Morton Gould

1913 1996

Morton Gould

Composer • Piano • Conductor


New York native Morton Gould was one of the first successful crossover composers of the 20th century. His works transcended the boundaries of jazz, dance, classical and popular genres and settings. He was also an excellent pianist and conductor, though he said, ‘composing is my life blood. That is basically me, and although I have done many things in my life—conducting, playing piano, and so on—what is fundamental is my being a composer’. Gould was nominated for 12 Grammy Awards throughout his career, winning two. 

Gould was born in Richmond Hill, New York City on 10 December 1913. His natural gift for music was soon evident to everyone, as he eagerly improvised and composed at every opportunity. By the age of six, Gould had his first work published. He went on to study at the Institute of Musical Art in New York City, which later became known as The Juilliard School. His two most influential teachers included Abby Whiteside and Vincent Jones for piano and composition, respectively.

Other early influences included seeing the parades of military veterans, who were greeted by hordes of cheering spectators, giving him a lifelong appreciation for the people serving in the military and music for marching bands. Gould, himself, wished to enlist in the Army but was rejected for health reasons. He then decided to share his patriotism by composing works for both concert and marching bands. These works includeDerivations for Clarinet and Dance Band(1955), West Point Symphony (1952, also known as his Symphony no. 4), Jericho: Rhapsody for Band, Formations(1964) and Centennial Symphony Gala for Band(1983).

As a teenager during the Great Depression, Gould found his first jobs in New York’s numerous vaudeville and movie theatres. He also became the staff pianist of the newly opened Radio City Music Hall and by the age of 21 he had made his mark as conductor and arranger of a series of orchestral programmes for WOR Mutual Radio. Gould became a national celebrity for his radio work, which combined both classical and popular elements. His popularity soared after his 1940s appearances on the programmes ‘Cresta Blanca Carnival’ and ‘The Chrysler Hour’ (CBS).

Gould once stated, ‘I've always felt that music should be a normal part of the experience that surrounds people’ and as such, his popularity was ensured by his wide-audience which came from his unique and ground-breaking ability to blur the lines between diverse musical genres: orchestral vs. band, classical/serious vs. pop, ballet vs. chorus and Broadway vs. television. He was also successful in integrating elements of jazz, blues, gospel, country-western and folk music into his works, which also featured brilliant orchestration and innovative structures. Gould was also one of the first to explore digital recording, beginning as early as 1978 with recordings on the Chalfont and Varese Sarabande labels.

Gould’s orchestral works include the Piano Concerto (1938), along with the Jekyll and Hyde Variations(1957) for Dimitri Mitropoulos, American Salute (1943) and theAmerican Symphonette no. 2 (1932). His most popular dance works includeInterplay (1945) and “I’m Old Fashioned: Astaire Variations, which were both choreographed by Jerome Robbins.

Symphony orchestras throughout the US commissioned Gould’s works, as did the Library of Congress, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the American Ballet Theatre and the New York City Ballet. Highlights from his repertoire include commissions such as the three works for the 1976 US Bicentennial— American Ballads, Symphony of Spirituals and Something to Do. In addition, the Concerto for Flute (1983) was commissioned for Donald Peck by the Chicago Symphony, while his autobiographical workQuotations (1983) was commissioned by the New York Choral Society.

Other commissions include American Song (1984), which was written for a summer Olympics concert;Ghost Waltzes (1993) for the 9th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition; the 1995 Pulitzer Prize-winningStringmusic (1994) for the 80 th birthday of Mstislav Rostropovich and the final season of the National Symphony, of which he was the music director; and two works for the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony—The Jogger and the Dinosaur for rapper and orchestra (1992) and Hosedown: A firefighter Fable(1995).

Gould also composed a number of solo/chamber works including the popular Tap Dance Concerto(1952), which was written for his friend Danny Daniels, and Benny’s Gig for Clarinet and Double Bass(1962) for his good friend Benny Goodman’s birthday.

During the 1940s and 50s, Gould composed the music for at least three films, includingDelightfully Dangerous (1944), Cinerama Holiday (1955) and Windjammer (1958). Interestingly, he also appeared as himself in the first film, which starred a young Jane Powell.

Gould’s compositions for television followed in the 1960s and 1970s, with the CBS documentary seriesWorld War I (1964-5), ABC’s F. Scott Fitzgerald in Hollywood(1976) and the NBC mini-series Holocaust (1978).

Throughout his career, Gould made more than 100 recordings on various labels, including RCA and Columbia. Many of his works have reappeared recently in performances by the Albany Symphony on Albany Records.

Gould was also a talented arranger, with many of his arrangements having been recently re-released by BMG. Gould was equally successful as a conductor as he was a composer, leading major orchestras throughout all of North America and in Europe, Japan and Australia.

Gould believed strongly in the intellectual rights of artists and advocated on the behalf of artists as a member of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP), which he joined in 1939. In addition to holding the position of president of ASCAP from 1986 to 1994, he served on the board from 1952 until his death. He was also a member of the board of the American Symphony Orchestra League and the music panel of the National Endowment for the Arts. 

Gould earned many prestigious awards, including two Grammy Awards and a Pulitzer Prize. He was awarded the Grammys in 1966 for his recording of Charles Ives’ First Symphony with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and a 2005 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1995, Gould received the Pulitzer Prize for Music for his workStringmusic. He was also awarded the American Symphony Orchestra League’s Gold Baton (1983), a Medal of Honor for Music from the National Arts Club (1985), a National Music Council American Eagle Award (1986) and was named Musical America’s Composer-of-the-Year in 1994. He was also elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts Club in 1985, made a Kennedy Center Honoree in 1994 and inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame in 2011.