A farewell to Andre Previn

Previn’s passions ranged from Jazz composition to orchestral direction. Photo courtesy of Marlene Karus / Pittsburgh Press

Renowned composer dies at 89

On Feb. 28, the legendary musician, composer, and arranger André Previn passed away in his New York apartment. From composing Academy Award winning scores to composing on piano for Ella Fitzgerald, the longevity of Previn’s legacy will surely do justice to such a musically talented and perceptive individual. 

Previn began his career as a teenager playing jazz tunes after his family fled Nazi persecution in 1939. He soon started arranging for the productions of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer thereafter, which led to some of his most popular film scores: Gigi (1958), Porgy and Bess (1959), Irma La Douce (1963), and My Fair Lady (1964), all of which earned him an Academy Award. Aside from that, Previn also nabbed 10 Grammy Awards and 44 Nominations, reflecting his virtuosic range of musical skills with specific awards, ranging from Best Classical Performance to Best Jazz Performance. Despite this, Previn never stuck to one label, with the New York Times quoting him saying, “I never considered myself a jazz musician… but a musician who occasionally played jazz.”

Previn’s passions ranged from Jazz composition to orchestral direction. Photo courtesy of Marlene Karus / Pittsburgh Press

Previn’s contemporaries also acknowledged his outstanding musical abilities. The Times writes that famous trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie commented on his jazz piano performances, “He has the flow, you know, which a lot of guys don’t have and won’t ever get.” NPR cites the music critic Tim Page from the University of Southern California with further praise of Previn’s versatility, saying that “He really seriously distinguished himself in a lot of different fields. He was not one of those people who came in and shook up one field forever and ever.” 

Previn also tried his hand at performing and conducting for a number of symphonic orchestras, including the Houston and Pittsburgh Symphonies, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the London Symphony and Royal Philharmonic orchestras, and other guest appearances for other worldwide orchestral groups. He departed from his multi-faceted contemporaries in this regard, as stylistically similar musical polymaths, like Leonard Bernstein or George Szell, stuck with the New York and Cleveland Philharmonics respectively for the majority of their careers. 

This period was perhaps one of his more rocky ones, as Page puts it: “As good as some of his high-classical music was… I’m not sure he ever did any better work than he did as a jazz pianist and writing for film.” 

In his personal life, André Previn went through five different wives. This included the renowned concert violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, whom he continued to collaborate with musically even after their divorce. Jazz singer Betty Bennett and singer-songwriter Dory Previn are names among Previn’s ex-spouses as well, all of whom he made musical contributions with at one point or another. 

Regardless, the whole of André Previn’s impressive musical oeuvre surely solidifies the musician as a household name of 20th century composers. His contributions will surely resonate with as many audiences for generations to come, and his legacy as a versatile musician of all varieties will live on.

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