January 22, 1923 -
born in Hanford, CA, composed during the Contemporary period
Leslie Bassett has emerged as one of the more important composers on the American scene in the latter half of the 20th century. He forged a unique style, mixing advanced methods with conventional ones, to yield music of a modern cast that is structurally and sonically clear and relatively easy to grasp. His output has encompassed a wide variety of compositions in both the instrumental and vocal genres.
Bassett was born in Hanford, California, on January 22, 1923. He exhibited musical talent as a child and studied a range of instruments, including the piano, cello and trombone. He served in the army during World War II, performing duties in a band as arranger and trombonist. After the war he studied with Ross Lee Finney at the University of Michigan, then, in the period 1950-51, with Artur Honegger at the Ecole Normale de Musique and with Nadia Boulanger. He was taken on as a faculty member at the University of Michigan in 1952. That same year he produced two of his more significant early works, the Sonata for Horn and Piano and the choral piece, The Lamb.
Bassett briefly studied with Roberto Gerhard in 1960, then took instruction in electronic music techniques in 1964 from Mario Davidovsky. In 1963 Bassett composed one of his best known works, Variations for Orchestra, for which he received the Pulitzer Prize in 1966. In 1970 he was appointed the department head in composition at the University of Michigan.
Bassett composed one of his most popular chamber works in 1971, the Sextet for Piano and Strings, for which he was given a Naumburg Foundation recording award in 1974. By the mid-1970s new compositions from his pen were in great demand: the Philadelphia Orchestra commissioned him to write an orchestral work to celebrate the Bicentennial. The result was another of his masterstrokes, Echoes from An Invisible World (1975).
In the 1970s and 80s Bassett remained active at Michigan University as a professor of composition and director of the school's electronic music studio, which he had earlier helped to found. He retired in 1991 but continued composing, turning out such recent and successful orchestral works as Thoughts That Sing, Breathe and Burn (premiered in 1997 by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra) and the Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Orchestra (premiered in 2000 by the Orchestre de Symphonique de Laval in Montreal). ~ Robert Cummings, Rovi