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Alexander, Jeff (02 July 1910–23 December 1989), composer and conductor, was born Myer Alexander in Seattle, Washington, the son of Max Alexander, Jr., a salesman, and Della Goodhue, a pianist. His musical education was initiated by his mother and continued at Becker Institute of Music in Portland, Oregon, as well as under private tutors Edmund Ross in Los Angeles and ...

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Beck, Johann Heinrich (12 September 1856–26 May 1924), conductor, composer, and violinist, was born in Cleveland, Ohio, the son of Charles Beck, a businessman, and Rebecca Butler. He was one of five children, all boys, all of whom played the violin. He was educated in Cleveland and spent most of his life there, although he attended the Leipzig Conservatory from 1879 to 1882. He made his acclaimed European debut at the Leipzig Gewandhaus as violinist in his own String Quartet in C Minor. His diploma read in part: “In Theory Mr. Beck possesses highly advanced knowledge, in practical Composition, ...

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Bergmann, Carl (12 April 1821–10 August 1876), conductor, cellist, and composer, was born in Ebersbach, Saxony, the son of middle-class parents. His talent for music manifested itself early, and he was a pupil of Adolph Zimmerman at Zittau as early as 1827 and later studied with the organist-composer Adolph Hesse at Breslau. By 1842 he was playing cello and occasionally conducting the orchestra in Breslau and in these capacities toured central and eastern European cities between 1842 and 1848. His early compositions, written before 1848, apparently included an opera and a symphony....

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Bernstein, Elmer (04 April 1922–18 August 2004), composer and conductor of film music, was born in New York City, the child of Ukrainian immigrants Edward Bernstein, a teacher, and Selma Feinstein. He displayed multiple artistic talents in childhood, studying at the King-Coit School and Children's Theatre and the Walden School. At age twelve he won a piano scholarship to study with Henrietta Michelson of the Juilliard School. Sensing the boy's potential, she brought him to the attention of ...

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Leonard Bernstein. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-90733).

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Bernstein, Leonard (25 August 1918–14 October 1990), conductor and composer, was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts, the son of Samuel Bernstein, a supplier of barber and beauty products, and Jenny Resnick. He began to pursue musical activities with abandon at about the age of ten and as a teen performed in classical and popular venues, including staged operettas with friends, as a jazz pianist at parties, as piano soloist with the Boston Public School Orchestra, and by playing light classics on the radio for thirteen weeks in 1934. Bernstein’s consuming interest in music was not encouraged by his father, but he never seriously considered another career. In 1939 he received a B.A. cum laude in music from Harvard University, where his teachers included Heinrich Gebhard, ...

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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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Damrosch, Walter Johannes (30 January 1862–22 December 1950), conductor and composer, was born in Breslau, Prussia (now Wrocław, Poland), the son of Leopold Damrosch, a conductor, and Helene von Heimburg, an opera singer. His father, a converted Jew, and his mother had met in Weimar, where Leopold was concertmaster of the ducal court orchestra led by Franz Liszt and Helene was a leading singer of opera and lieder. Moving to Breslau in 1858 as chief of the Orchesterverein, Leopold soon became a conductor distinguished enough to attract the attention of such luminaries as Liszt, Peter Cornelius, Richard Wagner, Carl Tausig, Anton Rubinstein, Joseph Joachim, Hans von Bülow, and Clara Schumann, all of whom were Leopold’s personal friends. It was into this milieu that Walter Johannes was born....

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Dohnányi, Ernst von (27 July 1877–09 February 1960), composer, concert pianist, teacher, and conductor, also known as Ernó and baptized Dohnányi Erno Jeno Frigyes, was born in Pozsony, Hungary-later known as Pressberg, then Bratislava, Slovakia. (The population of Pozsony was approximately half Hungarian and half German, so Dohnányi was comfortable with the language and heritage of both.) He was the son of Frederick von Dohnányi (Dohnányi Frigyes), professor of mathematics and physics at the Royal Catholic Chief Gymnasium (Királyi Katolikus Fögimnásium) and an accomplished cellist and composer. Dohnányi's mother, Ottilia Szlabey, was tiny; she was sometimes referred to as fiercely determined and willing to sacrifice her comfort for others. Dohnányi embodied these characteristics as an adult helping family and friends survive the vicissitudes of wartime Europe. His sister, Mitzi, was a year younger. A brother died in infancy. When traveling outside of Hungary, he called himself Ernst von Dohnányi....

