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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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Taylor, Deems (22 December 1885–03 July 1966), composer and music critic, was born Joseph Deems Taylor in New York City, the son of Joseph S. Taylor and Katherine Johnson, both schoolteachers. They named “Deems” for Charles F. Deems, founder of the nondenominational Church of the Strangers. Taylor claimed that he was largely self-taught in music. He had, however, learned to read music in primary school, studied piano (albeit for only ten months in 1895), and, from 1897 through 1902, received regular music instruction at New York’s Ethical Culture School, where all students were taught by specialists....

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Thomson, Virgil (25 November 1896–02 October 1989), composer and music critic, was born Virgil Garnett Thomson in Kansas City, Missouri, the son of Quincy Alfred Thomson, a postal worker, and Clara May Gaines. In high school he showed an aptitude for both music and writing, especially under the tutelage of Geneve Lichtenwalter, an exceptional pianist pedagogue who aided “the intellectualization of [his] musical life.” After service in the U.S. Army during World War I, having achieved the rank of second lieutenant in Army Aviation, he entered Harvard, where he studied with Archibald T. Davison, Walter R. Spalding, and Edward Burlingame Hill; played organ in various churches; and accompanied the Harvard Glee Club. In this last capacity and with a John Knowles Paine Fellowship, Thomson was able to spend a year (1921–1922) in Paris when he was twenty-five. There, together with other young Americans such as ...

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Van Vechten, Carl (17 June 1880–21 December 1964), writer and photographer, was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the son of Charles Duane Van Vechten, a banker and insurance agent, and Ada Amanda Fitch. Van Vechten entered the University of Chicago in 1899 and graduated in 1903, whereupon he went to work as a society reporter and photographer for the ...