William Bolcom - Life and Career

Life and Career

Bolcom was born in Seattle, Washington. At the age of 11, he entered the University of Washington to study composition privately with George Frederick McKay and John Verrall and piano with Madame Berthe Poncy Jacobson. He later studied with Darius Milhaud at Mills College while working on his Master of Arts degree, with Leland Smith at Stanford University while working on his D.M.A., and with Olivier Messiaen at the Paris Conservatoire, where he received the 2ème Prix de Composition.

Bolcom won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 1988 for 12 New Etudes for Piano. In the fall of 1994, he was named the Ross Lee Finney Distinguished University Professor of Composition at the University of Michigan, a position which he still holds. In 2006, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts. Notable students include John Edgar Berners, Gabriela Lena Frank, and David Karl Gompper.

As a pianist, Bolcom has performed and recorded frequently in collaboration with Joan Morris, whom he married in 1975 (Johnson 2001). Bolcom and Morris have recorded twenty albums together, beginning with After the Ball, a collection of popular songs from around the turn of the 20th century. Their primary specialties in both concerts and recordings are showtunes, parlour, and popular songs from the late 19th and early 20th century, by Henry Russell, Henry Clay Work, and others, and cabaret songs (often from failed musicals). As a soloist, Bolcom has recorded his own compositions, as well as music by Gershwin and Milhaud (Johnson 2001).

Bolcom's compositions have been recognized and highlighted at Michigan State University in their Michigan Writers Series.

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