Composer Weisgall Receives Schuman Award for Opera

Hugo Weisgall, the opera composer, has been named by Columbia to receive the William Schuman Award, a $50,000 prize for music composition.

Weisgall, 82, a world-renowned composer, is the fifth recipient of the Schuman Award, which honors "the lifetime achievement of an American composer whose works have been widely performed and generally acknowledged to be of lasting significance."

Named for the celebrated American composer, the award was established in 1981 through a gift to Columbia from the Bydale Foundation. Schuman himself received the first award, followed in 1985 by David Diamond, in 1989 by Gunther Schuller, and in 1992 by Milton Babbitt.

Weisgall will formally receive the award at a performance of his opera Six Characters in Search of an Author at the Manhattan School of Music on Dec. 6.

From his first major opera, The Tenor, in 1948, to nine others, including The Stronger, Purgatory, Athaliah and Nine Rivers from Jordan, Weisgall has explored the philosophical, social and moral dilemmas of the 20th century.

Besides Pirandello, librettos for his operas are derived from Denis Johnson, Wedekind, Strindberg, Racine, Yeats, Mishima, Shakespeare and The Bible. In all his works, literary merit combine with attention to musical and dramatic detail.

He also has composed four ballets and song cycles, including Soldier Songs, A Garden Eastward, Fancies and Inventions, Translations and The Golden Peacock, and numerous vocal, choral and instrumental compositions, including works for orchestra.

Peter Smith, former dean of the School of the Arts, said: "It is very satisfying that an award given by Columbia University should go to so widely admired an American composer of opera, considering how its Music Department has helped to champion this art form through its long and fruitful associations with Douglas Moore, Otto Luening and Jack Beeson. It is particularly pleasing to note that Six Characters in Search of an Author was commissioned by the Alice M. Ditson Fund, which is also administered by the University. We know that giving the Schuman Award to so humane and generous a teacher as Weisgall honors the very role of composer-teacher exemplified through several generations at Columbia, as well as the recipient himself."

Weisgall, who earned the Ph.D. in German literature from Johns Hopkins, is the recipient of numerous prizes and commissions, including three Guggenheim fellowships and an appointment as composer-in-residence at the American Academy in Rome.

He is a member and past president of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Born in Czechoslovakia, Weisgall emigrated to the United States with his family in 1920 and studied at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore and the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia.

He descended from four generations of cantors, including his father, and as a result, absorbed from an early age the musical traditions of the Jews of central Europe as well as the standard opera and song repertory.

In addition to composing, conducting and singing, Weisgall has been a teacher and administrator.

He is a founder of the Chamber Music Society of Baltimore and the founder of the Hilltop Opera Company. He directed the Baltimore Institute of Musical Arts and has taught at the Juilliard School of Music and Johns Hopkins.

Since 1952, he has served as chairman of the faculty of the Cantors' Institute of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York and is distinguished professor emeritus of the City University of New York.

Columbia University Record -- September 8, 1995 -- Vol. 21, No. 1