Bill Russell (composer)

Bill Russell (Composer)

Bill Russell (composer)

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William "Bill" Russell (February 26, 1905, Canton, Missouri – August 9, 1992, New Orleans, Louisiana) was an American music historian and modernist composer.

He was born Russell William Wagner, but when he decided to become a classical music composer, he dropped his last name as it was already "taken" by Richard Wagner.


He was a leading figure in percussion music composition, influenced by his acquaintances John Cage and Henry Cowell. Russell also influenced Cage in his emphasis of percussion. In the 1930s, predating Cage's main work, Russell's percussion works called for vernacular textures such as Jack Daniels bottles, suitcases, and Haitian drums, as well as prepared pianos, although it is not clear how specifically he wanted the piano to be prepared. One notable performance of his "Fugue for 8 percussion instruments" took place in 1933, with the ubiquitous and influential critic/writer/performer Nicholas Slonimsky conducting. The fugue was performed at Carnegie Hall on a program that included Varèse's iconic percussion composition "Ionisation." These performances took place under the auspices of the Pan-American Association of Composers, an organization that comprised Cowell, Ruth Crawford (Seeger), Edgard Varèse, Slonimsky, and other luminaries of American ultramodernism. Russell, on occasion, performed other Pan-Am composers' chamber works on violin. In 1990, Russell's oeuvre was performed integrally, assisted by...
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