Samuel Adler, composer

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?

The most significant influences on my musical life was first of all my father who was a cantor and a composer of liturgical music. He was also an excellent pianist who accompanied me, a violinist every day until I went to college. He wrote a great deal of music and I watched him and listened to it often. He never taught me but sent me to a friend of his, Herbert Fromm, a student of Hindemith’s, who taught me the fine points of composition as well as harmony, counterpoint and analysis. After my college years studying with Walter Piston, Paul Hindemith and Aaron Copland, I could not help their great influence on me, and my early works do sound a bit like a combination of the three great masters. Later on, I feel that I have created my own musical language.

What have been the greatest challenges/frustrations of your career so far and what are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?

I have had a wonderful career of teaching, conducting and composing and really have no complaints at all. At my age of 94, I still receive many commissions and a great many performances throughout the world. This makes me very happy and still challenges me daily to make my life very meaningful.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles or orchestras?

I always write with the person or the group in mind. When I receive a commission, I ask to hear a recording of the artist, chamber group, orchestra or band before I begin a work, and then try to write the piece which I feel would fit the ‘musical personality’ of the commissioner. To this date, I feel, this has worked well and I have to say that I have had luck so that all the persons or groups I have written for have been most appreciative of my intentions.

Of which works are you most proud?

The question of what composition I am most proud of is a bit like asking which child is your favourite. I think most composers have to make the work they are writing at the moment their favourite, otherwise it will not have the full force of the composer’s attention and intention behind it.

How do you work?

I try to work only in the morning when I am freshest. However, when I was teaching full time for about 65 years of my life I had to fit in my composing whenever possible. Weekends became most important and filled with many hours of composing.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

The most important knowledge for a young composer must be a thorough knowledge of the music of the past as well as the present. Added to that must be a real in depth acquaintance with harmony, counterpoint, melody as well as orchestration. I hear too many works of young composers which have excellent ideas without the knowledge of bringing these to satisfactory conclusions.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences/listeners?

I think that young musicians should become very entrepreneurial, and get out of the academy into the community and organize concerts in banks, grocery stores and any place that will have them. This is to get to ordinary people and show them pieces from all creative periods which will introduce classical music to people who have never even heard it. I feel our music can change the world to be a better and more meaningful place, and we, as musicians, must have so much conviction of those facts that we are willing to go out and bring it to the average individual and see the persons that we play to and sing to and love, what we are giving them. That is one way of beginning our quest to spread the gospel.

Mendelssohn was once asked what music means, he answered: “Music means those things that are too precious to put into words”. Let us use that as a good motto.

Samuel Adler was born March 4, 1928, in Mannheim, Germany and came to the United States in 1939. He was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in May 2001, and then inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame in October 2008. In 2018he was award the Bundesverdienstkreuz (first class), the highest civilian award given by the German government .

He is the composer of over 400 published works, including 5 operas, 6 symphonies, 17 concerti, 8 string quartets, 5 oratorios and many other orchestral, band, chamber and choral works and songs, which have been performed all over the world. He is the author of four books, Choral Conducting (Holt Reinhart and Winston 1971, second edition Schirmer Books 1985), Sight Singing (W.W. Norton 1979, 1997), and The Study of Orchestration (W.W. Norton 1982, 1989, 2001), and the autobiographical Building Bridges With Music (Pendragon Press 2017). He has also contributed numerous articles to major magazines and books published in the U.S. and abroad.

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