Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

HANSON, HOWARD (1896-1981)

Howard Hanson conducting

Born in Wahoo, Nebraska, on October 28, 1896, to Swedish immigrants, Howard Hanson was a child prodigy, learning piano and cello by the age of fourteen. As a high school junior and senior, he conducted the Wahoo High School Orchestra. Educated at Northwestern University, Hanson was appointed dean of music at the University of the Pacific in 1919 and then studied at the American Academy in Rome, Italy, for three years. In 1924 he was chosen by George Eastman to head the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester, a post he held until 1964.

Hanson composed seven symphonies, the opera Merrymount, and several other orchestral works. His fourth symphony, Requiem, won a Pulitzer Prize in 1944. Several of Hanson's chorales incorporated the poetry of Walt Whitman. Hanson also promoted the works of American composers in concert, on phonograph records, and on the radio. Under Hanson the Eastman School of Music became one of the foremost music schools in America, and he made music education a respected vocation.

Hanson's compositional style has been called American romantic, influenced by music's romantic period of the late 1800s. Hanson described his music as springing from the soil of his native Nebraska and reflecting the broad prairies rather than the city. He died in Rochester, New York, on February 26, 1981. Hanson's birthplace in Wahoo is owned by the Saunders County Historical Society and is open to the public.

Eric J. Bachenberg Lincoln, Nebraska

Williams, David Russell. Conversations with Howard Hanson. Arkadelphia AR: Delta Publications, 1988.

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