with him when I was in my twenties, and one of the motives I had in working with him was that I couldn’t write fast.  I knew that was a bad thing because you’re trying to get ahead, and if you can write fast you have a much better chance because you could fill the world with music with your name on it, and it would be great.  I thought if I started with Hindemith, who would write fast, maybe the secret would rub off on me, but it didn’t.  Following Hindemith I studied with Nadia Boulanger, and she sensed this conflict that I had about writing fast.  After a year or so when she knew me, she said, “You’ll never be fast, so knock it out of your head that this music is not going to be good.  Don’t try to be quick.”


BD:    Would you really like to have the world filled with music with your name on it?

HS:    No, not so much that.  I would like to be like Mozart.  At one point he writes his dad a letter that says, “Dear Dad, I’m sending you the violin sonata I wrote between 11:30 and midnight last night.”  [Both laugh]  Then another time he writes his father something like, “I’m sending you three quartets I wrote when I was in Mannheim.  I forgot that I’d written them, but I discovered them in the bedroom.”

BD:    Is there any music you’ve forgotten you’ve written?

HS:    [Laughs]  I suppose there must be some.

BD:    Once you retire from teaching, are you going to devote all of your time to composing?

HS:    I sort of do anyway, but you can’t really compose 100% of the time.  That’s crazy-making, though I notice now that I’ve stopped worrying about my students, that my musical fantasy is working more like it did when I was younger.  It sort of frees it up.  I don’t have to worry about their problems.  It seems as if I’ve lost a lot of time.

BD:    Are you optimistic about the future of music?

HS:    You can be as optimistic about music as you are about the world.   It fits right along with it.  There’s no reason not to be optimistic.  We’ve had a chance to blow ourselves up since I was a baby, and we haven’t done it yet, so maybe we’ll keep not blowing ourselves up, politically.  Musically it’s a very exciting time.  There’s a lot of action.  In my sourer moments I complain constantly about the quantity.  I feel sort of oppressive.  I feel about it the way the population explosion is
oppressive.  There are so many people in the world, and it’s a horrible thing.  Do we need that many?  And that goes along with the information explosion.  So you have a population explosion and information explosion.  You have a lot of din, and it’s a perfect tower of Babel qualitya lot of confusion.  You can say the best will always rise to the top, but at the same time there’s a lot of very curious cultural mix.  If you take some of our Greek masterpieces, they constantly have more curious functions all the time in our society.  Bach, of course, survives anything — even Switched-on Bach!  [Both laugh]  It seems you can put Bach on a steam calliope in an amusement park and it sounds great.  It’s hard to kill Bach, but some of the other stuff is easier to kill.  The funniest one is a tape that you can put on your phone answering machine which has the Beethoven Fifth Symphony which goes [sings the first notes], “Nobody’s home.  Wait for the tone.”  [Both laugh again]  This is a new use of that material, because in the nineteenth century it began to be known as the fate motif.  Now it’s reduced to the trivia of an answering machine.  I hadn’t heard that work live for maybe twenty-five years, but I heard it a couple of months ago in New York with the Baltimore Symphony.  They have a young conductor who is involved in a process they’re calling “Renovating Beethoven.”  They’re trying to go back to the original metronome marks and the original flowing marks to get rid of all the performing tradition that has been dumped on these great pieces over the nineteenth century by the great hero conductors.  That’s the general idea.  The big joke is two conductors meet and each says to the other, “Have you heard my Fifth?”  There’s a little egomania of the great modernist conductors of my youth, Koussevitzky and Toscanini.

shaperoBD:    Is this perhaps one of the indications that the piece of music is truly great, when it can’t be killed?

HS:    It’s a good indication, yes.  But these are sturdy things.  Rehearing the Beethoven Fifth after a lapse of so many years, and listening to it
especially in this renovated version where they’re trying to go back to the original tempiit comes out as a truly unbelievable piece, the first movement especially.  It’s just a ghastly masterpiece, that first movement, so strikingly original and so devastating in its impact!  I couldn’t believe the whack that it had as I heard it again.

BD:    Does it have a lot of whack because you’ve been away from it for a long time?

HS:    Partially yes.  I just haven’t paid attention to it for so long, and I was in a good mood and wanted to hear it.  Also the clean-up was pretty good.

BD:    But an audience will hear it every couple of years at the concerts and on their records.  Won’t they get tired of it?

