Rhinegold Photo credit: Erik C. Jorgensen

Katy Wright

Deputy Editor, Classical Music

Elliot Schwartz (19 January 1936 – 7 December 2016)

11:50, 16th January 2017

American composer Elliott Schwartz has died aged 80.

A graduate of Columbia University, Schwartz taught music at Bowdoin College from 1964 to 2007. He also held visiting residencies at the University of California, Ohio State University, Harvard University, Tufts University, Cambridge University, Oxford University, and the Rockefeller Foundation Study Center.

His works included Elevator Music, in which 12 small groups performed on various floors of a building while the audience rode an elevator and heard parts of the piece on each floor; Facebook Chronicles, which included musicians reading posts from the social media platform; and By George, which combined excerpts of works by Handel and Gershwin.

‘What impressed me about Elliott is that he was not only a lifelong creator and ardent advocate of new music, but that he also had a deep love of historical music of all eras and styles,’ said David Ying, co-artistic director of the Bowdoin festival.

Composer and pianist Peter Dickinson, who knew Schwartz for over 40 years, wrote: ‘Schwartz fitted few of the categories associated with American composers in the later 20th century – he was a joker in the pack. In many of his works he’s obsessed with quoting existing music imaginatively reshuffled and rescored, with a sense of allusive fun partly derived from Ives but sounding quite different. He had a great talent for friendship and Facebook was littered with international tributes when the news of his death broke. For his 80th birthday in 2016 there was a recital at Portland Conservatory of Music with tribute pieces from 30 composers – three British, Judith Weir, Jeremy Thurlow and myself.’

In addition to his work as a composer and teacher, Schwartz wrote a number of books, including Electronic Music: A Listener’s Guide, Music Since 1945, co-authored with Daniel Godfrey, and Contemporary Composers on Contemporary Music, co-edited with Barney Childs.

In 2006, his notes, sketches, files, sheet music, correspondence and recordings were acquired by the Library of Congress. Responding to the news, Schwartz commented: ‘I don’t think I’m being singled out because the Library thinks I’m a great composer. I think it’s partly because I’ve been a witness to so much that has happened in American music.’


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