Gunther Schuller: Composer, conductor and teacher who founded the Third Stream movement, fusing classical and jazz

Schuller wrote more than 200 pieces, including solo and orchestral works, chamber music, opera and jazz, and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1994

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The Independent Online

The horn player, teacher and composer Gunther Schuller was the leading proponent of the "Third Stream" movement which fuses jazz and classical music. He wrote more than 200 pieces, including solo and orchestral works, chamber music, opera and jazz. His orchestral piece Of Reminiscences and Reflections, dedicated to his wife Marjorie Black, won the 1994 Pulitzer Prize.

He was born in 1925 in New York; his grandfather had been a conductor in Germany while his father was a violinist with the New York Philharmonic. Schuller began playing French horn as a teenager with the American Ballet Theater and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, then joined the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, where he remained until 1959.

He discovered a new musical world when he heard Duke Ellington on the radio while doing his homework: "I said to my father, 'You know, Pop, I heard some music – Duke Ellington – last night and that music is as great as Beethoven's and Mozart's. He almost had a heart attack."

He began to frequent New York jazz clubs and became involved in the bebop scene. Although French horn was rarely used in jazz, Schuller was part of Miles Davis's group that recorded the Birth of the Cool sessions, and went on to work with such jazz greats as Dizzy Gillespie, Ornette Coleman and Charles Mingus.

In the mid-1950s he teamed up with the classically trained jazz pianist John Lewis, musical director of the Modern Jazz Quartet, to form the Modern Jazz Society in an effort to bring jazz and classical music together. During a 1957 lecture at Brandeis University he coined the term "Third Stream" to describe his vision. Schuller and Lewis introduced their Third Stream compositions on two Columbia albums, Music for Brass and Modern Jazz Concert. "It was extremely controversial," he recalled. "I was vilified on both sides."

By the 1960s he was largely focus edon composing, teaching and writing. He was president of the New England Conservatory in Boston from 1967-77, where he instituted the Third Stream department, and founded the New England Conservatory Ragtime Ensemble, which earned a Grammy in 1973 for Joplin: The Red Back Book. In 1990 he co-founded the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, dedicated to performing and preserving jazz masterpieces. Hewrote many educational books and jazz histories, and wrote the children's opera The Fisherman and his Wife with a John Updike libretto.


Gunther Alexander Schuller, musician: born 22 November 1925; died 21 June 2015.