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Previn, André

Category: Musician or composer

 

André George Previn, KBE (born Andreas Ludwig Priwin; April 6, 1929 or 1930 - died February 28, 2019) was a conductor, composer, arranger, orchestrator, and virtuoso pianist in both the classical and jazz arenas.

Previn was born in Berlin, Germany, the son of Charlotte (née Epstein) and Jack Previn (Jakob Priwin), who was a lawyer, judge, and music teacher.  In 1939, his family, being Jewish, left Nazi Germany and moved to Los Angeles, where his great-uncle, Charles Previn, was music director of Universal Studios. André grew up in Los Angeles and became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1943.

Previn  received a total of thirteen Academy Award nominations, winning in 1958, 1959, 1963 and 1964. He was also the winner of ten Grammy Awards for his recordings. 

  • Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award 2010
  • Best Instrumental Soloist 2005 - Previn: Violin Concerto; Bernstein: Serenade for Solo Violin, Strings, Harp and Percussion
  • Best Classical Crossover Album 2003 Korngold: The Sea Hawk, Captain Blood with the London Symphony Orchestra
  • Best Chamber Music Performance 1999 American Scenes: Copland, Previn, Barber, Gershwin
  • Best Choral Performance 1974 William Walton: Belshazzar's Feast with the London Symphony Orchestra & Chorus and 1977 Rachmaninoff: The Bells with the London Symphony Orchestra & Chorus
  • Best Performance by an Orchestra - 1960 Like Young with the David Rose Orchestra
  • Best Sound Track Album - 1959 Gigi and1960 Porgy and Bess
  • Best Jazz PerformanceSoloist or Small Group - 1961 West Side Story and 1962 André Previn Plays That Old Black Magic, Come Rain or Come Shine, Stormy Weather, Over the Rainbow and Other Wonderful Songs by Harold Arlen
with third wife Mia Farrow and their twins

In 1970 he was nominated for a Tony Award as part of Coco's nomination for Best Musical. The 1977 television show Previn and the Pittsburgh was nominated for three Emmy awards.  Previn received the Kennedy Center Honors in 1998 in recognition of his contributions to classical music and opera in the United States. In 2005 he was awarded the international Glenn Gould Prize and in 2008 won Gramophone magazine's Lifetime Achievement Award for his work in classical, film, and jazz music.

Previn was appointed an honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1996.  Not being a citizen of a Commonwealth realm, he could use the post-nominal letters KBE but was not called "Sir André".  In 1977 he became an Honorary Member of the Royal Academy of Music.

From whence cometh inspiration?

Previn’s father was an avid classical music enthusiast and even at 5 years old, it was clear that his son was destined for musical greatness.  Previn was ultimately a child prodigy needing a rather protective environment to flourish, he didn’t get it, however, the war saw to that. 

with 5th wife Sophie Anne Mutter

Previn’s inspiration was in part his love of music itself.  “All it took was one beat,” he explains in André Previn: A Biography, “and I knew I would spend the rest of my life chasing after music.”  So music was a sort of haven of peace in a world of chaos, a retreat into another world.

But what kind of music?  Previn's recording repertoire as a conductor was focused on the standards of classical and romantic music. He was no fan of avant-garde art music based on atonality, minimalism, serialism, or stochastic. Instead, he was drawn towards  specific composers of late romanticism like George Gershwin, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Serge Prokofiev, Serge Rachmaninoff,  Maurice Ravel, Dmitri Shostakovich, Richard Strauss, Claude Debussy, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Tchaikovsky and William Walton.  Andre Previn was drawn towards melodic works of very high emotion, composed by spiritually inspired people.

with second wife Dory Previn

His own works seemed to reflect at times, however, a terrible discord, a mismatch between some ideal, some longed for state and the world he found himself in. 

The works he composed seem to be a mirror of his state of mind, which is not that of harmony.  Only occasionally does melody and romance creep through; when it does it is beautiful, but the works he composed when his marriages have been on the rocks, and when he has been alone or feeling lonely, are grim indeed. 

