Throughout his musical life, Jacob Druckman was considered one of the most promising and most erudite American composers of his generation. Born in Philadelphia, he studied piano and violin in his youth and also became an accomplished jazz trumpeter. He studied composition with Aaron Copland at the Berkshire Music Center (Tanglewood), and with Peter Menin, Bernard Wagenaar, and Vincent Persichetti at The Juilliard School—whose faculty he joined in 1956. He also held teaching positions at Brooklyn College and at Yale, where he became chairman of the composition department in 1976.
Ranging from abstract to theatrical, Druckman’s music, which embraced purely instrumental, vocal, and electronic genres and expressions, is known for its dramatic sonic impact. In the 1960s his theretofore neoclassical formal tendencies (his 1950 Divertimento, for example) gave way to experimental music for combinations of instruments together with prerecorded electronic parameters and sounds. By the 1970s he was leaning as well toward rich, sometimes extravagant orchestral colors and timbres in his pieces for larger ensembles. At the same time, he was always concerned with well-calculated structure and judicious focus on detail. Indeed, he once described these two sides of his musical personality as “Apollonian and Dionysian”—sides that can sometimes be juxtaposed in a single piece. He also turned to the device of quotation from other, earlier works, which could involve music of such stylistically and chronologically disparate composers as Cavalli (1602–76), Cherubini (1760–1842), M.A. Charpentier (1643–1704), and Leonard Bernstein.
Prism (1980) was probably Druckman’s most frequently heard orchestral work. Among his other important pieces are his first large-scale orchestral work, Windows (1972), for which he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Music; Aureole (1979), commissioned by Bernstein; Valentine (1969) for solo contrabass; Antiphonies (1963); and Lamia (1974).
In 1978, Druckman was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Commenting on his untimely passing, ASCAP president and chairman Marilyn Bergman observed, “American music has lost one of its leading citizens, a greatly talented man who was also an inspired teacher and a determined advocate.”
By: Neil W. Levin