HS:    Well, the audiences never seem to get tired of it, because they’re people that don’t get tired of music.  They’re not purveying and performing and teaching music all the time, whereas you and I can get tired of it.  Generally, if you play Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony any time, the audiences will be pleased with it.  It never fails to please an audience.  But what they do get jaded about is missing the true content of something like that.  They have to hear it freshly, as if they are hearing it for the first time, to hear the great strokes of genius that are in it.

BD:    What advice do you have for audiences that are coming to hear your music?

HS:    Well...  [Laughs]  I had a lot of fun.  That was a big surprise in the recent revival of my symphony, a very pleasant one, and totally, totally unexpected on my part.  When that piece was first written, it was about ’47 or
48, and it was played a couple of timesonce in Cleveland and once in Boston, and part of it (one movement) was played elsewhere, and that was about the size of it.  The audiences weren’t hostile; they weren’t polite, either.  It was just sort of a mediocre kind of experience.  It was a long piece which they found a little bit puzzling, and they couldn’t pay attention very well.  I remember one part of it was played at Tanglewood when there were fifteen thousand people there and ten thousand people on the lawn.  It was a rather delicate movement, and the people couldn’t stay awake on the lawn.  They kept banging their plates and their chairs.  They wanted to get rid of the piece so they could go on to the next piece.  So it got a few performances and it had a very mediocre audience response.  So when André Previn re-scheduled it in Los Angeles, I expected to go out there and have fun with my old friends.  I figured we’d go and eat ourselves up a storm in the Japanese sushi place or some Chinese restaurants, but the music’s going to be dull and a terrible drag.  To my total surprise it was a tremendous audience success, which is unprecedented!  It surprised everybody.  It has a rouse-up ending, but still the general public stamped and cheered.  It was amazing!  One of the reviewers, the hard-headed guy who’s a famous musical Los Angeles critic... [trying to remember his name]  He’s a tough apple...

BD:    Alfred Frankenstein?  [Alfred Victor Frankenstein (October 5, 1906 – June 22, 1981) was an art and music critic, author and professional musician.  He was the long-time art and music critic for the San Francisco Chronicle. Among his colleagues, he was noted for his wit and his lack of tolerance for pretension.  Prior to becoming a journalist and critic, he played clarinet in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.]

HS:    I think he was San Francisco.  This was L.A.  He’s equally famous.

BD:    Oh, Martin Bernheimer!  [Martin Bernheimer (born September 28, 1936, in Munich, Germany) is an American music critic. He studied at Brown University, also at the Hochschule für Musik in Munich, and with the famous musicologist Gustave Reese at New York University.  His career as music critic began in New York, writing for the New York Herald Tribune, then working as an assistant to Irving Kolodin at the Saturday Review, and finally landing the position of music critic at the New York Post. In 1965, he moved to Los Angeles where he worked as the chief music and dance critic for the Los Angeles Times. He was twice the recipient of ASCAP's Deems Taylor Award (1974 and 1978) and in 1982 he won the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism.]

HS:    That’s right, yes, whom I’ve never met.  In the paper he said I got the kind of ovation that was usually reserved for fat tenors and piano players, which is sort of true.  [Both laugh]  I thought it was insane.  They were stamping and cheering.  It was amazing!

BD:    Now are you looking forward to having the music picked up by other orchestras?

HS;    Well, you hope so.  That whole thing was a very pleasant experience, and Previn I find absolutely more than delightful.  He was entirely sympathetic, which is something you’ll never hear a composer say about any conductor that I can think about.  [Laughs]  He was entirely sympathetic.  He knocked himself out to be nice, and he really gave it tremendous rehearsal time.  He was just great.

BD:    You’re very lucky. 

HS:    Yes.  I am very fortunate, very fortunate.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    What is next on the calendar for you?

HS:    Well, I have the biggest unfinished pile of any aging composer.  [Laughs]  If I can finish my unfinished pile, I’ll be a fairly good composer.  If I don’t finish it, I won’t be so hot.  I have a lot of unfinished stuff and new stuff coming.  I have a number of commissions that I’m trying to write, so there’s plenty to do.

BD:    When you get a commission, how do you decide if you’ll accept it or postpone it or turn it down?

