This week, I wanted to chronicle the life of one of the great American composers for flute, Robert Muczynski. Since playing his Sonata for Flute and Piano, Op. 14 during my undergraduate career, I have been fascinated by his music and always thought he was a bit underrated and ahead of his time. I hope you enjoy learning a bit more about him, as I did!
Muczynski was born and raised in Chicago. His parents, of Polish and Slovak descent, were not musically sophisticated, but did notice his early sensitivity to music, which they encouraged by starting him on piano lessons when he was five. Throughout his childhood and adolescence, he nurtured a dream of becoming a concert artist. He earned his bachelors and masters degrees in music performance from DePaul University in 1950 and 1952, where he also studied composition. At the age of 25, Muczynski won national attention for a Piano Concerto commissioned by the Louisville Orchestra, with whom he performed it and later recorded it. Four years later, at the age of 29, he gave his debut recital as composer/pianist in New York City, with an all-Muczynski program at Carnegie Recital Hall.
In 1956, Muczynski accepted an offer to head the piano department at Loras College in Iowa, where he remained for three years. In 1959, he was appointed composer-in-residence for the Oakland, CA, school system, as part of a “Young Composers Project” sponsored by the Ford Foundation. A renewal of this appointment two years later took him to Tucson, AZ, where he lived until his death in 2010.
In 1961, Muczynski composed his Sonata for Flute and Piano, which has remained his best-known work. The work won a top prize at the Concours Internationale in Nice, France, where it attracted the attention of Jean-Pierre Rampal, who took it up immediately and performed it at its American debut. I love this summary of his works, which states, “Muczynski has never been influenced by compositional trends or fashions, adhering to a tonal, warmly expressive neo-Classicism throughout his career. His music is characterized by clear, concise, abstract forms, simple, transparent textures, and avoidance of pretense or grandiosity of any kind. The composers whose music his most resembles are Bartók, in its fondness for thematic ideas with a ‘question-and-answer’ shape; Bernstein’s ‘blue notes’ and its exuberant treatment of irregular meters; and Barber’s dark, moody lyricism. But despite these reminiscences, Muczynski’s relatively small body of work displays its own distinctive and recognizable character.”
Please enjoy this performance of the 2nd and 3rd movements of Muczynski’s Flute Sonata by Gemeinhardt artist Nina Perlove at the National Flute Association 2017 convention: