Morton Gould was an important American composer, generally overshadowed by Copland, Barber, and Bernstein. Like Bernstein, he wrote in both popular and classical styles and often mixed the two. Many record collectors around the middle of the twentieth century knew him primarily as a conductor of popular music, as well as of newer works in the realm of serious music. His "classical" style in composition generally offered few challenges to listeners and often featured well-known themes of a patriotic or folk origin, or were based on melodies from American composers out of the past. Foster Gallery (1939) and American Ballads (1976) fall into this realm.
Gould was born in Richmond Hill, Long Island, New York. He was a musical prodigy of a rare order, playing the piano and composing by age four. His parents were strongly supportive of their young son and helped to get his first work, a waltz entitled Just Six, both performed and published when he was still only six years old.
By age eight, he was performing regularly on radio broadcasts. Later, he studied at the Institute of Musical Arts in New York and in New York University, where he was instructed in composition by Vincent Jones. He also studied piano with Abby Whiteside. In his late teens, Gould played piano in vaudeville and radio in various freelancing assignments, but also held positions with Radio City Music Hall and NBC. At age 21, (1934) he landed a conducting post with WOR Radio, regularly leading an orchestra in popular music fare. He recorded for RCA beginning in the 1930s and made piano rolls for Ampico.
One of Gould's first successes in composition was his Chorale and Fugue in Jazz (1935), which received a prestigious premiere on January 2, 1936, with Leopold Stokowski leading the Philadelphia Orchestra. Gould was beginning to turn out many significant compositions now: his Piano Concerto came in 1937 and his Violin Concerto in 1938. The following year, he wrote the aforementioned work based on popular Stephen Foster themes, Foster Gallery, which was subsequently recorded by Arthur Fiedler and The Boston Pops Orchestra.
Gould became music director of the popular radio programs "The Chrysler Hour" and "Cresta Blanca Carnival" in the 1940s. He composed three symphonies (of four) in that decade, as well as a spate of other works, including his Viola Concerto (1943) and Fall River Legend (1947).
Gould also wrote for Broadway, turning out Billion Dollar Baby in 1945 and Arms and the Girl in 1950. In 1944, he appeared in the film Delightfully Dangerous, for which he wrote the score. His career scoring films continued with other efforts including Cinerama Holiday (1955) and Windjammer (1958). He also composed numerous scores for television shows in the 1960s and 1970s. His last important effort here was for the mini-series Holocaust (1978), which starred Meryl Streep. In 1966, Gould received a Grammy award for his recording with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra of Ives' First Symphony.
Gould continued to write concert music, as well, though one might assert that the film world may ultimately have sabotaged his chances somewhat to attain a higher level of art. Still, his Symphony of Spirituals and American Ballads, both premiered in 1976, demonstrated his undiminished talent. From 1986 until 1994 he served as president of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP). In 1995, Gould received a Pulitzer Prize for his composition Stringmusic.