6 April 1929
28 February 2019 (aged 89)
André George Previn (Andreas Ludwig Priwin; April 6, 1929 – February 28, 2019) was a German-American pianist, conductor, and composer. Previn won four Academy Awards for his film work and ten Grammy Awards for his recordings and one more for his Lifetime Achievement.
Previn was born in Berlin, Germany, the son of Charlotte (née Epstein) and Jack Previn (Jakob Priwin), who was a lawyer, judge, and music teacher. He is said to have been "a distant relative of" the composer Gustav Mahler. However, in a pre-concert public interview at Lincoln Center, in May 2012, Previn laughed at the suggestion that he was related to Mahler. The year of his birth is uncertain. Whereas most published reports give 1929, Previn himself stated that 1930 was his birth year.
In 1938, his Jewish family left Berlin to live in Paris, but moved to Los Angeles after a year or so. His great-uncle, Charles Previn, was music director for Universal. André grew up in Los Angeles and became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1943. At Previn's 1946 graduation from Beverly Hills High School he played a musical duet with Richard M. Sherman; Previn played the piano, accompanying Sherman (who played flute). Coincidentally, both composers won 1964 Oscars for different films, both winning in musical categories.
In 1951 and 1952, while stationed at the Presidio of San Francisco during his military service, Previn took private conducting lessons from Pierre Monteux, which he valued highly.
Previn came to prominence by arranging and composing Hollywood film scores first working for MGM when he was still in high school in 1946 having been noticed by the studio's music department for his work with a local radio program. The film studios, he said in 2005, "were always looking for somebody who was talented, fast and cheap and, because I was a kid, I was all three. So they hired me to do piecework and I evidently did it very well." At 18 he became a composer-conductor for the studio. His first official credit was for an entry in the Lassie series, The Sun Comes Up (1949), which much later he thought was "the most inept score you ever heard" after seeing a television rerun.
Previn remained with MGM for a decade and a half, but resigned in his early 30s. He told Emma Brockes of The Guardian in 2008: "At MGM you knew you were going to be working next year, you knew you were going to get paid. But I was too ambitious musically to settle for it. And I wanted to gamble with whatever talent I might have had."
His break with the film world in the 1960s was not as straightforward as he often tried to claim in later life. His film work continued until Rollerball (1975). Over his entire film career, Previn was involved in the music for over 50 movies as composer, conductor or performer.
In 1967, Previn succeeded Sir John Barbirolli as music director of the Houston Symphony Orchestra. In 1968, he began his tenure as principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO), serving in that post until 1979. During his LSO tenure, he and the LSO appeared on the BBC Television programme André Previn's Music Night. However, during his period with the LSO, according to the music critic Martin Bernheimer, Previn gained the reputation of being "a first-rate conductor of second-rate music."
From 1976 to 1984, he was music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (PSO) and, in turn, had another television series with the PSO entitled Previn and the Pittsburgh. He was also principal conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra from 1985 to 1988.
In 1985, he became music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Although Previn's tenure with the orchestra was deemed satisfactory from a professional perspective, other conductors, including Kurt Sanderling, Simon Rattle, and Esa-Pekka Salonen, did a better job at selling out concerts. Previn clashed frequently with Ernest Fleischmann (the LAPO's Executive VP and General Manager), including the dispute when Fleischmann failed to consult Previn before naming Salonen as Principal Guest Conductor of the orchestra, complete with a tour of Japan. As a result of Previn's objections, Salonen's title and Japanese tour were withdrawn; however, shortly thereafter, in April 1989, Previn resigned. Four months later, Salonen was named Music Director Designate of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, officially taking the post of Music Director in October 1992.
Previn also enjoyed a long relationship with the medium of television, featuring in Meet André Previn (1969) on London Weekend Television, the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show in 1971 and 1972 (BBC), André Previn's Music Night (conducting the London Symphony Orchestra—three programmes in 1973, others in 1975 and 1976), television interviews with other artists, appearances on Call My Bluff, and participation in documentaries about popular music and jazz during the 1970s and 1980s. Previn became known to a broad public through his television work. In the United Kingdom he worked on TV with the London Symphony Orchestra. In the U.S. the television program "Previn and the Pittsburgh" (1977) featured him in collaboration with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
Previn is particularly remembered in Britain for his performance as "Mr. Andrew Preview" (or "Privet") on the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show in 1971, which involved his conducting a performance of Edvard Grieg's Piano Concerto with Eric Morecambe as the comically inept soloist (being swindled into it by being told that Yehudi Menuhin would be his solo violinist). "Preview" then remarks that "I'll go fetch my baton. It's in Chicago." This comic ad-lib made Morecambe immediately realise the sketch would be a success. Later in the sketch "Mr Preview" accuses Morecambe of playing all the wrong notes; Morecambe retorts that he has been playing "all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order". Because of other commitments the only time available for Previn to learn his part in the show was during a transatlantic flight but the talent he showed for comedy won high praise from his co-performers. He made a second appearance in their eighth series. In the sketch, he is tricked into visiting the pair again, and they suggest that if he works with them again, he could receive a knighthood. He conducted a 1920s-style dance band as the pair sang, then joined them at the end of the episode in singing Bring Me Sunshine. Previn also appeared in the 1972 Christmas Show, bemoaning the apparent consequences of his 1971 appearance: the only conducting work he now gets is on a London bus.
