William Bolcom, classical music composer

William Bolcom


William Elden Bolcom (born May 26, 1938) is an American composer and pianist. He has received the Pulitzer Prize, the National Medal of Arts, two Grammy Awards, the Detroit Music Award and was named 2007 Composer of the Year by Musical America. Bolcom taught composition at the University of Michigan from 1973–2008. He is married to mezzo-soprano Joan Morris.

Bolcom was born in Seattle, Washington. At the age of 11, he entered the University of Washington to study composition privately with George Frederick McKay and John Verrall and piano with Madame Berthe Poncy Jacobson. He later studied with Darius Milhaud at Mills College while working on his Master of Arts degree, with Leland Smith at Stanford University while working on his D.M.A., and with Olivier Messiaen at the Paris Conservatoire, where he received the 2ème Prix de Composition.

Bolcom won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 1988 for 12 New Etudes for Piano. In the fall of 1994, he was named the Ross Lee Finney Distinguished University Professor of Composition at the University of Michigan, a position which he still holds. In 2006, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts. Notable students include John Edgar Berners, Gabriela Lena Frank, and David Karl Gompper.

As a pianist, Bolcom has performed and recorded frequently in collaboration with Joan Morris, whom he married in 1975 (Johnson 2001). Bolcom and Morris have recorded twenty albums together, beginning with After the Ball, a collection of popular songs from around the turn of the 20th century. Their primary specialties in both concerts and recordings are showtunes, parlour, and popular songs from the late 19th and early 20th century, by Henry Russell, Henry Clay Work, and others, and cabaret songs (often from failed musicals). As a soloist, Bolcom has recorded his own compositions, as well as music by Gershwin and Milhaud (Johnson 2001).

Bolcom's earliest compositions employed serial technique, under the influence of Pierre Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Luciano Berio, whose music he particularly admired. In the 1960s he gradually began to embrace an eclectic use of a wider variety of musical styles. His goal has been to erase boundaries between popular and art music (Johnson 2001).

Bolcom's setting of William Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience, a three-hour work for soloists, choruses, and orchestra culminated 25 years of work on the piece. Its premiere at the Stuttgart Opera in 1984 was followed by performances in Ann Arbor, Chicago's Grant Park, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, St. Louis, Carnegie Hall, and London's Royal Festival Hall, the latter performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Leonard Slatkin. In 2006, a recording of it won 3 Grammy Awards for Best Choral Performance, Best Classical Contemporary Composition, and Best Classical Album on Naxos Records.

He has composed three major operas, McTeague, A View From the Bridge, and A Wedding, all commissioned and premiered by the Lyric Opera of Chicago conducted by Dennis Russell Davies. All were composed with librettist Arnold Weinstein, sometimes in collaboration with other writers. McTeague, based on the 1899 novel by Frank Norris, with libretto by Weinstein, was premiered on October 31, 1992. A View from the Bridge, with libretto by Weinstein and Arthur Miller, was premiered October 9, 1999. A Wedding, based on the 1978 motion picture by Robert Altman and John Considine, with libretto by Weinstein and Altman, was premiered on December 11, 2004.

He has also composed concertos such as Lyric Concerto for Flute and Orchestra for James Galway, the Concerto in D for Violin and Orchestra for Sergiu Luca, the Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra for Stanley Drucker, and Concert Suite for alto saxophone and band, composed for University of Michigan professor Donald Sinta in 1998. He composed his concerto "Gaea for Two Pianos Left Hand, and Orchestra" for Gary Graffman and Leon Fleisher, both of whom have suffered from debilitating problems with their right hands. It received its first performance on April 11, 1996 by the Baltimore Symphony conducted by David Zinman. The concerto is constructed so that it can be performed in one of three ways, with either piano part alone with reduced orchestra, or with both piano parts and the two reduced orchestras combined into a full orchestra. This structure mimics that of a similar three-in-one work by his teacher, Milhaud.

Bolcom's other works include eight symphonies, eleven string quartets, four violin sonatas, a number of piano rags (one written in collaboration with William Albright), four volumes of cabaret songs, three musical theater works ("Casino Paradise," "Dynamite Tonite," and "Greatshot"; all with Weinstein), and a one-act chamber opera, "Lucrezia," with librettist Mark Campbell. William Bolcom was also commissioned to write "Recuerdos" for Two Pianos by The Dranoff International Two Piano Foundation.

Composer Title Date Action
William Bolcom Black Max 03/21/2009 Play Add to playlist
William Bolcom Graceful Ghost Rag 01/22/2009 Play Add to playlist
William Bolcom The Dead Moth Tango, from Three Dances Portraits 01/13/2009 Play Add to playlist
William Bolcom The Serpent’s Kiss (Rag Fantasy) 01/16/2009 Play Add to playlist
William Bolcom Hymne à l’Amour from 12 New Etudes for Piano 01/09/2009 Play Add to playlist
William Bolcom Blue, from Cabaret Songs 05/02/2010 Play Add to playlist
William Bolcom Amor, from Cabaret Songs 05/02/2010 Play Add to playlist
William Bolcom Toothbrush Time 05/03/2010 Play Add to playlist
William Bolcom Amor 05/03/2010 Play Add to playlist
William Bolcom Dream shadows 09/21/2011 Play Add to playlist
William Bolcom Toothbrush Time, from Cabaret Songs 03/05/2013 Play Add to playlist
William Bolcom Waitin’, from Cabaret Songs 03/05/2013 Play Add to playlist
William Bolcom Over the Piano, from Cabaret Songs 03/05/2013 Play Add to playlist
William Bolcom The Serpent’s Kiss (Rag Fantasy) 04/18/2013 Play Add to playlist
William Bolcom Violin Sonata No. 2 04/15/2017 Play Add to playlist
William Bolcom Aubade for the Continuation of Life 05/11/2017 Play Add to playlist