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William Schuman, in full William Howard Schuman, (born Aug. 4, 1910, New York, N.Y., U.S.—died Feb. 15, 1992, New York), American composer, educator, and administrator whose symphonies, ballets, and chamber music are noted for their adaptation of European models to American themes.
Schuman studied harmony and composition at Malkin Conservatory, New York City, and then studied at Teachers College, Columbia University (B.S., 1935; M.A., 1937). From 1936 to 1938 he trained at the Juilliard School under Roy Harris, who brought him to the attention of Aaron Copland and Serge Koussevitzky. In the meantime, a first symphony, a string quartet, and a second symphony were performed and later withdrawn. The American Festival Overture (1939), the Third String Quartet (1939), the Symphony No. 3 (1941), and the cantata A Free Song (1942), based on poems by Walt Whitman, established Schuman’s reputation and garnered numerous awards.
Schuman taught at Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, New York (1935–45), and then became president of the Juilliard School of Music (1945–62). There he brought about academic reforms and innovations and added a number of prominent American composers to the faculty. He was president of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City (1962–69), where he encouraged the commissioning and performance of American works. In 1970 he entered private business as chairman of the board of Videorecord Corporation of America.
Schuman wrote 10 symphonies, of which Symphony No. 6, characterized by a major-minor chord that he frequently used, is perhaps his finest achievement. In addition, Schuman composed the ballets Undertow (1945), Night Journey (1947), and Judith (1950). He also wrote four string quartets, an opera with a baseball setting (The Mighty Casey, 1953; revised as a cantata, Casey at the Bat, performed 1976), and various choral works. Among his later orchestral compositions were The Young Dead Soldiers (1976), which accompanies text by Archibald MacLeish, and Concerto on Old English Rounds (1976).