Morton Gould was a prolific and versatile composer whose works throughout this century reflected the moods and outlook of this country in all its rough-and-tumble optimism. Like Gershwin, Copland, and Ives, Gould turned to the indigenous musical styles of the peoples of this country for inspiration--jazz, folk, hymns, spirituals, gospel, and Latin American music--and produces full-blown orchestral works that are immediately accessible and unmistakably American.
Gould wrote in a wide range of genres, but he was best known for his orchestral works, which include scores for radio (American Symphonette, 1938), Broadway musicals (Million Dollar Baby, 1945), ballets (Fall River Legend, 1947), film (Windjammer, 1958), and television (Holocaust, 1978). As conductor, he led orchestras around the world and made first recordings of works by Shostakovich, Ives, and Copland.
He was the oldest of four boys of a nonmusical family. A player piano in the living room was his earliest musical memory. A piano prodigy by the time he was 5, he played a concert at the Brooklyn Academy of Music during his first year in school which included his first composition. At 8 he was a scholarship student at the Institute of Musical Arts in New York City.
Entering his teens, Gould's family faced financial difficulties. The player piano was sold, and he had to leave school to earn a living as a pianist for vaudeville acts, and giving recitals in which he improvised works constructed around themes contributed by the audience. Eventually he landed the job of staff pianist for the opening of Radio City Music Hall. The year was 1931, and he was 18 years old. Playing for shows at the nation's premier palace for pop entertainment while at the same time studying "serious" music with the likes of conductor Fritz Reiner kept him straddling the two very different worlds of music, which over the years he helped enormously to bridge.
Gould next went into radio, in charge of music on the Mutual Radio Network from 1934-42, and in 1943 becoming music director of the popular "Chrysler Hour" on CBS. His audiences ranged in the millions. At the same time he was writing symphonic music that was being performed by such major conductors as Stokowsky, Rodzinski, and Toscanini.
His later compositional activities included a Cello Suite commissioned by the Chamber Society of Lincoln Center, I'm Old Fashioned, a ballet score for New York City Ballet based on the Jerome Kern song; America Sing, commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, a flute concerto commissioned by the Chicago Symphony, and a new work commissioned by the National Symphony Orchestra to celebrate the composer's 80th birthday.
Gould's keen interest in music education led him to give lectures on the art of composition, and he was often been found conducting an orchestra of his favorite musicians--students. His peers elected him to the presidency of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and ASCAP, the oldest performing rights organization in the world.