Howard Hanson

Howard Harold Hanson (October 28, 1896 – February 26, 1981) was an American composer, conductor, educator, music theorist, and ardent champion of American classical music.

Life and work

Hanson was born in Wahoo, Nebraska to Swedish parents, Hans and Hilma (Eckstrom) Hanson. In his youth he studied music with his mother. Later, he studied at Luther College in Wahoo, receiving a diploma in 1911, then at the Institute of Musical Art in New York City, where he studied with the composer and music theorist Percy Goetschius in 1914. Afterwards he attended Northwestern University, where he studied composition with church music expert Peter Lutkin and Arne Oldberg in Chicago. Throughout his education, Hanson studied piano, cello and trombone. Hanson received his BA degree in music from Northwestern University in 1916, where he began his teaching career as a teacher's assistant.

That same year, Hanson got his first full-time position as a music theory and composition teacher at the College of the Pacific in California, and only three years later, the college appointed him Dean of the Conservatory of Fine Arts in 1919. In 1920 Hanson composed "The California Forest Play", his earliest work to receive national attention. Hanson also wrote a number of orchestral and chamber works during his years in California, including "Concerto da Camera", "Symphonic Legend", "Symphonic Rhapsody", various solo piano works, such as "Two Yuletide Pieces", and the "Scandinavian Suite", which celebrated his Lutheran and Scandinavian heritage.

Hanson was the first recipient (along with Leo Sowerby) of the American Academy's Rome Prize, awarded by the American Academy in Rome, in 1921, for both "The California Forest Play" and his symphonic poem "Before the Dawn". Thanks to the award, Hanson lived in Italy for three years. During his time in Italy, Hanson wrote a "Quartet in One Movement", "Lux aeterna", "The Lament for Beowulf" (orchestration Bernhard Kaun), and his "Symphony No. 1, "Nordic", the premiere of which he conducted with the Augusteo Orchestra on May 30, 1923. It has been incorrectly stated that Hanson studied composition and/or orchestration with Ottorino Respighi, who studied orchestration with Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov. Hanson's unpublished autobiography refutes the statement, attributed to Ruth Watanabe, that he had studied with Respighi.

Upon returning from Rome, Hanson's conducting career took off, making his premiere conducting the New York Symphony Orchestra in his tone poem "North and West". In Rochester, New York in 1924, he conducted his "Symphony No. 1", and this brought him to the attention of George Eastman, inventor of the Kodak camera and roll film, who chose Hanson to be director of the Eastman School of Music. Hanson held that position for forty years, turning the institution into one of the most prestigious music schools in America. He accomplished this by improving the curriculum, bringing in better teachers and refining the school's orchestras. Also, he balanced the school's faculty between American and European teachers, even when this meant passing up Béla Bartók. Hanson offered a position to Bartok teaching composition at Eastman, a position that Bartok declined as Bartok did not believe that one could teach composition. Bartok placed Hanson in a difficult position as he wished to teach piano at Eastman - Eastman had a full staff of piano instuctors at the time.

In 1925, Hanson established the American Composers Orchestral Concerts. Later, he founded the Eastman-Rochester Symphony Orchestra, which consisted of first chair players from the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra and selected students from the Eastman School, and then The Festivals of American Music followed. Hanson made many recordings with the Eastman-Rochester Symphony Orchestra, not only his own works, but also those of other American composers such as John Alden Carpenter, Charles Tomlinson Griffes, John Knowles Paine, Walter Piston, William Grant Still, and other, lesser known, composers. Hanson estimated that over 2000 works by over 500 American composers were premiered during his tenure at Eastman.

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Serge Koussevitzky commissioned Hanson's "Symphony No. 2, the "Romantic", and premiered it on November 28, 1930. This work was to become Hanson's best known. It was used to accompany several exterior sequences and the end credits in the original 1979 release of the famous sci-fi movie Alien, but were removed from the DVD versions published later. Its primary melody is performed at the conclusion of all concerts at the Interlochen Center for the Arts. Known as the "Interlochen Theme," it is conducted by a student concertmaster after the featured conductor has left the stage; there is to be no applause after its performance.