HS:    I have turned them down for many years because the teaching got in the way and I didn’t feel I could do my very best.  I simply didn’t want to get tied down, and most of them would have led to pieces that I wouldn’t have liked, I thought.  But that was a bad thing to do, I would say, because it gets you out of practice.  I was fooling around with electronics a lot, and a composer should always write, no matter what it is, and keep going because you keep your technique going.  One of the recent commissions I did take was because of the performance group being so excellent.  It’s a great group and an attractive one — the New York Y Series Chamber Orchestra.

BD:    Oh, the 92nd Street Y?

HS:    Yes, the 92nd Street Y, which is super-duper.  I know they can play anything I would ever cook up for them.  But that’s a modern group.  Here’s a good example of modern life, though it isn’t all blessings.  So I thought that was a good commission to take because I knew the conductor and he was sympathetic.  I tried to knock myself and write a good piece for them.  The money wasn’t very great.  They gave me as much as they could, and money is no issue at this point because I don’t need it one way or the other.  I don’t know how Chicago is, but the musical aspect of New York I find absolutely outrageous, especially for composers.  I got a call saying, “Well, they probably want the piece to be about twelve or fifteen minutes because of rehearsal schedules and the nature of the program.”  Okay, I try to be accommodating that way.  Then I got a call saying, “You’ve got one rehearsal.”  So, okay.  You try to make it so it can be done in one rehearsal.  Then I got a call that said, “The parts have to be copied out of the commission fee.”  I don’t know what you know about copying parts, but that was the hooker.  So I said, “The piece that I intended to write for them can’t be written because it would cost me about $3,000.00 beyond the commission fee to pay for the parts.”  The copiest makes far more money.  Now I’m up in the air.  I don’t know what I’m going to do for the group.  They don’t know anything about this, you see, but the point is to try to make it practical.  So I had to compose.  I had to think about what I can do, given the limitations they’ve given me, and try to get out a piece that I don’t have to be ashamed of.  And they’re trying to be good!  But that’s the outrage of New York.  It’s this incredible fast shuffle, and I’m sure it would happen to anybody.  It’s not just because I’m a relatively unknown composer.  There’s just so much action.  That Y series has four concerts a week, and this has to come in and that has to come in.  There has to be room for everything, and if you multiply that in that city, all over it’s like that.  Every single aspect of musical life in New York is that fast shuffle.  I sometimes think you could have the premiere of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Missa Solemnis in one night, and attract no attention there.

BD:    [Laughs]  Are they jaded because of it all?

HS:    No, it’s because there’s so much action there.  Everything is going on at the same time, and it’s madness.  It’s exciting, but it’s madness.

BD:    Then all the composers have to figure out ways to get that attention.

shaperoHS:    Yes, not to me particularly; I get plenty of attention.  For instance, André Previn took my symphony.  He took the orchestra on tour and played my old symphony in Carnegie Hall, and we had a real rousing reception. We had a good time.  It was like a Hollywood B-movie of the old, neglected composer getting his bows and everything.  So I wasn’t complaining.  My old friend, Lucas Foss, called up and said he couldn’t get to hear my piece but he was going to try.  He had a ballet that was being played over at Lincoln Center, but it was only one of five pieces on the program.  He thought his was first, so if his was first, he was going to run over to Carnegie Hall afterwards and see me there... which he actually did!  It was a nice gesture from an old pal.  But I just thought of the madness of having an American Music Festival at the City Center Ballet.  Say it was Saturday night.  Five American composers were represented on that program.  On Sunday there were five more American composers, and on Monday there were five more.  You become part of a list, a smorgasbord.  Everything’s this huge list.  It’s what’s called group living.  It’s not terrible, but it takes the fun out of it.  It’s not a complaint, it’s just the way the facts of life are.  It’s just a huge crush.  It’s fun to be an egomaniac when you control the musical life of your city, the way earlier people did.  What we need is old age pills
pills that guarantee old age.

BD:    As you approach your seventieth birthday in another year and a half, what’s perhaps the most surprising thing that you’ve noted in music?

HS:    This multiplicity I’m talking about — everybody going in different directions; in the same town you have, say, fifteen relatively eminent composers all writing in different styles.  One’s minimalist, one’s a serialist, one’s a neoclassicist, one’s a pop guy, one’s a rock guy, and they’re all going at the same time.  That phenomenon is amazing.

BD:    You don’t think that there should be just one style of music?

HS:    No, I certainly don’t.  I just think that if you compare that kind of activity to any previous period, it doesn’t resemble it.  No previous historical period had this aspect of everything going on at the same time.  There’s a fancy word for it
compresence of styles.  All this action at once going, and it’s kind of the Tower of Babel confusion.

