Obituary: Jacob Druckman

Click to follow
The Independent Online
The composer and teacher Jacob Druckman was a stalwart of American musical life. In 1972 the Chicago Symphony gave the premiere of Druckman's score Windows which subsequently won that year's Pulitzer Prize in music - an award which thrust him and his work into the forefront of his chosen profession. Since then, his orchestral works have found a regular place in the programmes of all the major orchestras in the United States and of many abroad.

As a teacher (he was professor of composition at Yale University from 1976) and as an administrator (he was president of powerful bodies including the Koussevitzky Music Foundation) and through his long association with the Aspen and Tanglewood international festivals he played an important role in the propagation of new music in the United States.

Druckman was born in Philadelphia in 1928. After early studies of piano and violin and a thorough training in solfege, harmony and counterpoint, he was composing at the age of 15 and, not long afterwards, was playing trumpet in jazz ensembles. Equipped with the keenest of musical ears and a precocious creative talent, he was admitted in the summer of 1949 into Aaron Copland's composition class at Tanglewood. Thus began a close friendship which lasted until Copland's death. Significantly, Druckman was named the first president of the Copland Foundation. Studies at the Juilliard School, New York, and the Ecole Normale de Musique, Paris, completed his formal training.

Druckman's early music boldly asserts its lineage in affinities with the musical world of Debussy and Stravinsky and the large orchestral works of Mahler and Ravel. Soon it would also embrace principles and sonorities stemming from the legacy of the second Viennese school. Never a dogmatist, Druckman composed 12-tone and serial structures as he judged his music's need of them but, by the mid-1960s, his simultaneous exploration of electro-acoustic means, aleatory procedures and overt exploitation of the theatrical dimensions of performance gave his work affinities with that of Berio and Maderna - composers he much admired.

Through his complete and elegant mastery of instrumental and electronic means, Druckman developed a personal musical style recognisable by its extrovert and ecstatic gestures masking an underlying mysteriousness.

As composer in residence with the New York Philharmonic from 1982 to 1986, he launched, along with the then music director Zubin Mehta, three Horizons festivals - a watershed event in American contemporary music which lowered the conventional programming barriers by bringing together the work of composers as diverse as Amy and Adams; Babbitt and Berio; Schuller, Stockhausen and Subotnick; Takemitsu and Del Tredici.

At the time of his death, Druckman was working on a piano concerto commissioned for Emanuel Ax and a consortium of American orchestras. Also unfinished is the ill-fated opera project based on the Medea story with a libretto by Tony Harrison - commissioned (and later cancelled) by the Metropolitan Opera for its centenary celebrations. Druckman's last professional appearance in Britain was to conduct the BBC's Manchester orchestra. He was to have conducted the BBC Wales orchestra next season.

Jacob Raphael Druckman, composer: born Philadelphia 26 June 1928; married Muriel Topaz (one son, one daughter); died New Haven, Connecticut 24 May 1996.