Joseph Schwantner (b. 1943)

American composer Joseph Schwantner grew up in Chicago and studied at the Chicago Conservatory of Music and Northwestern University. His music often combines unusual techniques, expanded and exotic percussion sections, impressionism, and some elements of minimalism to create  colorful explosions of sound, while managing to be very accessible.

Schwantner won the Charles Ives prize in composition from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1970. He has written many concertante works, often featuring some of the more neglected instruments, such as the saxophone, (Diaphonia Intervallum), horn (Beyond Autumn), guitar (From Afar), amplified violin (Angelfire), and his popular Percussion Concerto, which was written for the 150th anniversary of the New York Philharmonic and has since been one of the most frequently performed concert works of the last ten years. He has also written many pieces of chamber music, which often feature the flute, piano, or strings.

Schwantner has been an important contributor to the wind band repertory, as well. His 1977 work, … from the mountains rising nowhere, quickly became established as a standard and one of the most important band pieces of the last 30 years. It was followed by several more works for winds, including Dark Millennium, In Evening’s stillness…, and Recoil. In addition, he has arranged several of his major orchestral works for wind ensemble, including the Percussion Concerto.

Album Jacket for the Premiere Recording of "New Morning for the World"

Some of Schwantner’s most notable orchestral works include the Aftertones of Infinity, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1979, and the stirring New Morning for the World, “Daybreak of Freedom,” which uses selected texts from the speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The work is similar in many respects to Aaron Copland’s A Lincoln Portrait and ends with the words from King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The premiere performance and recording featured baseball player Willie Stargell as the narrator. Other prominent figures that have narrated the work for recordings include opera singer William Warfield, actor Raymond Bazemore, and civil rights lawyer Vernon Jordan. Another more recent orchestral work is the September Canticle, a fantasy for organ, piano, brass, strings, and percussion, written in memory of the victims of the 9/11 attack.

Schwantner is a much sought after composition teacher and has been on the faculties of the Eastman School of Music, Juilliard, and Yale University, among others. His students include Eric Ewazen, Gordon Stout, Christopher Theofanidis, and Michael Torke.

Suggested Listening:

Suggested Reading:

Frank Battisti. The Winds of Change: The Evolution of the Contemporary American Wind Band/Ensemble and its Conductor

Visit Joseph Schwantner’s official website here: