Douglas Townsend  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Douglas Townsend (November 8, 1921 – August 1, 2012) was an American composer and musicologist best known for his involvement in 8 × 8: A Chess Sonata in 8 Movements.


He became interested in composition while a student at the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, in New York City, and taught himself composition, counterpoint and orchestration. In 1941 he began studying composition privately, with Tibor Serly, Stefan Wolpe, Aaron Copland, Otto Luening and Felix Greissle, among others. He taught at Brooklyn College, CUNY (1958–69), Lehman College, CUNY (1970–71), the University of Bridgeport (Connecticut; 1973–5) and Purchase College (also known as SUNY Purchase) (1973–6). From 1977 to 1980 he was editor of Musical Heritage Review. Townsend’s research into 18th- and 19th-century music has resulted in editions, recordings and performances, most notably of a Carl Czerny overture and a mass by Sigismund Neukomm. He has been awarded research grants from the Martha Baird Rockefeller Fund (1965) and the New York State Council on the Arts (1975).

Townsend’s compositions include several orchestral works, chamber music pieces, choral works, film and television scores, three operettas, and one opera. While still a high school student, he won a nationwide contest for student composers; Bernard Herrmann led the CBS Symphony Orchestra in a radio broadcast performance of the winning composition, Contra Dances. Seven years later, Townsend achieved public notice as a composer when pianist Ray Lev performed the premiere of his Sonatina No. 1 as part of a sold-out Carnegie Hall recital. Townsend's scholarly interests are reflected in his music, which is for the most part securely tonal and written within traditional forms. A fine sense of timbre and idiomatic writing is characteristic, as is a sense of humour; the fugal section of the Fantasy on Motives of Burt Bacharach, for example, juxtaposes melodic ideas from Bacharach’s "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" and Niccolò Paganini’s Caprice No. 24; the introduction musically spells out Bacharach’s name. Aged 90, he became a vibrant presence on YouTube and social media.

On August 1, 2012, in Manhattan where he had been born, Townsend died of natural causes at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia Campus. Surviving him at the time of his death were his wife, Jean, of Manhattan; and two sons and a daughter by a previous marriage to Anne-Marie Findley, Jonathan, Adam, and April.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Douglas Townsend" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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