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William Bolcom

May 26, 1938 -
born in Seattle, WA, composed during the Contemporary period
William Bolcom is one of the most versatile contemporary American composers, writing chamber music, piano works, song cycles, concertos, music theatre, opera, and symphonies, displaying a mastery of many different compositional styles. Although not given to radical experimentation, he consciously avoids blindly following European styles, whether old or contemporary. He describes Charles Ives as his greatest influence, and in his operas and stage works he chooses to set pieces about American characters by American authors, and includes idioms such as ragtime and jazz in his works. In addition to this wide stylistic diversity, his works often display a trenchant sense of humor, on display in works such as the song Lime Jello Marshmallow Cottage Cheese Surprise. He is also a noted performer, and in 1973 his recording of the complete piano music of Gershwin was named Stereo Review's Record of the Year. He and his wife mezzo-soprano Joan Morris have made over 20 recordings of American popular song.

Bolcom began studying composition with John Verrall at the age of 11. After receiving his bachelor's degree from the University of Washington, he studied with Darius Milhaud at Mills College. In 1960, Milhaud took Bolcom to Paris, where he also worked with Olivier Messiaen. In 1961 Bolcom went on to study with Leland Smith at Stanford. After earning his doctorate in composition there in 1964, he won the Marc Blitzstein Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters for Dynamite Tonite, a piece that shows the influence of Milhaud and the Parisian cabarets. (His Casino Paradise, written in 1990, while still cabaret-style, shows more of an individual voice.) He returned to the Paris Conservatoire in 1964, and graduated in 1965, winning the second prize in that year's composition competition, as well as the first of two Guggenheim Fellowships. Bolcom won two Koussevitzky Foundation Awards, in 1976 and 1993, for the First Piano Quartet, and the Lyric Concerto for flute and orchestra, respectively. He has been commissioned by many of America's greatest musical institutions, including the orchestras of Philadelphia, St. Louis, Seattle, New York, Baltimore, Boston, and the Lyric Opera of Chicago. His commissions include a number of works for some of the greatest singers of our time, including Placido Domingo, Marilyn Horne, and Catherine Malfitano.

In 1988, he won the Pulitzer Prize in music for his 12 New Etudes for Piano. His most ambitious composition, which occupied him for 25 years, is a complete setting of William Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience, for soloists, chorus, and orchestra, which received its premiere at the Stuttgart Opera in 1984. A recording of the work, featuring the orchestras and choruses of the University of Michigan conducted by Leonard Slatkin, won three Grammy Awards in 2006, for Best Choral Performance, Best Classical Contemporary Composition, and Best Classical Album. In 2007, Musical America named Bolcom composer of the year.

Bolcom has composed three operas, commissioned by the Lyric Opera of Chicago, all of which he wrote with librettist and long-time collaborator, Arnold Weinstein. McTeague (1992), conducted by Dennis Russell Davies, starred Ben Heppner and Catherine Malfitano. Weinstein collaborated with playwright Arthur Miller on the libretto for A View from the Bridge (1999), which was subsequently presented by the Metropolitan Opera in 2002. His third opera, A Wedding, is based on the film of the same name by Robert Altman, who worked on the libretto with Weinstein. It received its premiere in Chicago in 2004.

Since 1973, Bolcom has taught at the University of Michigan. He became a full professor there in 1983, and in 1994 he was named the Ross Lee Finney Distinguished University Professor of Music. Bolcom also holds honorary doctorates from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and Albion College. ~ Anne Feeney, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

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Track List: William Bolcom: The Complete Rags For Piano