At a concert he conducted with the Grieg Concerto included in the program in Britain, Previn had to pause the playing to allow the audience time to stop giggling as they remembered the sketch. Previn himself recalled in 2005 that people in Britain still recall the sketch years later: "Taxi drivers still call me Mr Preview".
Previn was married five times. His first marriage, in 1952, was to jazz singer Betty Bennett, with whom he had two daughters, Claudia Previn Stasny and Alicia Previn (a violinist for the Irish band In Tua Nua and a founding member of the Young Dubliners). Previn divorced Bennett in 1957, a few months before she gave birth to Alicia.
In 1959, he married Dory Langan. A singer-songwriter, Dory became widely known as a lyricist with whom Previn collaborated on several Academy Award-nominated film scores during their marriage. After Previn divorced her in 1969 during her hospitalization for a mental breakdown, and after Previn was caught having an affair with 23 year old Mia Farrow , Dory resumed her career as a singer-songwriter with On My Way to Where (1970), a critically acclaimed album whose confessional lyrics were described as "searingly honest", and chronicled both her mental health struggles and the infidelity that she alleged had at once precipitated the end of her marriage to Previn and exacerbated her intermittent mental illness. In 2013, jazz singer Kate Dimbleby and pianist Naadia Sheriff revisited Dory Previn's musical reflections on her marriage to André Previn in the London cabaret show, Beware Of Young Girls: The Dory Previn Story.
Previn's third marriage, in 1970, was to Mia Farrow. Before their divorce in 1979, Previn and Farrow had three biological children together—twins Matthew and Sascha, born in 1970, and Fletcher, born in 1974. They then adopted Vietnamese infants Lark Song and Summer "Daisy" Song (born October 6, 1974), followed by Soon-Yi Previn, a Korean child whose age a physician's bone scan placed between six and eight years old and whose unknown birth date her adoptive parents estimated as October 8, 1970. Lark died on Christmas Day 2008. In the aftermath of the scandal involving Soon-Yi and Mia Farrow's partner Woody Allen, Previn said of Soon-Yi, "She does not exist."
Previn's longest marriage was his fourth. In January 1982 he married Heather Sneddon. With Heather he had two children, Li-An Mary, adopted 1982 and Lukas Alexander, born 1983. Previn wrote a brief memoir of his early years in Hollywood, No Minor Chords, which was published in 1991, edited by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and dedicated to Heather. This marriage ended in divorce after 17 years.
His fifth marriage, in 2002, was to the German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, for whom in the previous year he had composed a violin concerto. They announced their divorce in August 2006, but continued to work together in concerts afterwards.
Previn died on February 28, 2019 at home in Manhattan at the age of 89.
Previn's discography contains hundreds of recordings in film, jazz, classical music and contemporary classical music. Because of the huge number of recordings, the following lists are necessarily highly selective. A full discography (including LP/CD record codes) is available in Frédéric Döhl: André Previn. Musikalische Vielseitigkeit und ästhetische Erfahrung, Stuttgart 2012, pp. 295–319.
Most of the films which incorporate Previn's music are still available as Videos/DVDs or/and as soundtrack records. Some of his soundtracks have been reissued in recent years, including those from Elmer Gantry, Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse , Inside Daisy Clover, and Dead Ringer.
Previn made dozens of jazz recordings as both a leader and sideman, primarily during two periods of his career: from 1945 to 1967, and then again from 1989 to 2001, with just a handful of recordings in between and afterward (while he focused his career on conducting/recording classical music, and later on composing contemporary art music). Previn also did several crossover recordings with classical singers like Eileen Farrell, Leontyne Price or Kiri Te Kanawa, too, as well as several Easy-Listening records with piano and orchestra in the 1960s (beginning with Like Young. Secret Songs for Young Lovers, 1959. with David Rose and His Orchestra).
