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Adorno, Theodor (11 September 1903–06 August 1969), social and political theorist, aesthetician, and atonalist musical composer, was born Theodor Ludwig Wiesengrund in Frankfurt, Germany, the son of Oskar Wiesengrund, a wealthy wine merchant, and Maria Calvelli-Adorno, a professional singer of Corsican and Genoese origin. He adopted his mother’s maiden name when his scholarly writing began to appear in 1938, perhaps reflecting his close attachment to her rather than to his remote father. His mother had borne her only child at age thirty-seven and lavished attention and resources on him, particularly with regard to “high” culture. His schooling included piano and composition training at a professional level (one teacher was Alban Berg) and philosophy with Edmund Husserl....

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Ernest Bloch. With three children. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-103560).

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Bloch, Ernest (24 July 1880–15 July 1959), composer and educator, was born in Geneva, Switzerland, the son of Maurice Bloch, a purveyor of tourist merchandise, and Sophie Brunschwig. Bloch senior, an official of the small Jewish community in Legnau, in the Canton of Aargau, provided his family with an Orthodox environment. Bloch exhibited an early interest in music, and during his teenage years he received training in violin from Albert Goss and Louis Etienne-Reyer and in solfège and composition from Émile Jaques-Dalcroze. He left school at the age of fourteen, shortly after his bar mitzvah. From 1896 to 1899 Bloch studied in Brussels, where his teachers included Eugène Ysaÿe, Franz Schörg, and François Rasse. Bloch’s compositions from this apprenticeship period reveal the influence of the Russian national school, particularly in matters of fluctuating meters, folk-flavored melodies, irregular rhythms, exotic scalar constructions, a propensity for modality, and coloristic scoring. His ...

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Cage, John (05 September 1912–12 August 1992), composer and philosopher, was born John Milton Cage, Jr., in Los Angeles, California, the son of John Milton Cage, Sr., an inventor, and Lucretia Harvey, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times. Cage had early aspirations to be either a minister or a writer. In 1930, after two years at Pomona College, he went to Europe, where he studied architecture with Ernö Goldfinger and piano with Lazare Lévy in Paris. There he also began painting, writing poetry, and composing music. On his return to California in 1931, he studied composition with Richard Buhlig, developing a method employing two 25-tone ranges. He then moved to New York to learn more about harmony and music theory under the tutelage of Adolph Weiss; at the New School for Social Research in 1933, he also studied modern harmony, contemporary music, and Oriental and folk music with ...

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Campbell, Lucie E. (1885–03 January 1963), gospel composer and teacher, was born in Duck Hill, Mississippi, the daughter of Burrell Campbell, a railroad worker, and Isabella Wilkerson. Her mother was widowed several months after Lucie’s birth, and the family soon moved from Carroll County to Memphis, the nearest major city. Lucie and her many siblings struggled to survive on their mother’s meager wages, which she earned by washing and ironing clothing. Given the family’s insubstantial income, it could afford a musical education for only one child: Lucie’s older sister Lora. Lucie eventually learned to play piano, however, through her own persistence, a gifted ear for music, and a little help from Lora....

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George W. Chadwick. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-85844).

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Chadwick, George Whitefield (13 November 1854–04 April 1931), composer and music educator, was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, the son of Alonzo Calvin Chadwick, an insurance agent, and Hannah Godfrey Fitts. Both his parents were musically inclined. His father had been the president of the Martin Luther Music Association of Boscawen, New Hampshire, and was a sponsor of a singing school, where he had met his wife. Chadwick’s mother died eleven days after he was born. His father remarried and sent Chadwick, still an infant, to live with his grandparents for the next three years. When Chadwick was reunited with his father and stepmother, the family moved downriver to Lawrence, Massachusetts, where Alonzo became an insurance agent and participated in the local choral society, which performed at ...

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Carlos Chávez Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1937. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-103962).

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Chávez, Carlos (13 June 1899–02 August 1978), influential Mexican composer/conductor, author, and educator, of Spanish and some Indian descent, was born Carlos Antonio de Padua Chávez y Ramírez in Mexico City, the seventh son of Augustin Chávez, an inventor, and Juvencia Ramírez, a teacher. His mother supported the children after her husband’s death in 1902. Chávez began his musical studies at an early age and studied piano, first with his elder brother Manuel, then with Asunción Parra, and later with composer and pianist Manuel M. Ponce (1910–1914) and pianist and teacher Pedro Luis Ogazón (1915–1920). Chávez credited Ogazón with introducing him to the best classical and Romantic music and with developing his musical taste and technical formation. He received little formal training in composition, concentrating instead on the piano, analysis of musical scores, and orchestration. Chávez’s maternal grandfather was Indian, and from the time Chávez was five or six his family frequently vacationed in the ancient city-state of Tlaxcala, the home of a tribe that opposed the Aztecs. He later visited such diverse Indian centers as Puebla, Jalisco, Nayarit, and Michoacan in pursuit of Indian culture, which proved a significant influence on his early works....

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Coerne, Louis Adolphe (27 February 1870–11 September 1922), composer and college professor of music, was born in Newark, New Jersey, the son of Adolphe M. Coerne and Elizabeth Homan. After an early education in Germany and France, Coerne moved with his family to Boston. Following Coerne’s graduation from the Boston Latin School in 1888, he studied composition, harmony, and counterpoint with ...

