Composers Datebook®

Morton Gould's "Spirituals"


In February of 1941, New York City radio station WNYC organized a Festival of American music, which included a series of orchestral concerts and several premiere performances of brand-new works. One of these was by a 27-year old composer named Morton Gould. On today's date in 1941, Gould himself conducted the first performance of what would become one his best-known pieces, a work entitled "Spirituals for Strings."

Years later, Gould recalled that the premiere was "the most disastrous performance you ever heard." In 1941, New York was embroiled in a bitter union dispute, and so it happened that Gould rehearsed his new work with one orchestra, but when he arrived for the concert, was faced with a completely different set of musicians—who had to sight-read his new piece!

Despite this shaky beginning, Gould's music was taken up by major conductors of his day, including Leopold Stokowski and Arturo Toscanini. Over the next five decades, Gould himself was much in demand as a conductor, composer, and arranger for radio, television, and the concert hall. In 1994 he received the Kennedy Center Award, and, in 1995, the Pulitzer Prize for Music.

Gould died in February of 1996, while serving as artist-in-residence at the newly established Disney Institute in Orlando, Florida. In May of that year, 55 years after its premiere, Kurt Masur chose Morton Gould's "Spirituals" as a memorial tribute at New York Philharmonic concerts.

Music Played in Today's Program

Morton Gould (1913-1996) Spirituals for Strings I Musici de Montreal; Yuli Turovsky, cond. Chandos 9848

On This Day


  • 1743 - Italian composer and cellist Luigi Boccherini, in Lucca;

  • 1880 - American composer Arthur Shepherd, in Paris, Idaho;

  • 1906 - Welsh composer Grace Williams, in Barry, Glamorganshire;

  • 1912 - American band leader and arranger Stan Kenton, in Wichita, Kan.;

  • 1926 - Rumanian-born Hungarian composer György Kurtág, in Lugoj;


  • 1605 - Italian composer Orazio Vecchi, age 54, in Modena;

  • 1941 - Irish composer and arranger Sir Hamilton Harty, age 61, in Brighton;

  • 1975 - Italian composer Luigi Dallapiccola, age 71, in Florence;


  • 1736 - Handel: cantata “Alexander’s Feast,” at Covent Garden Theatre (Gregorian date: Mar. 1) ; Also on the program were Handel’s Concerto grosso in C (HWV 318), Harp Concerto, Op. 4, no. 6 (HWV 294) and Organ Concerto, Op. 4, no. 1;

  • 1914 - Zandonai: opera "Francesca da Rimini," in Turin;

  • 1923 - Sibelius: Symphony No. 6, in Helsinki, with composer conducting;

  • 1929 - Bartók: String Quartet No. 3, in London, by the Waldbauer Quartet;

  • 1932 - Copland: "Symphonic Ode," commissioned for the 50th Anniversary of the Boston Symphony and conducted by Serge Koussevitzky; For the 75th Anniversary of the Boston Symphony, Copland revised this score and dedicated it to the memory of Koussevitzky; The revised version was premiered by the Boston Symphony conducted by Charles Munch on February 3, 1956;

  • 1941 - Morton Gould: "Spirituals for Orchestra," in New York City, conducted by the composer;

  • 1949 - Irving Fine: Partita for winds, in New York City, by the New Art Wind Quintet;

  • 1949 - Douglas Moore: opera "The Emperor's New Clothes," in New York;

  • 1961 - Stravinsky: Anthem ("The dove descending breaks the air)", in Los Angeles, Robert Craft conducting;

  • 1985 - Peter Maxwell Davies: Symphony No. 3,at Manchester's Free Trade Hall, by the BBC Philharmonic, Edward Downes conducting;

  • 1990 - Daniel Asia: Symphony No. 1, by the Seattle Symphony, Christopher Kendall conducting;

  • 1999 - John Adams: "Naïve and Sentimental Music," at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles, by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, with Esa-Pekka Salonen, conducting.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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