William Bolcom

William Bolcom

1938 -

William Bolcom is a composer of cabaret songs, concertos, sonatas, operas, symphonies, and much more. Named 2007 Composer of the Year by Musical America, and honored with multiple Grammy Awards for his ground-breaking setting of Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience, Bolcom was awarded the 1988 Pulitzer Prize in Music for his 12 New Etudes for piano.

Photo: www.bolcomandmorris.com


The eclecticism at the heart of American music takes a vital new twist in the work of contemporary composer William Bolcom, for whom non-specialization has become a raison d'être. A composer of songs, operas, and instrumental works; a pianist of distinction who frequently accompanies his wife, mezzo-soprano Joan Morris, in recital; an artist who has worked in a variety of idioms from classical to cabaret, Bolcom is a fresh voice on the American music scene.

Born in Seattle on May 26, 1938, Bolcom studied with Darius Milhaud at Mills College, with Leland Smith at Stanford University, and with both Milhaud and Olivier Messiaen in Paris. He settled in New York in the 1960's, and immersed himself for a time in the ragtime of Scott Joplin and Eubie Blake, as well as pursuing a fascination for another Blake: the mystical English Romantic poet, William. This latter interest culminated in 1984 with Bolcom's powerful cycle Songs of Innocence and of Experience, in which he set 46 Blake poems for solo voice and piano, orchestra, and chorus.

Bolcom's music demonstrates his flair for the dramatic, his fondness for experimentation, and his knack for combining pre-existing styles with his own dissonant textures and jaunty vernacular idiom. His catalogue encompasses the 1988 Pulitzer Prize-winning 12 New Etudes for piano, ten string quartets, and five piano concerti. For the stage he has composed Dynamite Tonight (1963), Greatshot (1969), Theatre of the Absurd (1970), and A View from the Bridge (1998), plus the highly acclaimed McTeague, an opera based on Frank Norris' novel, which had its premiere at Chicago's Lyric Opera in 1992. Bolcom has also constructed many a delightful cabaret evening of his songs, among them the very winning Amor. He taught at the University of Michigan from 1973 to 1988.

--Thomas Hampson and Carla Maria Verdino-Süllwold, PBS I Hear America Singing


The world premiere recording of "Gettysburg: July 1, 1863," provided in the audio playlist to the right, is made possible through a collaboration between the Hampsong Foundation and SongFest. The performers are the 2012 SongFest Marc and Eva Stern Fellow Nathan Wyatt, baritone, and Lucas Wong, piano. The performers in "George" are Siobahn Sung, mezzo-soprano, and Hyueeun Ham, piano, and the performances took place at SongFest 2012 at The Colburn School. To listen, please click on the track name itself.

Songs & Song Collections BY Bolcom (entered to date)

Audio PLaylist


CD / DVD / MP3