Like Oscar Peterson, whom Previn admired a great deal, and Bill Evans, Previn worked a lot as a trio pianist (usually with bass and drums). Following his performance on Shelly Manne's recording Modern Jazz Performances of Songs from My Fair Lady in 1956, Previn released several albums of jazz interpretations of songs from broadway musicals as well as several solo piano recordings focussed on the songbooks of popular composers (André Previn Plays Songs by Vernon Duke, 1958; André Previn Plays Songs by Harold Arlen, 1960; Ballads. Solo Jazz Standards, 1996; Alone: Ballads for Solo Piano, 2007), the late recording of songs by Harold Arlen with singer Sylvia McNair and bass player David Finck (Come Rain or Shine. The Harold Arlen Songbook, 1996), and his TV shows with Oscar Peterson (1974) – which Marlon Brando simply called "one of the greatest hours I ever saw on television" – and Ella Fitzgerald (1979) respectively.
Jazz critic and historian Ted Gioia wrote in his book about West Coast jazz, the scene to which Previn belonged:
His projects varied greatly in terms of quality and jazz content, but at his best Previn could be a persuasive, moving jazz musician. Despite his deep roots in symphonic music, Previn largely steered clear of Third Stream classicism in his jazz work, aiming more at an earthy, hard-swinging piano style at times reminiscent of Horace Silver. Long before his eventual retreat from his jazz work, Previn had become something of a popularizer of jazz rather than a serious practitioner of the music. At his best, however, his music reflected a strong indigenous feel for the jazz idiom.
Dizzy Gillespie stated,
He has the flow, you know, which a lot of guys don't have and won't ever get. Yeah. I heard him play and I knew. A lot of guys, they have the technique, the harmonic sense. They've got the perfect coordination. And, yeah, all that's necessary. But you need something more, you know? Even if you only make an oooooooo, like that, you got to have the flow.
Jazz recordings as leader/co-leader
André Previn Plays Harry Warren (RCA Victor, 1952)
Collaboration (RCA Victor, 1955) – with Shorty Rogers
Let's Get Away from It All (Decca, 1955)
Double Play! (Contemporary, 1957) with Russ Freeman
Pal Joey (Contemporary, 1957)
Gigi (Contemporary, 1958)
André Previn Plays Songs by Vernon Duke (Contemporary, 1958)
Secret Songs For Young Lovers (MGM Records, 1958, with David Rose)
King Size! (Contemporary, 1959)
André Previn Plays Songs by Jerome Kern (Contemporary, 1959)
West Side Story (Contemporary, 1959)
Like Blue (MGM Records, 1960)
The Subterraneans (Soundtrack) (MGM, 1960)
Like Previn! (Contemporary, 1960)
André Previn Plays Songs by Harold Arlen (Contemporary, 1960)
A Touch of Elegance (Columbia, 1960)
Like Love (Columbia, 1960)
Thinking of You (Columbia, 1961)
The Previn Scene (MGM Records, 1961)
Duet (Columbia, 1962, with Doris Day)
André Previn and J. J. Johnson Play Kurt Weill's Mack The Knife & Bilbao-Song (Columbia, 1962, with J.J. Johnson)
4 to Go! (Columbia, 1963) with Herb Ellis, Ray Brown and Shelly Manne
But Beautiful (Decca, 1963)
Soft and Swinging the Music of Jimmy McHugh (Columbia, 1964)
Sound Stage! (Columbia, 1964)
Love Walked In (RCA Camden, 1964)
The Popular Previn (Columbia, 1965)
André Previn Plays Music of the Young Hollywood Composers (RCA Victor, 1965)
Previn with Voices (RCA Victor, 1966)
All Alone (RCA Victor, 1967)
Right As the Rain (RCA Victor, 1967, with Leontyne Price)
The Easy Winners (Angel Records, 1975, with Itzhak Perlman)
A Different Kind of Blues (EMI/Angel, 1980, with Itzhak Perlman)
It's a Breeze (EMI/Angel, 1981, with Itzhak Perlman)
Nice Work if You Can Get It (1983, with Ella Fitzgerald and Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen)
After Hours (Telarc, 1989, with Joe Pass and Ray Brown)
Uptown (Telarc, 1990, with Mundell Lowe and Ray Brown)
Old Friends (Telarc, 1992, with Mundell Lowe and Ray Brown)
Kiri Sidetracks: The Jazz Album (1992, with Kiri Te Kanawa, Mundell Lowe and Ray Brown)
What Headphones? (Angel, 1993)