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Converse, Frederick Shepherd (05 January 1871–08 June 1940), composer and educator, was born in Newton, Massachusetts, the son of Edmund Winchester Converse, a Boston dry goods merchant, and Charlotte Augusta Shepherd Albree. Educated in the public schools of his hometown, he entered Harvard College in 1889, where he studied with ...

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Dett, R. Nathaniel (11 October 1882–02 October 1943), composer and educator, was born Robert Nathaniel Dett in Drummondsville (now Niagara Falls), Ontario, Canada, the son of Robert Tue Dett, a musician and music teacher, and Charlotte Johnson, a musician. The Detts were a highly literate and musically active family, especially interested in European concert traditions. For young Dett, the classical traditions formed his musical roots, and he would never lose touch with them....

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Engel, Carl (21 July 1883–06 May 1944), composer, editor, and librarian, was born in Paris, France, the son of German parents Joseph C. Engel and Gertrude Seeger. Engel studied music, philosophy, and psychology at the Universities of Strasbourg and Munich. His musical training included individual instruction on the violin and piano and composition with Ludwig Thuille. The Engel family immigrated to the United States in 1905, settling in New York City. Engel quickly affiliated with the city’s young composers and musicians interested in new music and, later, their New Music Society of America, a group dedicated to the performance of American works....

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Fischer, Irwin (05 July 1903–07 May 1977), composer, conductor, and educator, was born in Iowa City, Iowa, the son of Christopher Columbus Fischer and Ella Hornung. Fischer’s childhood was spent in a number of Iowa towns, where his father was at various times a farmer, a barber, and a shopkeeper. When he was eleven the family moved to Chicago. After appearing in high school productions of Gilbert and Sullivan comic operas, he decided to become an actor. His father opposed the boy’s going to college but died during his senior year, so Fischer decided to put himself through the University of Chicago. There he majored in theater and appeared in additional productions. He also continued piano study and composed a few short works. This interest in music kept enlarging, and upon his graduation in 1924 with honors (third year Phi Beta Kappa), Fischer enrolled at the American Conservatory of Music, also in Chicago....

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Hanby, Benjamin Russel (22 July 1833–18 March 1867), songwriter and music educator, was born in Rushville, Ohio, the son of the Reverend William Hanby and Ann Miller. He learned music as a child by attending singing schools. The family moved to Westerville, Ohio, around 1848 in part so that the children might attend Otterbein College. Hanby entered Otterbein in 1849, but his studies were seldom full-time, for he also taught school and directed singing schools. In addition he began composing songs, generally of a type promoting social, moral, or religious betterment. In 1856 his immensely popular “Darling Nelly Gray” was published by ...

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Hockett, Charles F. (17 January 1916–03 November 2000), linguist, anthropologist, and composer, was born Charles Francis Hockett in Columbus, Ohio, the son of Homer Carey Hockett, a historian, and Amy Francisco Hockett. At the age of sixteen, he entered Ohio State University, where his father served on the faculty. The university offered neither a linguistics nor an anthropology major to meet Hockett's interests in languages and cultures, so he began the study of Greek as part of a combined undergraduate/graduate program in ancient history. His first Greek instructor was the linguist ...

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Kagen, Sergius (22 August 1908–01 March 1964), pianist, pedagogue, and composer, was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, the son of Isaiah Kagen, a newspaperman, and Vera Lipshitz, a writer and educator. At age nine Sergius was sent to study piano with Glazunov at the Petersburg Conservatory. To escape the famine and destruction that accompanied the Russian Revolution, Kagen’s family fled to Berlin in 1921 in a cattle car, a difficult journey of several months’ duration. There Kagen was enrolled at the Hochschule für Musik and studied piano with Leonid Kreutzer. In 1922 the family began to emigrate to the United States, one member at a time. The fifteen-year-old Kagen, already a veteran of historical and personal turmoil, was the last to follow....

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Peter Mennin Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-105806).

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Mennin, Peter (17 May 1923–17 June 1983), composer and educational administrator, was born Peter Mennini in Erie, Pennsylvania, the son of Attilio Mennini, a restaurant owner, and Amelia Bennaci. The elder Mennini was an avid record collector, and music was a central feature of the family environment. (Peter’s older brother Louis Mennini also became a professional composer. Peter later changed his name to avoid confusion between the two.) Peter began formal musical study at age five and started to compose at the age of seven. He entered the Oberlin College Conservatory in 1940 but left to join the U.S. Army Air Force in 1942. By this time he had already completed his First Symphony, a large work nearly an hour in duration. On completion of his military service in 1943, Mennin entered the Eastman School of Music, where his major teachers were ...

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Paine, John Knowles (09 January 1839–25 April 1906), composer, organist, and teacher, was born in Portland, Maine, the son of Jacob Small Paine, a proprietor of a music store, and Rebecca Beebe Downes. The family was highly musical. Paine’s grandfather, John K. H. Paine, was an organ builder, bandmaster, and music dealer who had been a fife-major in the War of 1812; his uncle David was an organist, composer, and music teacher; his uncle William was a trombonist and hymn tune writer; and his sister Helen Maria became a noted contralto soloist and vocal teacher in Portland....