Hanson's opera "Merry Mount" is credited as the first American opera, since it was written by an American composer and an American librettist on an American story, and was premiered with a mostly American cast at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, in 1934. The Opera received fifty curtain calls at its Met premiere, a record that still stands. In 1935 he wrote "Three Songs from Drum Taps" based on the poem by Walt Whitman.

The opening theme of his Third Symphony's second movement is one of the most haunting and memorable passages in American music. The Third was written 1936-38 and first played by the NBC Symphony Orchestra.

Hanson was elected as a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1935, President of the Music Teachers' National Association from 1929 to 1930, and President of the National Association of Schools of Music from 1935 to 1939.

After he composed the "Hymn of the Pioneers" to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the first Swedish settlement in Delaware, Hanson was selected as a Fellow of the Royal Swedish Academy in 1938.

In 1944 Hanson was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for "Symphony No. 4", subtitled "Requiem". In 1945 he became the first recipient of the Ditson Conductor's Award for his commitment to American music.

Hanson met Margaret Elizabeth Nelson at her parents' summer home on Lake Chautauqua in the Chautauqua Institution in New York. Hanson dedicated the "Serenade for Flute, Harp, and Strings", to her; the piece was his musical request to marry him, as he could not find the spoken words to propose to her. They married on July 24, 1946 at her parents' summer home in Chautauqua Institution.

In 1946, Hanson was awarded the George Foster Peabody Award "for outstanding entertainment programming" for a series he presented on the Rochester, New York radio station WHAM in 1945.

From 1946 to 1962 Hanson was active in United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) . UNESCO commissioned Hanson's "Pastorale for Oboe and Piano", and "Pastorale for Oboe, Strings, and Harp", for the 1949 Paris conference of the world body.

In 1953 Hanson helped to establish the Edward B. Benjamin Prize "for calming and uplifting music" written by Eastman students. Each submitted score was read by Hanson and the Eastman Orchestra. Winners of the Benjamin Prize appeared on Hanson's recording "Music for Quiet Listening".

Frederick Fennell, conductor of the Eastman Wind Ensemble, described Hanson's first band composition, the 1954 "Chorale and Alleluia" as "the most awaited piece of music to be written for the wind band in my twenty years as a conductor in this field". "Chorale and Alleluia" is still a required competition piece for high school bands in the New York State School Music Association's repertoire list and is one of Hanson's most frequently recorded works.

In 1960 Hanson published "Harmonic Materials of Modern Music: Resources of the Tempered Scale", a book that would lay the foundation for musical set theory. Among the many notions considered was what Hanson called the isomeric relationship, now usually termed Z-relationship.

Hanson took the Eastman Philharmonia, a student ensemble, on a European tour from 1961 to 1962, which passed through Paris, Cairo, Moscow, and Vienna, among other cities. The Tour showcased the growth of serious American music in Europe and the Middle East.

Hanson was on the Board of Directors of the Music Educators National Conference from 1960 to 1964.

Even after his retirement from Eastman in 1964, Hanson continued his association with the School.

Hanson's "Song of Democracy", on a Walt Whitman text, was also performed at the inaugural concert for incoming U.S. President Richard Nixon in 1969, an event Hanson proudly described as the first inaugural concert featuring only American music.

The Eastman Kodak company, in recognition of Hanson's achievements, donated $100,000 worth of stock to the school in 1976. Hanson stipulated that the gift be used to fund the Institute of American Music at Eastman.

Hanson continued conducting, composing and writing in his eighties, up to his death in Rochester, New York. Hanson was cremated and his ashes were scattered on Bold Island; his island that lies off the coast of Stonington, Maine. It was on this Island that Hanson composed the Bold Island Suite and many of his other compositions.