BD:    Is it all going to crash?

HS:    It doesn’t look like it.  It’s something like driving on the highway.  When you get out on the roads, haven’t you noticed how many more cars there are on the roads than when you were young?  That’s staggering.  I go out in my local suburban neighborhood, and it doesn’t seem to make any difference what hour of the day it is.  If I go out at nine o’clock, ten o’clock, eleven o’clock, two o’clock, four o’clock, seven o’clock, eleven o’clock, I will wonder what are all these people doing on the road?  At eleven o’clock on Tuesday morning, the kids are already in school, so why are the highways so crushingly crowded?  They just are.

BD:    That’s life in the twentieth century, I guess.

HS:    That’s right, life in the late twentieth century.

BD:    Thank you for being a composer.

HS:    I was glad to speak to you.  I am very happy that you are trying to do good on your good radio broadcasting.  Any endorsement of so-called classical music is welcome in my book, and more power to you.  Have we been an hour already?

BD:    Yes.  It’s been an informative and fun hour.

HS:    You’re kidding.  Okay, wow.

BD:    [Laughs]  Surprise!

HS:    I had fun.

BD:    Good!

HS:    One thing I should like to add because it might be a fun story for you.  We were talking about multiplicity and population explosion.  When I was going to New York a couple of months ago, my wife’s looking in The New York Times and says, “Hey look, you’re having a world premiere by a pianist named Such-and-such.”  I said, “Impossible.  I don’t have any piece like that.  I don’t even know that piano player.”  So we looked and of course, it was a different Harold Shapero.  [Both laugh]  So I began to think...  In New York I actually met the piano student that had played this piece, and I said, “Who was that guy?”  He says, “Another guy.”  It turns out that there are at least three other Harold Shapero’s that compose that live in the New York area.

BD:    Oh, no!

HS:    I said, “Here’s a black-humor joke.  If he gets a bad review, which one gets the credit?”  [Both laugh]  You can add that to your bag of life in the twentieth century.

BD:    Composers should do the same thing that actors do.  In Equity [the actors
union] there can be no two people with the same name.  They have to use middle names or longer names, or just simply change their names.  If you want to join Equity, you give them your name, and if it’s already been used, they say you can’t use that name, even if it’s your own moniker!

HS:    [Laughs]  Well, that’s going to happen more and more.  Are there other announcers with your name?

BD:    I hope there’s only one, but the man who runs Meet the Composer is named John Duffy, and we have been sometimes confused by others.  We spell the name differently, howeverhis ends with a y, and mine ends with an ie.  I’m Bruce Duffie.

HS:    Do you think you have enough material to go on?

BD:    Oh, I think so, yes.  This has been a wonderful, wonderful conversation!

HS:    You’ve got a nasty editing job ahead of you. 
Not to worry, though.  Anything you throw my way’ll be appreciated.  [We then continued for a few minutes discussing the nitty-gritty of editing tapes, including the nightmare of splicing cassettes!  I assured him that for my composer-programs on WNIB, I generally used a couple of large segments of interview in between pieces of music from their records.]

Harold Shapero, American Neo-Classical Composer, Dies at 93

Published: The New York Times, May 21, 2013 [Text only]

Harold Shapero, a composer who was a central figure of American Neo-Classicism, a school of composition that thrived in the 1940s and ’50s, died on May 17 in Cambridge, Mass. He was 93.

His death, at a nursing home, was announced by his family through a post on the Web site of Brandeis University, where Mr. Shapero, a professor emeritus, taught for 37 years.

Born in Lynn, Mass., on April 29, 1920, Harold Samuel Shapero had a diverse musical youth. He became a skilled pianist, played jazz for fun and profit, and as a teenager studied composition with the Austrian-born composer Ernst Krenek, who tutored him in the 12-tone technique.

But Mr. Shapero was drawn to Neo-Classical idioms, especially at Harvard, where he was a student of the American composer Walter Piston, and at the Berkshire Music Center in Lenox, Mass., where he worked with Paul Hindemith and became a close associate of Aaron Copland, who was 20 years older.

The early 1940s was a period when many American composers were exploring complex methods and procedures, especially 12-tone technique. Neo-Classicists like Piston wrote works that essentially hewed to tonal harmony, put a premium on textural clarity and used traditional forms. Mr. Shapero, though, was particularly engaged by Stravinsky’s harmonically spikier and rhythmically vibrant Neo-Classical works.