Disc 1
Title: Eubie's Luckey Day (Rag Obsession), For Piano

1. Eubie's Luckey Day (Rag Obsession), For Piano: Eubie's Luckey Day

Title: Three Ghost Rags, For Piano

2. Three Ghost Rags, For Piano: 2. Graceful Ghost

3. Three Ghost Rags, For Piano: 1. Poltergeist

4. Three Ghost Rags, For Piano: Dream Shadows

Title: Raggin' Rudi, For Piano

5. Raggin' Rudi, For Piano: Raggin' Rudi

Title: The Gardenia, Slow Drag For Piano

6. The Gardenia, Slow Drag For Piano: The Gardenia

Title: Popular Rags (3) For Piano

7. Popular Rags (3) For Piano: Tabby Cat Walk (Slow Two-step)

Title: California Porcupine Rag, For Piano

8. California Porcupine Rag, For Piano: California Porcupine Rag

Title: Rag-Tango, For Piano

9. Rag-Tango, For Piano: Rag-tango

Title: Last Rag, For Piano

10. Last Rag, For Piano: Last Rag

Disc 2
Title: Knight Hubert, For Piano

1. Knight Hubert, For Piano: Knight Hubert

Title: Classic Rags (3), For Piano

2. Classic Rags (3), For Piano: Glad Rag

4. Classic Rags (3), For Piano: Incineratorag

Title: Popular Rags (3) For Piano

5. Popular Rags (3) For Piano: Seabiscuits

Title: Fields Of Flowers, For Piano

6. Fields Of Flowers, For Piano: Fields Of Flowers

Title: The Garden Of Eden, Rags For Piano
Title: Lost Lady Rag, For Piano

11. Lost Lady Rag, For Piano: Lost Lady Rag

Title: Epithalamium, For Piano

12. Epithalamium, For Piano: Epithalamium

x

Track List: Bolcom: Music For Violin & Piano

Disc 1
Title: Sonata For Violin & Piano No. 2
Title: Sonatina For Violin & Piano
Title: Sonata For Violin & Piano No. 1
Title: Sonata For Violin & Piano No. 3
Disc 2
Title: Duo Fantasy, For Violin & Piano
Title: Pastorale, For Violin & Piano
Title: Fancy Tales, For Violin & Piano
Title: Suite For Solo Violin
Title: The Graceful Ghost, A Concert Variation For Violin & Piano
Title: Sonata For Violin & Piano No. 4
x

Track List: Let Evening Come; Briefly It Enters;Cabaret Songs, Volumes 3 And 4

Title: Let Evening Come, Songs For Voice, Viola & Piano
Title: Briefly It Enters, Song Cycle For Voice & Piano
Title: Cabaret Songs, For Voice & Piano, Vol. 3
Title: Cabaret Songs, For Voice & Piano, Vol. 4
x

Track List: William Bolcom - Songs of Innocence and of Experience (William Blake) / Slatkin, University of Michigan School of Music

Disc 1
Title: Songs Of Innocence And Experience, For Soloists, Choruses, And Orchestra
Disc 2
Disc 3
x

Track List: William Bolcom: Songs

Title: Greatshot, Theatre Piece
Title: Casino Paradise, Theater Piece
Title: The Digital Wonder Watch (An Advertisement)
Title: Casino Paradise, Theater Piece
Title: The Last Days Of Mankind
Title: Songs To Dance (10)
Title: I Will Breathe A Mountain, Song Cycle For Mezzo-soprano (voice) & Piano
Title: Tillinghast Duo, For Voice & Piano
Title: Mary, For Voice & Piano
Title: Songs (3) From The Wind In The Willows, For Voice & Piano
Title: Dynamite Tonite, Theater Piece

Comments

Report as inappropriate
currently listening to Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 3 and it's so playful I had to look up who the composer was--first time doing this after 6 years on Pandora. looking forward to hearing more of his art.
Report as inappropriate
Interesting composer. I have to hear more before I form a full judgement.
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recuerdos
Report as inappropriate
bashkii
Very musical and talented composer. The problem is that a lot of his music is way too eclectic and in the end the music becomes unrecognizab l e and tedious to listen to. I think he could have tried to search for a more personal "voice" taking advantage of his immense musicality and talent.
Report as inappropriate
His recording of Scott Joplin rags is the best I've ever heard.

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