US composer, conductor, and pianist. His stylistically varied works, including the cantata The Prairie (1944) and Time Cycle for soprano and orchestra (1960), express an ironic view of tradition. A prolific composer, in the 1940s he wrote vocal music in neoclassical style; in the mid-1950s he began increasingly to employ improvization; and he has also written chamber and orchestral music in which the players reproduce tape-recorded effects.
Born in Germany, Foss studied in Berlin and Paris. In 1937 he went with his parents to the USA, and studied at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. Later he studied with Paul Hindemith at Yale University; in 1944 he gave the first performance of Hindemith's Four Temperaments for piano and strings. In 1945 he won a Guggenheim Fellowship and in 1950 a Fulbright Fellowship. He became professor of composition at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1953. He was conductor of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra 1963–71, music director of the Brooklyn Philharmonic 1971–90, and music director of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra 1981–86.
WorksStageThe Jumping Frog of Calaveras County (after Mark Twain; 1950), Griffelkin (television opera, 1955), Introductions and Goodbyes (libretto by Foss and Menotti; 1959); ballet Gift of the Magi (1945); incidental music to The Tempest.
Vocal cantata The Prairie (after Carl Sandberg; 1942), oratorio A Parable of Death (Rilke, 1952); Time Cycle for soprano and ensemble (1960), American Cantata for tenor, chorus, and orchestra (1976), Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird for soprano, flute, piano, and percussion (1978), Round a Common Centre for voice and ensemble (1979), De Profundis (1983), With Music Strong for mixed chorus and ensemble (1988).
Orchestral two piano concertos (1944, 1951); three symphonies (no. 3 Symphony of Sorrows, 1988); Solomon Rossi Suite (1975), Renaissance Concerto for flute and orchestra (1986), American Landscapes, guitar concerto (1989).
ChamberOrpheus for cello, oboe, and clarinet; three string quartets (1947, 1973, 1975), brass quintet (1978), percussion quartet (1983), horn trio (1984), Taski for six instruments (1986), Central Park Reel for violin and piano (1989).