"Composing is my life blood," said Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Morton Gould. "That is basically me, and although I have done many things in my life — conducting, playing piano, and so on — what is fundamental is my being a composer."
Capping a life full of achievements in all facets of music are Morton Gould's 1995 Pulitzer Prize for Stringmusic, commissioned by the National Symphony for the final season of music director Mstislav Rostropovich, and his 1994 Kennedy Center Honor in recognition of lifetime contributions to American culture. In 2005, Gould was posthumously awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Born in Richmond Hill, New York, on 10 December 1913, Gould was recognized early on as a child prodigy with the ability to improvise and compose. At the age of six he had his first composition published. He studied at the Institute of Musical Art (now the Juilliard School), but his most important teachers were Abby Whiteside (piano) and Vincent Jones (composition). During the Depression, Gould (still a teenager) found work in New York's vaudeville and movie theaters. When Radio City Music Hall opened, the young Gould was its staff pianist. By the age of 21 he was conducting and arranging a series of orchestral programs for WOR Mutual Radio. Gould attained national prominence through his work in radio, as he appealed to a wide-ranging audience with his combination of classical and popular programming. During the 1940s Gould appeared on the "Cresta Blanca Carnival" program and "The Chrysler Hour" (CBS), reaching an audience of millions.
Gould composed Broadway scores (Billion Dollar Baby, Arms and the Girl), film music (Delightfully Dangerous, Cinerama Holiday, Windjammer), music for television (Holocaust, the CBS documentary World War I), and ballet scores (Interplay, Fall River Legend, and I'm Old Fashioned). Gould's Audubon — unfinished when choreographer George Balanchine died — became the orchestral Apple Waltzes.
His music was commissioned by symphony orchestras throughout the United States, the Library of Congress, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the American Ballet Theatre, and the New York City Ballet. Gould integrated jazz, blues, gospel, country-and-western, and folk elements into compositions which bear Gould's unequaled mastery of orchestration and imaginative formal structures. These instantly recognizable American sounds led to Gould's receiving three commissions for the US Bicentennial (including American Ballads, Symphony of Spirituals, and Something to Do).
Gould's most personal work — and what he considered his most autobiographical — is Quotations, commissioned by the New York Choral Society. Two of Gould's close friendships inspired two unusual concertos: Tap Dance Concerto for Danny Daniels and Derivations for Solo Clarinet and Dance Band for Benny Goodman.
Always open to new styles, he incorporated a rapper/narrator into The Jogger and the Dinosaur and a fire department into Hosedown, both commissions for the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony. Among his last works are Stringmusic, Classical Variations on Colonial Themes, and Diversions for saxophone and orchestra. Ghost Waltzes was commissioned for the ninth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition (1993).
As a conductor, Gould led all the major American orchestras as well as those of Canada, Mexico, Europe, Japan, and Australia. In 1966 he won a Grammy Award for his recording of Ives's First Symphony with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, a recording that led the way for a new appreciation of Ives's work. Gould received the American Symphony Orchestra League's 1983 Gold Baton Award.
In addition to his Pulitzer Prize and Kennedy Center Honor, he was Musical America's 1994 Composer-of-the-Year. A long-time member of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers, Gould was elected president of ASCAP in 1986, a post he held until 1994. In 1986 he was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. He also served on the board of the American Symphony Orchestra League and on the National Endowment for the Arts music panel.
His music is published by G. Schirmer, Inc.
— September 2010