Non-music lovers may have been puzzled by news of the recent death of composer William Schuman. They were probably thinking of Robert Schumann (1810-1856), the German Romantic composer, music critic and mentor to Brahms. Yet William Schuman (1912-1992) occupied a comparable place in American musical history: He was among this century's most important composers of the modern American school. As a teacher and arts administrator, he was one of the most influential voices on the U.S. cultural scene.
Mr. Schuman wrote symphonies, concertos, operas, ballets and chamber works that helped define an American voice in 20th century classical music. He also won two Pulitzer Prizes.
In 1945, he embarked upon a second career when he was appointed president of the Juilliard School, one of the premier music conservatories. He revamped the curriculum by consolidating the teaching of music theory and harmony. In 1962, Mr. Schuman was named head of what was then the recently completed Lincoln Center. He guided the institution for seven formative years.
Though his reputation as a composer rests on his orchestral works, Mr. Schuman may be best remembered for the arrangements he adopted for concert band. Many of his most popular pieces, such as the "Chester" suite, won wide acclaim by being performed by generations of young musicians in countless high school auditoriums.
Mr. Schuman once said "nobody was interested in my next symphony." But his band arrangements were eagerly sought by high school music directors who wanted to make American works accessible to audiences that still identified "classical" music with the Europeans. He was happy to oblige. What William Schuman gave over a career of more than half a century contributed immensely to the development of music in America and to the enjoyment of music lovers everywhere.