Well–known American composer Walter S. Hartley died at the age of 89 June 30, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina where he and his wife Sandra had moved in 2004 a few years after his retirement as Professor of Music at the State University of New York at Fredonia, where he taught from 1969 until 1991. Regarded as the most widely recognized composer in the Ethos catalog of music for the single–reed instruments, his soprano–saxophone piece “Diversions” was among a small group of pieces published in 1979 when Ethos was launched. In the ensuing years, 34 more of his compositions were added to the catalog, including 16 solo pieces for clarinet or saxophones (including duo works with piano), 14 pieces using clarinet or saxophones in chamber groupings, and 5 works for large saxophone ensembles.
Born February 21, 1927 in Washington, D.C., his early accomplishments in piano studies revealed special talents for music. He undertook collegiate studies at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY where he studied composition with some of that institution’s most highly regarded composers, including Burrill Phillips, Bernard Rogers, Howard Hanson, and Dante Fiorillo. He earned the PhD in composition from Eastman in 1953 and went on to teach at the National Music Camp at Interlochen, Michigan and Davis & Elkins College in Elkins, West Virginia. In 1969, he accepted the faculty position at SUNY Fredonia, and there he was exposed to a highly developed saxophone studio and ensemble program, under the direction of Dr. Laurence Wyman, that provided some of the impetus for his interest in composing for larger groupings of saxophones.
Shortly after he began teaching at the Fredonia School of Music, he began a lifelong musical relationship with legendary saxophonist Sigurd M. Rascher, for whom several of his saxophone works were composed. Rascher’s influence led directly or indirectly to such large saxophone ensemble pieces as the Sinfonias No. 6 and No. 15, as well as “Music for 12 Saxophones,” three of the pieces in the extensive Ethos Saxophone Ensemble Series.
In 2014, the CD “Walter S. Hartley – Music for Saxophones” was issued by Mark Records, on which the Syracuse University Saxophone Ensemble, under the direction of Dr. Ronald Caravan, is heard performing 9 of Walter Hartley’s pieces for multiple saxophones, ranging from duets to large ensembles. Six Hartley compositions on that CD are part of the Ethos catalog. (CD available at Mark Custom Music Store)
Dr. Hartley’s compositional output includes over 300 works, dating from 1949 to 2010, most of which are published. During his lifetime he was the recipient of numerous awards for his music, and his works have been performed by such ensembles as the National Symphony Orchestra, Oklahoma City Symphony, Eastman–Rochester Orchestra, and the Eastman Wind Ensemble. His Chamber Symphony of 1954 was commissioned by the Koussevitsky Foundation, his Concert Overture for orchestra received a prize from the National Symphony Orchestra in 1955, and his Sinfonia No. 3 for brass choir won for him the 1964 Conn Award. He received many commissions from college and high school musical organizations and from U.S. service bands.