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Selected Historical & Rare Recordings

As Composer and Performer

As Composer and Performer

Nocturne (1942)

Nocturne (2nd Mvt Only)College of Music Symphony Orchestra
00:00 / 05:54

Nocturne was one of Gunther’s earliest compositions written in 1942 (at the age of 17) for horn and piano. By 1945, it eventually “found its way into” the 2nd movement of his first major orchestral work Concerto for Horn and Orchestra which was premiered that spring by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra with the composer as its featured soloist under the direction of conductor Eugene Goosens. However, the 2nd movement (the Nocturne movement) was left off the bill due to an already previously scheduled lengthy program. Only the first and third movements were performed.

Gunther did have a chance to perform the 2nd movement ten days later (April 17, 1945) when the College of Music Symphony Orchestra (Cincinnati) under the direction of conductor Walter Heermann presented a tribute concert to the recently deceased President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Nocturne was included in the All-American program along with works by Chadwick, Griffes, Gould and Gershwin, among others.

Here we have the composer performing his own composition from a surviving 78 acetate disc complete with clicks and scratches. This may be the earliest recorded example of the dual talents of Gunther as player as well as composer.

Twelve by Eleven (1955)

Twelve by Eleven (premiere)Modern Jazz Society
00:00 / 08:38

Twelve by Eleven — one of Gunther’s earliest compositions to employ a healthy dose of jazz elements — was composed somewhere around the summer or early fall of 1955 probably due to Gunther’s participation on a studio recording earlier that year (March 1955) that was eventually released on Norgan Records as The Modern Jazz Society Presents A Concert of Contemporary Music. Gunther played horn and also contributed a couple of arrangements to two John Lewis compositions for a medium-sized ensemble with an odd assortment of wind instruments, perhaps not too common in jazz during those days. Some of the other members of the group included Stan Getz, Lucky Thompson, Tony Scott, JJ Johnson, Percy Heath, and Connie Kay (2/4’s of the Modern Jazz Quartet sans John Lewis & Milt Jackson). The Modern Jazz Society was formed to function as a meeting place for two musical and somewhat opposing sides, jazz & classical. Ideas and concepts from both worlds were already slowly merging during the late 40s and early 50s amongst a small, yet committed group of like-minded composers and arrangers. Gunther was one of the leading progenitors of that emerging movement a few years before it was even coined “third stream.” 


To promote the Norgan LP release, a concert was scheduled at Town Hall on Nov 19, 1955 to showcase this unusual mix of ensembles and to show off a diverse program…everything from jazz standards and ballads to a through-composed contemporary classical piece (the American premiere of Luigi Nono’s Polifonica-Monodia-Ritmica). Gunther set out to write a new composition by straddling the fences of tonality, atonality and improvisation while utilizing a wide-ranging instrumentation to mainly feature the Modern Jazz Quartet, especially Milt Jackson and John Lewis. 


This rare and unissued live recording of Twelve by Eleven is probably the premiere performance from Town Hall (further research is needed). The title is a slight word-play referencing the serial side of Gunther’s compositional approach ‘times’ the number of players in the ensemble (i.e., shorthand for the alternative title: 12x11). 


Personnel for the Town Hall concert on Twelve by Eleven included James Politis, flute; Tony Scott, clarinet; Lucky Thompson, tenor sax; Loren Glickman, bassoon; JJ Johnson, trombone; Gunther Schuller, French horn; Janet Putman, harp; Milt Jackson, vibes; John Lewis, piano; Percy Heath, bass; and Connie Kay, drums.  

As Composer

As Composer

String Quartet No. 1 (1957)

String Quartet No. 1The Composer's String Quartet
00:00 / 17:15

Schuller’s String Quartet No. 1 was commissioned by the University of Illinois School of Music and The Fromm Music Foundation for the 1957 Festival of Contemporary Music, held on the campus of University of Illinois during March of that year.

The Walden Quartet (Homer Schmitt, Bernard Goodman, violins; John Garvey, viola and cellist Robert Swenson) premiered the work during the festival on March 29, 1957 and subsequently released a live version of that performance on a rare 3-LP set (consisting of various selected commissioned works from the festival). Schuller’s string quartet received its European premiere later that year by the Ortleb Quartet (members of the Berlin Philharmonic) at the famous (or possibly infamous) Darmstadt Festival.

Twenty years later, The Composers String Quartet (Matthew Raimondi, Anahid Ajemian, violins; Jean Dane, viola and cellist Michael Rudiakov), while in residence at the New England Conservatory of Music, recorded the same piece for the Golden Crest label (NEC series) along with works by Cowell, Stravinsky, Swift and Carter. It is presented here in three movements without interruption.

Woodwind Quintet (1958)

Schuller - Woodwind QuintetThe New York Woodwind Quintet
00:00 / 11:43
1. Lento
2. Moderato
3. Agitato

Schuller’s Woodwind Quintet (composed in 1958) was premiered by the New York Woodwind Quintet in Cologne, Germany for the Westdeutsch Rundfunk. It got its first NYC performance in March 1959 (see program below) and was probably recorded for the Concert-Disc label around 1961 or 62. Members of the New York Woodwind Quintet at that time included Samuel Baron, flute; Ronald Roseman, oboe; David Glazer, clarinet; John Barrows, horn; and Arthur Weisberg, bassoon.