Bio-Bibliography of Composer Warren Benson

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Warren Frank Benson, a distinguished American composer, conductor, educator, performer and author, was born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1924. Self-taught in composition, Benson has composed nearly 150 works for solo instruments and voice, chamber ensembles, choirs, bands, and orchestras. His compositional output ranges in difficulty from simple songs written for young children to music for professionals. Benson has also written poetry, humorous prose and scholarly works. In addition to being a composer, he has also been a notable teacher of percussion, composition, music theory, and music history. As a conductor, clinician, and lecturer he has influenced improvement in the quality of repertoire played by bands, raised performance standards, and influenced educational philosophy regarding creativity. Benson's compositional style is "inclusive," incorporating tonality, free atonality, serialism, canons, ostinati, layering techniques, and other compositional techniques into a unique language embodying lyricism. His orchestration has been pioneering, reflecting his interest in the transformation of tonal colors through timbral modulation and other techniques. He has also championed the use of soprano saxophone, English horn, bass saxophone, contrabass clarinets, percussion, and piano in his band music. Benson is best known for his wind ensemble compositions. The significance of this music rests in its musical integrity, achieved through a balance of compositional craft, musical intuition, and imaginative orchestration.

In the professional world, Benson has gained substantial recognition for his song cycles. He has been praised for his sensitive and masterful setting of their texts. The four most significant of these have been recorded: Five Lyrics of Louise Bogan, Moon Rain and Memory Jane, Songs for the End of the World, and Shadow Wood. These song cycles exhibit a power of drama and expression that enhance the emotional content of the text. Shadow Wood is the most significant of Benson's song cycles, and maybe of his oeuvre. The choice of text, the setting of text, the pacing of music and text, the timbral diversity and interest, compositional technique, and intuitive creativity synthesize in this twentieth-century masterpiece. Benson has received numerous awards throughout his career. Representative of these are the "Lillian Fairchild Prize," the National Band Association's "Citation of Excellence," the "Diploma de Honor" from Argentina's Ministry of Culture, and annually since 1960, the "Serious Music Award" from ASCAP. At the Eastman School of Music of the University of Rochester he has received the "Citation to Faculty" and has been recognized as the "Kilbourn Distinguished Professor" and "University Mentor." He has been elected to membership in the National Band Association's Academy of Wind and Percussion Arts; the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame; Kappa Kappa Psi National Band Fraternity; Pi Kappa Lambda, and Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia. Benson has also received grants and fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ford Foundation, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the Fulbright Commission. In addition to these recognitions, he was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in Music in 1998 for his Drums of Summer. Benson is a founding member of both the Percussive Arts Society and the World Association for Symphonic Bands and Ensembles.

The purpose of this book is to provide an extensive resource on the life and works of Warren Benson. His music is created out of such depth of experience that one can only understand and fully appreciate it through a more astute understanding of the man. As with the music of all great composers, an honest interpretation of Benson's music requires an in-depth knowledge of the full range of his work. It is hoped that the information and resources in this book will not only permit a better understanding of Warren Benson and his music, but that it will entice others to examine more of his creativity in artful, inspiring and aesthetically rewarding ways.


“Alan Wagner's research and documentation of the life and artistic output of Warren Benson provides detailed insight into this unique and gifted artist. To conductors and performers faced with the significant challenge of realizing his music in rehearsal and performance, Professor Wagner's research provides a wealth of information that probes and illuminates Benson's life's experiences and artistic motivations. The process of grasping the sheer range, scope, complexity, and emotional content of his music demands a complete understanding of Warren Benson the man. Wagner's scholarship provides valuable insights that, heretofore, have not been available. The extraordinary value of this research, however, is in the revelation of the staggering impact that Warren Benson has had upon the fabric of artistic thought and arts education in this country and abroad for nearly five decades, apart from his creative output as a composer. Through Alan Wagner's scholarship we now have a comprehensive documentation of the magnitude of Benson's influence upon the thinking of myriad artists and educators.” – (from the Commendatory Preface) Professor Craig Kirchhoff, Director of Bands and Professor of Conducting, University of Minnesota School of Music

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
1. Introduction
2. Biography I: 1924-1953
3. Biography II: 1953-2004
4. Wind Ensemble Music
5. Orchestra Music
6. Solo/Soli with Wind Ensemble
7. Instrumental Chamber Music
8. Solo Instrumental Music
9. Choral Music
10. Solo Vocal Music
11. Writings and Other Works
12. Musical Style and Language
13. Teaching, Significance, Interpretation, Philosophy and Other Thoughts

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