Sure Thing: The Jerome Kern Songbook (1994, with Sylvia McNair and David Finck)
André Previn and Friends Play Show Boat (Deutsche Grammophon, 1995, with Mundell Lowe, Ray Brown and Grady Tate)
Ballads: Solo Jazz Standards (Angel, 1996)
Come Rain or Shine: The Harold Arlen Songbook (1996, with Sylvia McNair and David Finck)
Jazz at the Musikverein (Verve, 1997, with Mundell Lowe and Ray Brown)
We Got Rhythm: A Gershwin Songbook (Deutsche Grammophon, 1998, with David Finck)
We Got It Good and That Ain't Bad: An Ellington Songbook (Deutsche Grammophon, 1999, with David Finck)
Live at the Jazz Standard (Decca, 2001, with David Finck)
Alone: Ballads for Solo Piano (Decca, 2007)
Jazz recordings as sideman/group member
With Buddy Bregman
Swinging Kicks (Verve, 1957)
With Benny Carter
Jazz Giant (Contemporary, 1958)
With Michael Feinstein
Change of Heart: The Songs of Andre Previn (Telarc, 2013)
With Helen Humes
Tain't Nobody's Biz-ness if I Do (Contemporary, 1959)
Songs I Like to Sing! (Contemporary, 1960)
With Barney Kessel
Music to Listen to Barney Kessel By (Contemporary, 1956)
Carmen (Contemporary, 1959)
With Shelly Manne
Shelly Manne & His Friends (Contemporary, 1956)
My Fair Lady (Contemporary, 1956)
Li'l Abner (Contemporary, 1957)
Bells Are Ringing (Contemporary, 1959)
With The Mitchells: Red Mitchell, Whitey Mitchell and Blue Mitchell
Get Those Elephants Out'a Here (MetroJazz, 1958)
With Lyle Murphy
12-Tone Compositions and Arrangements by Lyle Murphy (Contemporary, 1955)
With Pete Rugolo
An Adventure in Sound: Reeds in Hi-Fi (Mercury, 1956 )
An Adventure in Sound: Brass in Hi-Fi (Mercury 1956 )
Percussion at Work (EmArcy, 1957)
Classical music (as conductor or pianist – selection)
Chamber music / solo piano music
As in Jazz, Previn, the classical pianist, worked most of the time as a trio pianist (with violin and cello) in classical chamber music. Accordingly, most of his recordings as pianist are in this genre.
Samuel Barber: Four Excursions, Paul Hindemith: Piano Sonata No. 3, Frank Martin: Prelude No. 7 (1961)
Gabriel Fauré: Piano Trio in D minor op. 120, Felix Mendelssohn: Piano Trio in D minor op. 49 (1964, with Nathan Roth and Joseph Schuster)
Sergei Rachmaninoff: Music for Two Pianos. Suite Nr. 1 op. 5, Suite Nr. 2 op. 17, Symphonic Dances op. 45 (1974, with Vladimir Ashkenazy)
Maurice Ravel: Piano Trio in A minor, Dmitri Shostakovich: Piano Trio No. 2 in E minor op. 67 (1974, with Kim Young Uck and Ralph Kirshbaum)
Claude Debussy: Piano Trio in G major, Maurice Ravel: Piano Trio in A minor (1995, with Julie Rosenfeld and Gary Hoffmann)
'Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Trio No. 7 in B-flat major op. 97, Johannes Brahms: Piano Trio in B major op. 8 (1995, with Viktoria Mullova and Heinrich Schiff)
American Scenes. André Previn: Sonata for Violin and Piano "Vineyard", George Gershwin: Three Preludes, Aaron Copland: Sonata for Violin and Piano, Nocturne, Samuel Barber: Canzone (Elegy) op. 38a (1998, with Gil Shaham)
Orchestral music / concertos / ballets
Previn's recording repertoire as a conductor is focused on the standards of classical and romantic music, excepting opera in general, favoring the symphonic music of Hector Berlioz, Johannes Brahms and Richard Strauss and with a special emphasis on violin and piano concertos and ballets. Just a few of Previn's recordings deal with music before Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (both favourites of Previn's programmes) or contemporary avant-garde art music based on atonality, minimalism, serialism, stochastic music etc. Instead, in 20th-century music Previn's repertoire highlights specific composers of late romanticism and modernism like Samuel Barber, Benjamin Britten, George Gershwin, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Sergei Prokofiev, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Maurice Ravel, Dmitri Shostakovich, Richard Strauss, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Harold Shapero and William Walton.
Previn recorded mostly for EMI, Telarcno and Deutsche Grammophon.