 

It may be that there were some influences and after effects from his early use of LSD.  Before LSD was made illegal, Previn was one of the early experimenters at Dr Oscar Janiger’s clinic.  We have an observation with an extract from the notes made on one such experiment.  Did it do him any good, this glimpse of another realm, this sense of heightened perception?  LSD can be extremely damaging for the gifted and sensitive.  It is an ego buster and sensitive creative people do not tend to need their ego busting. 

The drug experiences appear to have left him with a longing and a loneliness he was never able to satisfy.  He was married 5 times, was always going with other women- in a romantic the sign of a very insecure man and a very lonely one too - and despite the hurt he appears to have caused each of his abandoned wives, they speak of him as a romantic.  Previn was not a womaniser. 

with fourth wife Heather

Heather Sneddon his fourth wife said that Previn ‘loved being in love’, that the first 12 or 14 years together, they were incredibly happy, that there were ‘hugs and kisses’.  And he was impulsive and generous ‘He bought me a thousand daffodil bulbs for one birthday’.  There is more “Once, when he was conducting the Vienna Philharmonic, I asked if I could sit a beloved teddy bear in the front row to watch the rehearsals while I went shopping. The next morning, the whole front row was filled with teddy bears.”

The problem that those who live with gifted human beings find, [and worse those whose minds have been messed with inappropriate use of drugs they do not need], is that the person lives on another plain, aching to be ‘home’, in the realm that lies behind the veil.  They try everything to get there, alcohol, sex, drugs, none of which work.  Love works, being immersed in music works, but the love they tend to demand and need is almost impossible to provide in the sort of world we have created today with all the travelling and separations, work demands and financial pressures. 

 

The love they demand, furthermore, is exhausting, all consuming, and it can be an emotional roller coaster of incredible ‘ups’ and appalling ‘downs’. Many people living with an addictive lover end up exhausted – spent.  And it can physically cause people’s hearts to give way – both lover and loved.  Previn had a quadruple bypass in 1996.

We have provided only one observation that includes his compositions where grief, loneliness and anger seem to be his principle driver, but others are not hard to find if you look for them, they coincide almost exactly with the periods of his life when his love affairs were in trouble.  Instead the majority of observations we have provided have examples of his work where love held sway.

Works

 

Previn composed film scores (including many songs), jazz pieces and contemporary classical music. His earliest compositions are student works from the mid-1940s (a clarinet sonata, a string quartet, a rhapsody for violin and orchestra and some art songs). They were written at the same time as he did his first work for films (1946) and his first jazz recordings (1945).

Much of his later work is orchestral but he composed a number of solo pieces for the piano, including:

  • Impressions for Piano (20 pieces for students) (ca. 1964)
  • Paraphrase on a Theme of William Walton (premiered in London, United Kingdom, in 1973)
  • Invisible Drummer. Five Preludes (premiered in Liverpool, United Kingdom, in 1974)
  • Five Pages from My Calendar (ca. 1978)
  • Matthew's Piano Book (10 pieces for students) (ca. 1979)
 

In Hollywood between 1946 and 1969, Previn also worked extensively as an adaptor, winning his four Academy Awards (out of 13 nominations) for works in this category:

  • Gigi (Original score by Frederick Loewe for the film),
  • Porgy and Bess (stage-to-film adaptation of George Gershwin's opera score),
  • Irma la Douce (the film used the score of the stage musical by Marguerite Monnot, but the songs themselves were omitted) and
  • My Fair Lady (stage-to-film adaptation of Fredrick Loewe's musical score).