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Doráti, Antal (09 April 1906–13 November 1988), conductor and composer, was born in Budapest, Hungary, the son of Sándor Doráti, a violinist, and Margit Kunwald, a pianist, violinist, and violist. Doráti began his musical studies with his parents at an early age. Late in his life he remarked, “Since my earliest childhood the strongest impressions and influences which pointed my way, emanated from my father and mother. Both were musicians through and through” ( ...

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Dragon, Carmen Martin (28 July 1914–28 March 1984), arranger, conductor, and composer, was born in Antioch, California, the son of Frank Dragon, a building contractor, and Rose Dedio. Both parents were born in Italy. His background in music came naturally: Sunday evenings and holidays were spent making music, with his parents on violin and guitar and Dragon and his brothers Peter and Roland alternating on accordion, clarinet, piano, saxophone, string bass, trombone, and trumpet. Dragon also had perfect pitch. He attended San Jose State College, where his major was music and his minor was psychology. In order to make money, Dragon often interrupted his college education to work, and he did not return to complete his senior year....

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Engel, Lehman (14 September 1910–29 August 1982), conductor, composer, and author, was born A. (for his two grandfathers, Aaron and Abraham) Lehman Engel, in Jackson, Mississippi, the son of Ellis Engel, a clothing salesman, and Juliette Lehman, a bookkeeper for the Lehman family’s laundry business. As a child Engel taught himself to play the piano and at age ten began taking piano lessons with local instructors. In 1926 he graduated from Central High School and enrolled at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music in Ohio with a career as a concert pianist in mind. Engel later admitted that his performing talent did not warrant such ambition but neither he nor his instructors in Jackson were knowledgeable enough to realize this. For financial reasons, Engel transferred to the Cincinnati College of Music in 1927. Abandoning plans to be a concert pianist, he focused his studies on composition, opera, and theater. He also took general education courses at the University of Cincinnati....

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Europe, James Reese (22 February 1880–09 May 1919), music administrator, conductor, and composer, was born in Mobile, Alabama, the son of Henry J. Europe, an Internal Revenue Service employee and Baptist minister, and Lorraine Saxon. Following the loss of his position with the Port of Mobile at the end of the Reconstruction, Europe’s father moved his family to Washington, D.C., in 1890 to accept a position with the U.S. Postal Service. Both of Europe’s parents were musical, as were some of his siblings. Europe attended the elite M Street High School for blacks and studied violin, piano, and composition with Enrico Hurlei of the U.S. Marine Corps band and with Joseph Douglass, the grandson of ...

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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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Freeman, Harry Lawrence (09 October 1869–21 March 1954), composer and conductor, was born in Cleveland, Ohio, the son of Agnes Sims (father’s name unknown). Freeman studied piano as a child with Edwin Schonert and later with Carlos Sobrino. He engaged in the study of theory, composition, and orchestration with ...

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Gilchrist, William Wallace (08 January 1846–20 December 1916), composer and conductor, was born in Jersey City, New Jersey, the son of William Gilchrist, a businessman, and Redelia Ann Cox. In 1855 his family moved to Philadelphia, where he lived most of his life. During the Civil War Gilchrist was too young for the draft, but he enlisted in the army at age seventeen. Returning to Philadelphia two years later, he decided on music as his vocation after exploring business, photography, and law. For three years he studied voice, organ, and composition with Hugh Clarke, who later became a professor of music at the University of Pennsylvania. This was his only formal musical education....

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Morton Gould. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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Gould, Morton (10 December 1913–21 February 1996), composer and conductor, was born in Queens, New York, to James Gould, a real estate agent, and Frances Arkin Gould. His parents had immigrated to America as children, his father from Vienna, his mother from Russia. He grew up in Queens and remained a resident of that borough for the rest of his life, living as an adult in Great Neck, only a few miles from his childhood home....

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Hadley, Henry Kimball (20 December 1871–06 September 1937), composer and conductor, was born in Somerville, Massachusetts, the son of Samuel Henry Hadley, a public school music instructor, and Martha Conant, a concert pianist and singer of local prominence. Prodigiously talented, Hadley received his earliest musical training in piano, violin, and conducting from his father. Later, from 1885 to 1894, he studied with outstanding teachers in Boston: violin with Henry Heindl, Charles N. Allen, and Jacques Hoffmann; harmony with Stephen A. Emery; and counterpoint and composition with his friend and mentor ...