Contemporary classical music (recordings of Previn's own compositions – selection)
Guitar Concerto (1972, with John Williams and the London Symphony Orchestra)
Every Good Boy Deserves Favour (1978, with the London Symphony Orchestra)
Piano Concerto and Guitar Concerto (1990, with Vladimir Ashkenazy, Eduardo Fernandez and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra)
Honey and Rue (1995, with Kathleen Battle and the Orchestra of St. Luke's)
"From Ordinary Things": Sonata for Cello and Piano; Four Songs for Soprano, Cello and Piano; Two Remembrances for Soprano, Alto Flute and Piano; Vocalise for Soprano, Cello and Piano (1997, with Sylvia McNair, Yo-Yo Ma and Sandra Church)
Trio for Piano, Oboe and Bassoon (1997, with Cynthia Koledo de Almeida and Nancy Goeres)
"Music of André Previn": Trio for Piano, Oboe and Bassoon, Peaches for Flute and Piano, Triolet for Brass, Variations on a Theme by Haydn for Piano, A Wedding Waltz for Two Oboes and Piano (1998, with the St. Luke's Chamber Ensemble)
"American Scenes": Sonata for Violin and Piano "Vineyard" (1998, with Gil Shaham)
A Streetcar Named Desire (1998; with Renée Fleming, Elizabeth Futral, Rodney Gilfry, Anthony Dean Griffey, San Francisco Opera Orchestra)
"Diversions – Songs": Diversions; Sallie Chisum Remembers Billy the Kid; Vocalise; The Giraffes Go to Hamburg; Three Dickinson Songs (2001, with Renée Fleming, Barbara Bonney, Moray Welsh, Vienna Philharmonic, London Symphony Orchestra)
Tango Song and Dance (2003, Anne-Sophie Mutter)
Violin Concerto "Anne-Sophie" (2003, with Anne-Sophie Mutter and the Boston Symphony Orchestra)
Double Concerto for Violin, Contrabass and Orchestra; Piano Concerto; Violin Concerto "Anne-Sophie"; Three Dickinson Songs; Diversions; "I Can Smell The Sea Air" from A Streetcar Named Desire (2009, with Renée Fleming, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Roman Patkolo, Boston Symphony Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, Vienna Philharmonic, San Francisco Opera Orchestra)
Brief Encounter (2011, with Elizabeth Futral, Nathan Gunn, Kim Josephson, Houston Grand Opera Orchestra, Patrick Summers)
Awards and recognitions
Previn was nominated for 11 Academy Awards. He won four times, in 1958, 1959, 1963 and 1964. He is one of few composers to have accomplished the feat of winning back-to-back Oscars, and one of only two to have done so on two occasions (the other being Alfred Newman). Previn was the only person in the history of the Academy Awards to receive three nominations in one year (1961). In 1970 he was nominated for a Tony Award as part of Coco's nomination for Best Musical. In 1977 he became an Honorary Member of the Royal Academy of Music. The 1977 television show Previn and the Pittsburgh was nominated for three Emmy awards.
Previn was appointed an honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1996. (Not being a citizen of a Commonwealth realm, he was permitted to use the post-nominal letters KBE but was not called "Sir André".) Previn received the Kennedy Center Honors in 1998 in recognition of his contributions to classical music and opera in the United States. In 2005 he was awarded the international Glenn Gould Prize and in 2008 won Gramophone magazine's Lifetime Achievement Award for his work in classical, film, and jazz music. In 2010, the Recording Academy honored Previn with a Lifetime Achievement Grammy.
Best Music – Scoring of a Musical Picture
1959 Porgy & Bess
Best Score – Adaptation or Treatment
1963 Irma la Douce
1964 My Fair Lady
Previn received Grammy Awards and nomination:
Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award
2010 André Previn
Best Instrumental Soloist
2005 Previn: Violin Concerto; Bernstein: Serenade for Solo Violin, Strings, Harp and Percussion
Best Classical Crossover Album
2003 Korngold: The Sea Hawk, Captain Blood with the London Symphony Orchestra
Best Chamber Music Performance
1999 American Scenes: Copland, Previn, Barber, Gershwin
Best Choral Performance
1974 William Walton: Belshazzar's Feast with the London Symphony Orchestra & Chorus
1977 Rachmaninoff: The Bells with the London Symphony Orchestra & Chorus
Best Performance by an Orchestra
1960 Like Young with the David Rose Orchestra
Best Sound Track Album
1960 Porgy and Bess
Best Jazz Performance – Soloist or Small Group
1961 West Side Story
1962 André Previn Plays That Old Black Magic, Come Rain or Come Shine, Stormy Weather, Over the Rainbow and Other Wonderful Songs by Harold Arlen
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