Harold Shapero


Born: April 29, 1920; Lynn, MA    Died: May 17, 2013; Cambridge, MA  
Writing in a style that is classified as primarily neo-Classical, Harold Shapero had the opportunity to learn from such noted teachers as Nicholas Slonimsky, Ernst Krenek, Walter Piston, Paul Hindemith, and Nadia Boulanger. He, along with Arthur Berger, Irving Fine, and Leonard Bernstein, is a founding professor of the music department at Brandeis University in Waltham, MA. He was awarded the Prix de Rome (1941) and Guggenheim Fellowships (1947, Read more 1948), to mention a few of his awards as a composer.

An example of his neo-Classical style can be seen with his Three Amateur Sonatas (1944), written for his instrument, the piano. The piece is formally designed as a type of work that perhaps Haydn or C.P.E. Bach would have designed, and the music works incredibly well for the instrument. It has a uniquely lyrical style that actually draws the Russian school of composition to mind, an idea that is carried on in other pieces such as his Symphony for Classical Orchestra. The title itself indicates the style of his writing. This is not to say that everything Shapero wrote is purely in the neo-Classical style. Actually, some works such as his String Quartet draw directly from his teacher Piston's style, as evident by the harmonic language especially. He even dabbled in the techniques associated with the serialistic school, applying these techniques in works such as the String Trio. He also tested the bounds of electronic composition in Three Studies in C#.

In addition to these more "Classical" influences, Shapero was also quite influenced by the more popular styles of jazz and rock & roll in America; indeed, he is known for having been an incredible improviser on the piano. His work On Green Mountain shows a definite attachment to the ideas presented in jazz, while still calling on the influence of earlier composers; there are vast and unique textures and timbral combinations, evoking some wonderful images, as well as points of improvisation.

Shapero's musical output diminished as the years progressed, and the expectations of greatness which were prominent in his earlier career appear to not have taken shape. While there is little doubt of his ability with his craft, there is also little doubt that he will not be remembered in the same ranks as such twentieth-century American composers as Copland and Ives. Read less
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