Born in Wahoo, Nebraska, Hanson was a composer, conductor, educator, music theorist, and ardent champion of American classical music. He was the Director of the Eastman School of Music from 1924 to 1964 and made the school what it is today. The impact of his influence is replete in the world class reputation of the school, the prestigious outcomes of so many of its students and the pride the city has for its musical heritage.
Howard Hanson (1896-1981) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer who has been called the dean of American composers and spokesman for music in America. He served as director of Eastman School of Music — by invitation of George Eastman and Rush Rhees — for 40 years from 1924 to 1964, taking office shortly before his 28th birthday. The Eastman School under his leadership developed into an institution in which students could receive a well-rounded education while concentrating on their professional studies. Also during this tenure, Hanson became one of the country’s most influential music educators and championed American classical music, premiering at the school 2,000 works by more than 500 American composers, through the American Composers Concerts and an annual Festivals of American Music, thus providing opportunities for commissioning and performing American music. When Hanson retired, the University of Rochester named him the director of a newly created Institute of American Music, which operated from royalties on compositions and recordings executed during his tenure at the Eastman School.
In addition to earning 36 honorary doctorate degrees, Hanson also earned recognition for his original works — his 1934 opera Merry Mount is considered the first fully American opera and his Symphony No. 4 earned a Pulitzer Prize in 1944. Hanson’s Symphony No. 2 “Romantic” is the featured piece during the closing moments of the 1979 film Alien.