Hanson's students include John Davison, John La Montaine, H. Owen Reed, Donald O. Johnston, Gloria Wilson Swisher, Robert Washburn, Homer Keller, John White, and David Borden.



*"Merry Mount" (1933)


*"Symphony No. 1, "Nordic" (1922)
*"Lux aeterna", Symphonic Poem for Orchestra with Viola Obligato, Op.24 (1923–1926)
*"Symphony No. 2, "Romantic" (1930)
*"Suite from the Opera "Merry Mount" (1938)
*"Symphony No. 3" (1941)
*"Symphony No. 4, "Requiem" (1943; won Pulitzer Prize)
*"Fantasy-Variations On A Theme Of Youth " (1951)
*"Symphony No. 5, "Sinfonia Sacra" (1955)
*"Elegy in Memory of Serge Koussevitzky" (1956)
*"Mosaics" (1957)
*"Bold Island Suite" (1961)
*"Symphony No. 6" (1967)
*"Symphony No. 7, "A Sea Symphony"" (1977)


*The Lament for Beowulf (1925)
*Three Songs from Drum Taps (1935)
*Song of Democracy (1957)


*Centennial March (1966)
*Chorale and Alleluia (1954)
*Dies Natalis (1967)
*Variations on an Ancient Hymn


*Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 36
*Organ Concerto
*"Summer Seascape No.2" for Viola and String Orchestra (1965)


*"Serenade for Flute, Harp and Strings" (1946), Op. 35
*"Pastorale for Oboe and Piano" (1949), reorchestrated as alternative "Pastorale for Harp and Strings" (1950), both Op. 38
*"Fantasy Variations on a Theme of Youth" (1951)


*Poemes Erotiques, Op. 9
*Sonata in A Major, Op. 11 (unfinished)
*Three Miniatures for Piano, Op. 12
*Three Etudes, Op. 18
*Two Yuletide Pieces, Op. 19

Music theory

*"Harmonic Materials of Modern Music" (1960), Irvington.


*A boxed set of Howard Hanson conducting the Eastman Philharmonia in his symphonies, piano concerto, etc., is available on the Mercury label. A companion set from Mercury, a compilation of Hanson conducting lesser known American works, is also available.
*His Symphony No. 2 is probably his most recorded work. In addition to the composer's own recording, those by Erich Kunzel and Gerard Schwarz are also popular. Also, the Interlochen Center for the Arts uses part of this symphony as its theme (see detailed explanation above).
*Naxos Records released a recording of the 1934 world premiere performance of "Merry Mount" in 1999. For copyright reasons it was not made available in the USA.


*Cohen, Allen. Howard Hanson in Theory and Practice (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2004)
*Perone, James. Howard Hanson: A Bio-Bibliography (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1993)
*Simmons, Walter. Voices in the Wilderness: Six American Neo-Romantic Composers (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2006)
*Williams, David Russell. Conversations with Howard Hanson (Arkadelphia, Arkansas: Delta Publications, 1988)

External links

# [,%20Howard Short Feature]
# [ Comprehensive Catalog & More]
# [ Works]
# [ Highbeam]
# [ Biography]

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  • Howard Hanson — Howard Harold Hanson (* 28. Oktober 1896 in Wahoo, Nebraska; † 26. Februar 1981 in Rochester, New York) war ein US amerikanischer Pianist, Dirigent und Komponist. Hanson wuchs als Sohn schwedischer Einwanderer in einer kleinen lutherischen… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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  • Howard — Howard, Ebenezer Howard, Leslie ► Noble familia inglesa del s. X. A ella pertenecen los condes de Norfolk, de Suffolk, de Northampton y de Nottingham. * * * (as used in expressions) Aiken, Howard H(athaway) Armstrong, Edwin H(oward) Bearden,… …   Enciclopedia Universal

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