Russell, William

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William Russell


Born: February 26, 1905

Died: August 09, 1992

Country: Canton, Missouri, U.S.A.

Studies: Quincy Cons. of Music, Illinois; Columbia Teachers College, New York



William "Bill" Russell (February 26, 1905, Canton, Missouri – August 9, 1992, New Orleans, Louisiana) was an American music historian and modernist composer. Named Russell William Wagner at birth, when he decided to become a classical music composer, he dropped his last name—as it already "was taken" by Richard Wagner.

Bill Russell was a leading figure in percussion music composition, influenced by his acquaintances John Cage and Henry Cowell. In turn, Russell also influenced Cage, in his emphasis of percussion.[citation needed] During the 1930s, predating Cage's main work, Russell's percussion works called for vernacular textures such as Jack Daniels bottles, suitcases, and Haitian drums, as well as "prepared pianos", although it is not clear how specifically he wanted the piano to be prepared.

One notable performance of his "Fugue for eight percussion instruments" took place in 1933, with the ubiquitous and influential critic-writer-performer Nicholas Slonimsky conducting. The fugue was performed at Carnegie Hall on a program that included Varèse's iconic percussion composition "Ionisation." These performances took place under the auspices of the Pan-American Association of Composers, an organization that was composed of Cowell, Ruth Crawford Seeger, Edgard Varèse, Slonimsky, and other luminaries of American ultramodernism. Russell, on occasion, performed other Pan-Am composers' chamber works on violin. In 1990, Russell's oeuvre was performed integrally, assisted by Cage, in New York, leading to a recording of Russell's extant works by Essential Music. [1]

Works for Percussion

Chicago Sketches - Percussion Trio; Piano
Four Dance Movements - Percussion Trio, Piano
Made in America - Percussion Quartet
March Suite - Percussion Trio; Piano
Ogou Badagri - Percussion Quintet; Pianos (2)
Percussion Studies in Cuban Rhythms - Percussion Quartet
Prelude, Chorale and Fugue - Percussion Septet; Piano
Trumpet Concerto - Percussion Trio; Trumpet; Piano, Celesta