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For the mathematics professor, see Harold S. Shapiro. For the economics professor, see Harold T. Shapiro.

Harold Samuel Shapero (born 29 April 1920) is an Americanmarker composer.


Early years

Born in Lynn, Massachusettsmarker, Shapero and his family later moved to nearby Newtonmarker. He learned to play the piano as a child, and for some years was a pianist in dance orchestras. With a friend, he founded the Hal Kenny Orchestra, a swing-era jazz band.

More interested in classical music, though, in his teens he studied with quite some famous teachers, including Nicolas Slonimsky (editor of Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians) in 1936, and Ernst Krenek in 1937. At 18 he was ready to go to Harvardmarker, where he studied composition with Walter Piston in 1938, and Paul Hindemith in 1940.

Tanglewoodmarker, a now cherished musical institution, was founded in the 1940s, and Shapero was one of its first students. When Igor Stravinsky was Norton Professor at Harvard in 1940, Shapero showed Stravinsky his Nine-Minute Overture. Shapero hoped to get the Overture played at Tanglewood in the summer of that year, but Paul Hindemith ordered that no student compositions would be played that season. Fortunately, Aaron Copland hastily put together an Orchestra just to play student compositions deemed worthy, including Shapero's Overture. Shapero was awarded the Rome Prize in 1941 for his Nine-Minute Overture, but World War II prevented him from taking residency in Italymarker.

After graduating from Harvard in 1941, Shapero undertook further studies with Nadia Boulanger. Boulanger came to the United Statesmarker from Europe, seeking respite from the ravages of World War II. While studying with Boulanger, Shapero was also in contact with Stravinsky, who was helpful in his critiques of Shapero's music.

Postwar years

In 1945, Shapero married the painter Esther Geller. Throughout the rest of the decade they were often residents at the MacDowell Colonymarker in Peterborough, New Hampshire, an artists' retreat established by the widow of Edward MacDowell. There Shapero composed his Symphony for Classical Orchestra.

In 1947, Stravinsky and Shapero met again, and Shapero showed Stravinsky the score of the Symphony for Classical Orchestra. After looking at the score of the Symphony, Stravinsky advised Shapero to become a conductor. Leonard Bernstein conducted the world premiere performance with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Aaron Copland thought highly of Shapero's technical skill and spontaneity of musical inspiration. One thing bothered him, though: In a 1948 New York Times article, he wrote that "Stylistically, Shapero seems to feel a compulsion to fashion his music after some great model. Thus, his ... Serenade ... is founded upon neoclassical Stravinskian principles, his three Amateur Piano Sonatas on Haydnesque principles, and his recent long Symphony [for Classical Orchestra] is modeled after Beethoven. ... he seems to be suffering from a hero-worship complex — or perhaps it is a freakish attack of false modesty..."

Brandeis Universitymarker was founded in 1948, and in 1951 they hired Shapero and he was later chairman of the department and founder of its electronic music studio with the day's most advanced synthesizers. He taught at Brandeis for 37 years. His notable students include Richard Wernick.

In 1953 his daughter, Hannah Shapero, was born; she would follow in her mother's footsteps and also become a painter.

When awarded the Fulbright Fellowship in 1961, Shapero took the opportunity to travel to Europe with his family for a year. In 1970 he returned to Europe to be composer-in-residence at the American Academy in Rome.

Andre Previn and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, spearheaded a revival of Shapero's Symphony for Classical Orchestra, under the auspices of the AT & T American Encore program. Previn has done much to promote the piece in the United States (with performances in Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New York, and Los Angeles) and Europe (with performances in London, Amsterdam and Madrid).

In 1988, Shapero retired from Brandeis University to devote himself to composition. As of 2007, Shapero was still actively composing for both acoustic and electronic instruments.


Symphony for Classical Orchestra is notationally conservative. The instrumentation is quite classical, with woodwinds in pairs, plus piccolo and contrabassoon, pairs of horns and trumpets, three trombones, three timpani, and the standard complement of strings. The piece is in B-flat major. The use of accidentals is much lighter than, for example, Anton Bruckner's.

While Shapero uses some modern notation in his scores, he employs only procedures that have already been established by other modern composers or that are derived from traditional notation. For example, David Cope's handbook on modern music notation credits Shapero with the creation of the divisi bowing notation (simply the old bowing symbols combined), a notation Cope recommends other composers use. Shapero addressed the issue of "hero-worship" and musical inspiration in a series of essays in the 1940s entitled The Musical Mind.


One of the first recordings of the Symphony for Classical Orchestra, was by Leonard Bernstein and the Columbia Symphony Orchestra on the CRI label. Andre Previn and the Los Angeles Philharmonic recorded it along with the Nine Minute Overture on a New World CD. New World has also released Boriskin's performances of three Piano Sonatas. Many more recordings have been made, but unfortunately a lot of them are out of print.

Such records can still be found in the libraries of universities and public libraries. For example, a 33⅓ rpm recording of Shapero's Piano Sonata in D major by harpsichordist Sylvia Marlowe on the Decca label. On the record cover, Marlowe quotes Shapero as saying that "Since the work was completed with the aid of Baroque and pre-Classical keyboard traditions, the version for harpsichord seems to me entirely natural."


Shapero won the Rome Prize in 1941 for the Nine-Minute Overture. The jurors were Howard Barlow, Howard Hanson, Leo Sowerby, Walter Piston and Albert Stoessel. The prize consisted of US$1000 and a residency in Italy, which Shapero was unable to take because of the war. The 2nd Annual George Gershwin Memorial Concert held on 13 February 1946 at Carnegie Hallmarker in New York City featured one movement of Shapero's Serenade in D. This performance was part of a prize sponsored by B'nai B'rith Victory Lodge which also included publication (Shapero's first) with royalties and US$1000. Leonard Bernstein was chairman of the judges' committee.

In 1946 Shapero won the Joseph H. Bearns Prize of US$1200 for the Symphony for String Orchestra. Shapero has also won two Guggenheim Fellowships (in 1947 and in 1948), two Fulbright Fellowships (in 1948 and in 1960), and a Naumburg Fellowship.

In the 1940s Shapero was closely associated with fellow Piston students Arthur Berger and Irving Fine in a "Stravinsky school" of American composers—a phrase first coined by Copland (Pollack 2001). He was also grouped in the "Boston school" along with Arthur Berger, Lukas Foss, Irving Fine, Alexeï Haieff and Claudio Spies.

External links


  • Copland, Aaron. 1948. "The New 'School' of American Composers". New York Times Magazine (March 14): SM18ff.
  • Pollack, Howard. 2001. "Shapero, Harold (Samuel)". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. New York: Grove's Dictionaries.

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