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Paul Ramsier

Biography

Born: September 23, 1927; Louisville, KY  
Although Paul Ramsier's career incorporates two professions, music came first (he composed his first work at nine). Then, in midlife, with a master's degree in social welfare from S.U.N.Y./Stony Book, he began practicing psychotherapy in N.Y.C. in 1977, specializing in the needs of creative and performing artists but, increasingly by extension, AIDS patients. However, having already composed the most extensive body of concert music for the double Read more bass in the twentieth century, he remained an N.Y.U. adjunct professor for graduate-student composers.

Ramsier first studied piano and composition at the University of Louisville (1944 - 1947), then at Juilliard as a scholarship pupil of Beveridge Webster (1947 - 1948). He moved to Florida State University as a graduate assistant (1948 - 1951), studied composition with Ernst von Dohnányi, and earned his master's in music and a Rockefeller Student Award. He returned to N.Y.C. and became a staff pianist in 1954 for Agnes de Mille's ballet company, as well as the New York City Center Ballet. He remained seven years with Balanchine; studied composition privately with Alexei Haieff (1956 - 1960); and wrote Leaf in the Wind for Ballet Theatre, a string quartet (premiered in 1960 at Carnegie Recital Hall), and Six Dance Diversions for Orchestra. In 1963, he added a comic opera, The Man on the Bearskin Rug, premiered a decade later in Columbus, OH. Then he met and began to collaborate with double-bassist Gary Karr, a N.Y.C. neighbor who had been showcased by Bernstein at a 1962 New York Philharmonic youth concert. But that instrument lacked a viable repertoire beyond concertos by Dragonetti (eighteenth century), Bottesini (nineteenth), and Koussevitzky ( fin de siècle ).

Ramsier's first concerted work for Karr remains his best-known, Divertimento Concertante on a Theme of Couperin, which Seiji Ozawa and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra introduced at Ravinia in 1965. Since then, it has had more than 150 performances by orchestras worldwide, not only with Karr but other bassists. In 1978, he wrote Road to Hamelin for narrator, double bass, and chamber orchestra, which Karr premiered in Toronto as speaker and soloist. Eusebius Revisited (Remembrances of Schumann) followed in 1980 and like many of Ramsier's double bass works, it also exists in his own piano reduction. Low Note Blues, again with narrator, came in 1983; Silent Movie, a seven-movement suite of imaginary scenes, followed in 1985. Ramsier also provided transcriptions for the double bass and piano, music prevailingly tonal, although sometimes pandiatonic, and even bitonal. As he has said, "Stylistically, I stop at Alexei Haieff."

Ramsier held Huntington Hartford, MacDowell, and Yaddo fellowships (1960, 1963, and 1970), plus a 1975 NEA grant. In 1967, he became an adjunct full professor at N.Y.U., "teaching dancers to count," but basically developing a program in the use of music in choreography. He received a Ph.D. there in 1972 for a dissertation analyzing two works of Varèse, which led to his engagement by O.S.U. in Columbus to reorganize their electronic music department, and be promoted to the graduate faculty. However, when he applied to the psychoanalysis department as a student, faculty status proved a conflict of interest. Ramsier returned to New York and Stony Brook. If his subsequent therapy practice limited composition during the second of two decades, there were vocal, choral, and keyboard works. Then he wrote Bass Lullaby, Pavane, and Sombras del Caudal for double bass and strings (or organ) in 1998 - 1999, and moved to Sarasota, FL, in 1999, intending to retire, but didn't, either as composer or psychotherapist. He undertook a cycle called Zoo of Dreams: WalrusBird for double bass and Cheetah Departs for string quartet, have been played (and in the former case, recorded). Read less


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