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William Masselos

New music depends upon interested, talented, and adventurous performers for its presentation and advancement. Noted American pianist and teacher Masselos was one such performer. His primary studies were undertaken at New York's Institute of Musical Art and at the Juilliard School of Music where he was a pupil of Carl Friedberg and, for a while, of David Saperton and Dounis in piano, Salmond and Persinger in ensemble playing, and Wagenaar in theory. His New York debut occurred in 1939. This and subsequent performances, as a soloist with orchestras and in recitals, emphasized his attraction to contemporary music (by Robert Helps, Dane Rudyhar, William Mayer, and many other composers). His most memorable contribution of this time was the long overdue world premiere of Charles Ives' epic First Piano Sonata (written in 1910) on February 17, 1949. This monumental work has the emotional range of a great novel, a dense layering of harmonic textures, and requires piano techniques from the Lisztian to the highly rhythmically complex style of barrelhouse ragtime. This touchstone in American music was twice recorded by Masselos, for the first time in 1950 for Columbia Records and then again in 1967 for RCA VIctor Red Seal. Masselos obtained a teaching position at Indiana University in Bloomington and remained there from 1955 to 1957. During this time, he premiered Aaron Copland's Piano Fantasy of 1957 composed in Copland's groundbreaking serialist style, which Masselos also subsequently recorded. Shortly afterward, Masselos received a Ford Foundation grant with which he commissioned Ben Weber's dynamic Piano Concerto written in a serialist style, premiered in 1961 and toured throughout the U.S. Masselos later also taught at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., from 1965 until 1971 and from 1976 until 1986; at the Georgia State University in Atlanta from 1972 thru 1975; and at the Juilliard School from 1976 on. Masselos was also known for his fine interpretations and understanding of Erik Satie's music, and of earlier works by Johannes Brahms and Robert Schumann. His recitals were known for their variety of unusual works and their duration. Masselos received many honors recognizing his pianistic and teaching talents including the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Memorial Medal, the Harriet Cohen International Prize, the Award of Merit of the National Association of American Composers and Conductors, and a doctorate in music from the Hamilton College.
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