His other scores for film of existing musicals include:

  • Kiss Me, Kate (1953) – after Porter's musical
  • Kismet (1953) – after Wright's/Forrest's musical
  • Silk Stockings (1957) – after Porter's musical
  • Bells Are Ringing (1960) – after Styne's musical
  • Paint Your Wagon (1969) – after Loewe's Musical, also additional music for new songs written with Alan Jay Lerner; The First Thing You Know, A Million Miles Away Behind the Door, The Gospel of No Name City, Best Things and Gold Fever
  • Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) – after Lloyd Webber's musical

Previn also adapted classical music for film, for example:

  • The Music Lovers (1970) – arrangement of Peter Tchaikovsky's music
  • Rollerball (1975) – arrangement of music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Dmitri Shostakovich, and Peter Tchaikovsky (with some original music by Previn: Executive Party and Executive Party Dance)

While working as an adaptor, Previn was adding his own music, orchestrating, conducting and playing piano, as well.  But Previn has also composed a considerable number of original film scores, including:

  • The Sun Comes Up (1949)
  • Tension (1950)
  • The Girl Who Had Everything (1953)
  • Bad Day at Black Rock (1954)
  • It's Always Fair Weather (1955)
  • The Fastest Gun Alive (1956)
  • Invitation to the Dance (1956 – original music for scene two, Ring Around the Rosy, by Previn)
  • Designing Woman (1957)
  • Elmer Gantry (1960)
  • The Subterraneans (1960)
  • All in a Night's Work (1961)
  • The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1961)
  • One, Two, Three (1961)
  • Long Day's Journey into Night (1962)
  • Two for the Seesaw (1962)
  • Dead Ringer (1964)
  • Goodbye Charlie (1964)
  • Kiss Me, Stupid (1965)
  • Inside Daisy Clover (1965)
 

In later years, he concentrated on composing classical music.   Previn recorded both orchestral works and chamber music, Wikipedia has a long list of all the classical music he composed, but for example here is just a selection of the chamber music :

  • Violin Sonata No. 1 (ca. 1960, possibly rejected by the composer)
  • Four Outings for Brass (premiered in London in 1974)
  • Two Little Serenades for Violin and Piano (premiered in New York in 1974)
  • Peaches for Flute and Piano (ca. 1978)
  • Triolet for Brass (ca. 1985)
  • A Wedding Waltz for 2 Oboes and Piano (ca. 1986)
  • Sonata for Cello and Piano (premiered in Amsterdam in 1993)
  • Trio for Piano, Oboe and Bassoon (premiered in New York in 1996)
  • Sonata (No. 2) Vineyard for Violin and Piano (written in 1994, premiered in New York in 1996)
  • Sonata for Bassoon and Piano (premiered in New York in 1999)
  • Tango, Song and Dance, for Violin and Piano (premiered in Luzern, Switzerland, in 2001)
  • String Quartet with Soprano (premiered in New York in 2003)
  • Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello (premiered in New York in 2009)
  • Sonata for Clarinet and Piano (premiered in Prague, Czech Republic, in 2010)
  • Octet for Eleven (premiered in Boston in 2010)
  • Quintet for Clarinet and String Quartet (premiered in Boston in 2011)
  • Trio (No. 2) for Piano, Violin and Cello (premiered in New York in 2012)
  • Sonata (No. 3, publ. as "No. 2") for Violin and Piano (premiered in New York in 2013)
  • Nonet (premiered in Edinburgh in 2015)

Previn also collaborated with Tom Stoppard on Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, a play with substantial musical content, which was first performed in London in 1977 with Previn conducting the LSO. His first opera, A Streetcar Named Desire, premiered at the San Francisco Opera in 1998. His second opera, Brief Encounter, based on the 1945 movie of the same name, was premiered at Houston Grand Opera on May 1, 2009.

Previn “You’re playing all the wrong notes”
Eric Morecombe “I’m playing all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order”
Ernie Wise “Are you satisfied Mr Preview?”

Finally, it appears that Previn was also a good writer, here is what one reviewer said of his book No Minor Chords: My Days in Hollywood:

As a long time admirer of Andre Previn's abilities as a superbly gifted conductor, composer and jazz pianist this book is a welcome addition to his many accomplishments. This light hearted but probing insight into the glory days of the film score arranger and the specific stories Previn relates is not only informative but is immersive because of its first hand accounts and great fun to read. Previn certainly has the knack of telling a good story and as such the book is a marvellous page turner

 Previn died on February 28, 2019, at home in Manhattan at the age of 89.

 

Observations

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