New York , NY — Carl Fischer Music, his long time publisher, mourns the passing of Lukas Foss, one of the foremost musicians of the 20th and 21st centuries.
Of all the American composers of his generation, Lukas Foss was probably the most adventurous. Starting as a young composer very much in the Coplandesque American vein, he brilliantly used all the styles of the 20th century from the neo-classical approach of Hindemith and Stravinsky, through the atonal and serial manner of Schoenberg and Webern to the radical simplicity of the minimalists.
What made Foss remarkable as a composer was his singular ability to make every style or technique he used his own. Whether in the Hindemith-like gravity of A Parable of Death (1952), the serial angularity of Time Cycle (1960), the aleatory of Baroque Variations (1967) or the atonal minimalism of Solo for Piano (1981), the voice of Lukas Foss, sometimes stern, sometimes witty, but always questioning, comes through. Pieces like Time Cycle, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird (1978) and Renaissance Concerto (1985) have become staples of the repertoire and are performed frequently all over the world.
His love of the music of the past (from the music of the Renaissance and Baroque to the masterpieces of his own time), which his career as a conductor gave him considerable leeway to explore, is also demonstrated in compositions such as Cello Concert (1966), which comments on a Bach Sarabande, Baroque Variations (1967), which deconstructs music of Handel, Scarlatti and Bach, and Renaissance Concerto (1985), written for flutist Carol Wincenc, which views fragments of 16th-century music through a distinctly 20th century lens.
The two late string quartets, No. 4 (written in 1998 on commission from the Buffalo Chamber Music Society for the Muir Quartet) and No. 5 (written in 2000 for and premiered by the Guarnieri Quartet) represent a master composer at his peak, synthesizing every aspect of what he had learned and experienced in two extraordinary works that have begun to be taken into the repertory of the best young string quartets.
A comment by Lukas Foss quoted in Raymond Yiu’s overview of Foss’ career, Renaissance Man: A Portrait of Lukas Foss (Tempo, A Quarterly Review of Modern Music, July 2002) seems to sum up best what he stood for as a composer:
“When I compose, I explore. It is a kind of burning curiosity, dare I say divine fire. With every piece I write, I try to solve a new problem. That’s why I so often change techniques – which are not what people call styles…Actually, I don’t change style, because style is my personality. I make things my own, and the more things you make your own, the richer your vocabulary is…”
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