Amongst the first-rank of American
20th century composers, Morton Gould stands among the least known and also most distinctive.
He was born in New York, December 10, 1913. He studied at the Institute of Musical Art, the precursor to the Julliard School. After playing a brilliant entrance audition, he stunned his auditors when he told them he did not know how to read music.
A composing prodigy, he began writing full score almost immediately and worked as a CBS staff arranger while still in his teens, when CBS and NBC ran network orchestras. He wrote music both as required and as he pleased.
Gould's music sounds personal without strain. Like many of his generation, he sought to integrate pop and classical - to arrive at a distinctly American-sounding music that would speak to large masses of people. He incorporated jazz (or what was loosely called "jazz"), folk music, spirituals, and the dances from the late 19th and early
20th centuries. He wrote concert pieces, musicals intended for Broadway ("Billion Dollar Baby" with Comden and Greene, "Enter Juliet" with Carolyn Leigh), radio music, TV and film scores, and "concept" LP albums. He championed Charles Ives early on, and the older composer deeply influenced him. Like Ives, his music shows wit, power, great energy, as well as a focus and clarity that Ives often lacks. It is even pretty at times, a rather rare quality. He also conducted and made a good living.
His works were taken up by the leading conductors of the American mid-century: Leopold Stokowski, Fritz Reiner, and Dimitri Mitropolous.
He partnered with Benny Goodman in the Nielsen Clarinet Concerto.
With all of this going for him, why isn't he better known? Why he's usually left out of serious discussions of American music. Although he received prestigious commissions throughout his career, Gould never belonged to a circle of composers. He was out of the Aaron Copland sphere, for example. Further, Gould was kept out of a major New York venue for many years because of a long-running enmity with Leonard Bernstein, the greatest proselytizer for American music of his time.
Gould's music divides roughly into "serious" and "light." He has more pops pieces in his catalogue than most composers mainly because he worked successfully as a commercial musician. That so many of these should be so distinguished musically comes down to a matter of talent and craft.