William Schuman on the George Washington Bridge

The Composer's Datebook from American Public Media
Thursday, July 30, 2020

On today's date in 1950, at the Interlochen Summer Music Camp, the Michigan All-Star Band, under the direction of Dale Harris, gave the premiere performance of a new work entitled "George Washington Bridge." This music was written by the American composer William Schuman, who was experiencing an especially creative period in the early 1950's. Schuman was living in New Rochelle, New York, but as president of the Juilliard School, spent much of his time in Manhattan, and, as Schuman explained:

"There are few days in the year when I do not see the George Washington Bridge. I pass it on my way to work as I drive along the Henry Hudson Parkway on the New York shore. Ever since my student days when I watched the progress of its construction, this bridge has had for me an almost human personality, and this personality is astonishingly varied, assuming different moods, depending on the time of day or night, the weather, and, of course, my own mood as I pass by… I have walked across it late at night when it was shrouded in fog, and during the brilliant sunshine hours of midday… It is difficult to imagine a more gracious welcome or dramatic entry to the great metropolis."

The piece itself is in ABCBA form—a little like the rising and falling arch of a suspension bridge, in fact, and, since its 1950 premiere at Interlochen, Schuman's "George Washington Bridge" has won a secure place as a classic of the wind band repertory.