During the 1940s he wrote prolifically, including three witty and inventive piano sonatas, an exuberant Sonata for Violin and Piano, and diverse chamber works and songs. His major achievement during this period was his Symphony for Classical Orchestra, a 45-minute work in four movements, completed in 1947.

When he began writing the symphony, Mr. Shapero thought he had undertaken a divertimento that would last at most 20 minutes, as he recalled in a 1999 interview with The New York Times.

“But I had wildly miscalculated my materials,” he said. “When I measured out the slow movement, I was shocked. It was 15 minutes. I stopped working for a month. Then I tried to cut the thing. But it fought me and won. Slowly I became aware, with horror, of what I was writing: a long and difficult symphony. I thought I’d never get it performed.”

But Leonard Bernstein, then 29, who had known Mr. Shapero at Harvard, found he had “fallen in love” with the piece, as Bernstein explained in a note to Serge Koussevitzky, the conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. [A portion of that note is reproduced below.]  Bernstein conducted the symphony’s premiere in a guest appearance with the Boston Symphony in January 1948.


Two months later, Georg Szell performed it with the Cleveland Orchestra, though Szell had to be talked into doing so at a time when the orchestra was under pressure to play some American works. Szell had expressed doubts about the symphony during his first meeting with Mr. Shapero.

“Szell was a fabulous musician who hated modern music,” Mr. Shapero recalled. “He summoned me, asked me to play the piece on the piano, then told me I didn’t know how to modulate and should study Richard Strauss.” The reviews were equivocal.

The symphony, though long and difficult, is ingenious and engrossing. A shimmering opening Adagio segues into a bustling, contrapuntally complex Allegro, followed by a wistful Adagio, a misbehaving Scherzo and a hurtling, imposing finale. This audacious piece is like a brash, American contemporary counterpart to Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony.

On a single hectic day in 1953, Bernstein, though suffering from a fever, recorded the Shapero symphony with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra, a studio ensemble of top freelance New York musicians. But even that recording did not prevent the piece from slipping into oblivion, until 1986, when André Previn performed it, to acclaim, in Los Angeles with the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Martin Bernheimer, then a critic for the Los Angeles Times, wrote that “Shapero reveals himself here as a superb craftsman, an artist totally in control of the grandiose variables at hand.” The writing, he added, “is clever, subtle, elegant.” Ultimately, he wrote, the symphony “isn’t affecting in spite of the inherent anachronisms, but because of them.”

Still, these Neo-Classical “anachronisms” found disfavor with the advocates of modernist techniques, who often held sway in the music departments of American universities.

By the 1960s, stung by this criticism, Mr. Shapero wrote less and less. He explained his withdrawal to the Los Angeles Times critic Mark Swed in a 1986 interview.

“Comfortable university life is a disaster, especially if you have a university that doesn’t pressure you to produce or perish,” he said. “And I had a young child. I like home handicrafts and hobbies. I like gardening. I like photography. So it was only too easy to put off some of those hard operations like writing music.”

That child, Hannah Shapero, a commercial artist and electronic musician, survives him, along with his wife, Esther Geller, a visual artist. At Brandeis, Mr. Shapero mentored generations of composers and musicians and helped develop the university’s electronic music studio.

After Mr. Previn introduced the Symphony for Classical Orchestra to the Los Angeles audience, he recorded it on the New World label and performed it during guest appearances with Mr. Shapero’s hometown Boston Symphony and other orchestras.

This flurry of success motivated Mr. Shapero to compose again, including Three Hebrew Songs for Tenor, Piano and Strings Orchestra (1989) and, recently, 24 Bagatelles for Piano. Even at his nursing home, in his last months, Mr. Shapero requested and was brought manuscript paper.


This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: May 24, 2013

An earlier version of this obituary referred incorrectly to the orchestra that André Previn conducted in 1986, when it performed Mr. Shapero’s Symphony for Classical Orchestra. It was the the Los Angeles Philharmonic, not the Los Angeles Symphony.

© 1988 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded on the telephone on August 31, 1988.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB in 1990, 1995 and 2000.  A copy of the unedited audio was given to the Oral History of American Music archive at Yale University.  This transcription was made and posted on this website in 2014.

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.