Harold Shapero Papers Now Available for Research

Written by Hannah Spencer, graduate student in the Department of Music at Brandeis University

Howard Shapero at his deskHarold Shapero (1920-2013) was an American Neo-Classical composer and professor of music at Brandeis University for over 30 years. The student of many esteemed composers, including Walter Piston, Paul Hindemith and Nadia Boulanger, Shapero’s greatest musical output occurred in the 1940s with second increase during the 1990s-2000s[1]. Many of his papers were recently donated to the Robert D. Farber University Archives and Special Collections. The Harold Shapero Collection contains 15 boxes of sketches, scores and correspondence that provide a unique look into the creative life of the composer.

In a time where American composers were increasingly drawn to the 12-tone technique of the Second Viennese School, Shapero modeled his works after the great Classicists by using tonal harmonies and traditional forms while reaching into more complex harmonic and rhythmic gestures than those of the past[2]. He was influenced by the vibrant style of Igor Stravinsky, and was a part of the American ‘Stravinsky School,’ a title coined by Aaron Copland. Although he was occasionally criticized for his reliance on classical models, Shapero’s works were moderately well received (modernist American musicians were not interested in Neo-Classical techniques[3]) and have remained a part of the repertory. This position was secured by a renewed interest in Shapero’s music sparked by Andre Previn’s 1988 revival of the 1947 Symphony for Classical Orchestra. The surge in popularity also generated a new wave of compositions from Shapero, who had written drastically fewer works while teaching at Brandeis[4].

Howard ShaperoThe Harold Shapero Collection contains sketches and scores of Symphony for Classical Orchestra as well as Shapero’s other major works, including Serenade in D for Strings, Partita in C and Three Sonatas for Piano. In addition to these well-known published pieces, the collection includes many unpublished compositions, several of which were written as gifts to friends and family members. Among the many names included in the titles are Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland and Arthur Berger. The contents of the collection span Shapero’s lifetime, including materials from early piano lessons, classwork from his studies at Harvard University, as well as works and sketches from the end of his life.

Particularly interesting are the many letters and sketchbooks found within the collection. The correspondence between Shapero and his teachers and colleagues along with annotated scores and sketches provide a glimpse into his creative process. Several works are included in many forms, from early sketches, rough drafts sent to friends for editing, published editions and the occasional recording. This collection provides an opportunity to watch Shapero’s works develop and to understand the compositional process from his perspective.

December 18, 2014


[1] Howard Pollack. "Shapero, Harold." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed December 16, 2014.

[2] Anthony Tommasini, “Harold Shapero, American Neo-Classical Composer, Dies at 93,” New York Times (New York, NY), May 27, 2013.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Howard Pollack. "Shapero, Harold." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed December 16, 2014.