Irving Schlein, classical music composer

Irving Schlein


Irving Schlein (1905-1986) was an American composer who lived and worked his entire life in New York City.  He was born in 1905 into the poverty of the Russian-Jewish immigrant community of the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

Schlein played piano for the silent movies to support himself as a student. He received his first degree in piano from the New York College of Music in 1928, where he studied with the Director, August Fraemcke, who was one of the last two living students of Franz Liszt. In 1930, he received a second degree in piano from the Juilliard School of Music. He later had fellowships to study composition with Wallingford Riegger and Roger Sessions at the Chatham School of Music and with Aaron Copland and Roy Harris at the Henry Street School of Music.
In a Composers' Forum Laboratory recital on 17 April 1940 at the Lenox Gallery of the New York Public Library (a Works Project Administration Music Project), several of Schlein's pieces were performed—his Sonatina for Viola d'amore and piano, a string quartet and two songs, "Alabama Lullaby" and "Git awf mah back", sung by baritone Jess Walters, who later became famous at Covent Garden.

In a 1947 competition, with Paul Hindemith as one of three jurors, Schlein's "Dance Overture" won First Prize in the category of short orchestral works, awarded by the American Composers Alliance,  Broadcast Music Inc.

From the age of 32 until his death almost 50 years later, Schlein wrote incessantly.  Among his hundreds of compositions were nine symphonies and many other orchestral, chamber, instrumental, choral and operatic works
Professionally, Schlein had a successful parallel career on Broadway for over 30 years, where he served as Musical Director, pianist, arranger and composer. In 1930-1932, he worked with Al Jolson as his pianist. He was associated with many musical hits, including Lerner and Lowe's "Brigadoon" and Cole Porter's "Can-Can" and "Silk Stockings"..

In the 1940s, he developed a close collaborative relationship with Kurt Weill as his assistant. He wrote the ballet music for his musical, "Love Life", and directed a revival of Weill's and Maxwell Anderson's "Knickerbocker Holiday".

Schlein's experiences on and off Broadway with music outside the classical genre had a major impact on his classical compositions. Because he was fundamentally an entertainer, he had great empathy for audiences and therefore wrote "accessible" music.
His most productive period of chamber music and symphonic works continued until the mid-1950s. He later shifted much of his interest to writing music for theatrical works.  He wrote music for two plays, "The Bell and the Light" and "Madison", written by the well-known African-American playwright, Theodore Ward, who was the first to receive a Guggenheim fellowship.

Schlein's vocal works also include the folk-opera "Stackalee", "Money", "Blue Grass", "Johnny Merripranks" and "My Heart's in the Highlands" (based on the life, poetry and songs of Robert Burns). He enjoyed producing these pieces with his students in the New York City school system, where he taught music and English for many years after his Broadway period. In 1965, he transcribed for piano the 1867 Allen, Ware and Garrison collection of "Slave Songs of the United States". In 1968 he completed a full-length dramatic opera, "Salammbo", based on Flaubert's novel.


Composer Title Date Action
Irving Schlein Sonata No. 2 for Violin and Piano (1949) 01/13/2009 Play Add to playlist