Statement from the Shapero Family regarding the passing of Harold Shapero (1920-2013)

Harold ShaperoHarold Shapero, an American composer, pianist and longtime Professor of Music at Brandeis University, passed peacefully in his sleep on Friday, May 17, 2013 at the age of 93, following complications with pneumonia. Born in Lynn, Massachusetts on April 29, 1920, Shapero maintained a bold presence on the music scene in greater-Boston for the last 73 years. His friend Aaron Copland identified him with the American “Stravinsky school” of neo-classical composers that included lifelong friends and colleagues Arthur Berger, Leonard Bernstein and Irving Fine. A graduate of Harvard, his teachers included Walter Piston, Paul Hindemith and Nadia Boulanger. Shapero was a mainstay at the MacDowell Colony during the 1940s, where he completed his Serenade in D. He was an early student at Tanglewood, where Copland presented a performance of Shapero’s Nine-Minute Overture. His music was recognized with accolades such as the Prix de Rome, a Naumburg Fellowship, two Guggenheim Fellowships, a Fulbright Fellowship and a Koussevitzky Foundation Commission. Leonard Bernstein, who conducted the premiere of Shapero’s Symphony for Classical Orchestra with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1947 called the work “a marvel” in a letter to Serge Koussevitsky. In his thirty-seven years of teaching at Brandeis, Shapero was instrumental in the development of the university’s renowned electronic music studio and taught music theory and composition. He mentored countless students and was a key figure in shaping the Brandeis University Department of Music in its early decades, serving as the department’s chair in the 1960s. Shapero maintained a close relationship with the University in recent years as a Professor Emeritus of Music, frequently attending concerts and sharing his charm with students, faculty and staff. A true Renaissance man, his widespread talents and interests ranged from the study of birds to electronics. He is survived by his wife Esther of Natick, Massachusetts, an esteemed visual artist, and his daughter Pyra (Hannah) Shapero of Falls Church, Virginia. A commercial artist and electronic musician, Pyra fondly recalls working with her father on synthesizer and piano improvisations from 1968-1972. A memorial service is planned for Wednesday, May 22 in Natick and will include remembrances by Shapero’s closest friends and the playing of a recent recording of his Arioso Variations, performed by pianist Sally Pinkas. Details are forthcoming.


“With the passing of my great friend, Harold Shapero, an entire era of great American music has passed. He knew personally Igor Stravinsky, Aaron Copland, Nadia Boulanger, Koussevitsky, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Hindemith, Irving Fine, Leo Smit and hundreds of the leading people in 20th Century art. He loved hummingbirds, hated the Yankees, serialism and lawyers, loved Thai food, Scarlett Johansson and Whittier. In his music he captured beauty and hope. He could not write without the inspiration. He hated using ‘formulas’ and ‘diddling’. He wrote music for people. In spite of his passing and our sorrow, his music will live forever.” -Brian G. Ferrell, friend of Harold Shapero









Lukas Foss, Irving Fine and Harold Shapero at Tanglewood, 1946

(By Ruth Orkin,


5 Responses to “Harold Shapero, Dead at 93”
  1. Jack Mauhler says:

    Shapero lived a long successful life. He was a great pianist and was very wise. His music was simply stunning and he was a great teacher. He will be missed greatly by the piano community. Very thankful for all the greatness he brought to the music world.

  2. Mather Pfeiffenberger says:

    I once had the good fortune to meet Harold Shapero at a Carnegie Hall Symposium on the Copland-Sessions Concerts in NYC in March 2000. He was on a panel that included Arthur Berger, Frederick Prausnitz, and Tony Tomassini. The moderator was Ellen Taafe Zwillich, Carnegie’s Composer-in-Residence for that season.

    Mr. Shapero was a funny, boisterous man and a great raconteur. He told a story about his two composer-mentors Copland and Stravinsky that I must share. Apparently, sometime in the late 1950s or early 1960s at Tanglewood, one night Copland, Irving and Verna Fine, Leonard Bernstein, Shapero, and some others were finishing up dinner at the Fines’ home. They were all helping to clean up, which included Copland washing some of the dishes. As he was doing this, he remarked to Shapero, “I wonder if Stravinsky does the dishes?”

    A few months later, Shapero was invited by composer-pianist Leo Smit to come out to UCLA, where Smit was teaching at the time, for a recital by Smit that included Shapero’s music. During his visit, they were both invited to dinner at the Stravinsky home, and suddenly at one point, Shapero realized that he was going to get to answer Copland’s question. When dinner was finished, Shapero waited expectantly to see what would happen. Stravinsky and his wife Vera got up, they all carried plates out to the kitchen, Vera helped Stravinsky put on an apron, and they both took care of washing the dishes. Shapero immediately telegraphed Copland the next morning, “STRAVINSKY DOES THE DISHES.”

    Later in a one-on-one conversation, Mr. Shapero told me how George Antheil had taught him about writing music for television. Antheil wrote the theme music for the CBS news documentary series of the 1950s and 1960s “The Twentieth Century” and was able to get Shapero work with the program as well. He went on to compose the score to the “Woodrow Wilson” documentary in that series which aired in 1959.

    Though my encounters with him were brief, I will always remember Mr. Shapero’s warm humor and keen wit. He was a character indeed!

  3. Harold Shapero will be fondly remembered by my four boys, my husband and I. He gave me a grocery bag of canna tubers several years ago but did not warn me that I would have a wheel barrow full when I dug them up in the fall for winter storage. I have been planting the cannas every summer and the hummingbirds love them. I shall cherish the cannas, the hummingbirds and the memories of Mr. Shapero strolling through my yard.
    Harold loved Tropicana Orange juice, bruschetta and icecream. He knew when everything was on sale and would stock up on those items. He was a character in his own right.
    Rest in Peace, Harold. Lots of love, Margaret

  4. Lisa Hirsch says:

    Harold Shapero was one of my professors at Brandeis in the 1970s. He would perhaps be disappointed to hear that I’m now a fan of both his music and of serialist music, but more likely he would laugh and be glad that I was an independent thinker. RIP, Professor Shapero.

  5. Shapero had a minor comeback in 1986 after Andre Previn programmed and recorded his Symphony, which resulted in performances of his other works and more recordings (my favorite is the Lydian String Quartet playing his Serenade). It’s so sad that he retreated from actively composing after he was attacked by some of his peers (who were also writers) in the late 40s/early 50s.

    Here are some perceptive words from The Apollonian Clockwork by Louis Andriessen and Elmer Schonberger:

    “If ever a Stravinsky school existed, it was in Boston around 1950. It was there that a group of composers was formed. Discussed in 1951 by Aaron Copland in an article for Minna Lederman’s book Stravinsky in the Theatre…Harold Shapero, Irving Fine, John Lessard, Lukas Foss, Gail Kubik, Andrew Imbrie: the neo-neoclassicists, composers of countless sinfoniettas, serenades, and concertinos, either with or without solo winds, of high-spirited. often somewhat short-winded, white-note music…

    The best was Shapero. At least that is what Stravinsky thought. In 1947 at the age of twenty-seven, Shapero wrote his Symphony for Classical Orchestra. The title says it all. This is how Beethoven would have composed had he known Stravinsky (one hears Shapero thinking). Completely stripped of the superficialities of American music (Gershwin, Bernstein), the piece is a formalization of neocIassicism: strict form, long breath, much pandiatonicism and, according to the best European recipes, octotonicism in the transitions. Of course, behind the brilliant technique you can see the pokerface of the art director. but that hardly contradicts the mien of the true classicist.”