Harold Shapero, neo-classical composer at Brandeis, dies at 93

Composer and pianist Harold Shapero taught in Brandeis University's music department for 31 years.
(Brandeis University)

Harold Shapero, the American composer and pianist who was associated with the neo-classical style of music and who was a longtime professor at Brandeis University, died Friday of complications from pneumonia. He was 93 and lived in Massachusetts.

Shapero died in his sleep, according to a statement issued by Brandeis. He joined the school’s faculty in 1951 and helped to pioneer its electronic music studio while also teaching music theory and composition. He taught in the university’s music department for 31 years.

As a composer, Shapero was a critically admired artist even if he never became a household name. He has been widely categorized as a neo-classicist -- a rubric of composer that flourished in the mid-20th century and that sought a return to the aesthetics of classicism.

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His career was mainly centered on the East Coast, but some of Shapero’s pieces found their way to Los Angeles. In 1986, his “Symphony for Classical Orchestra” was performed by the L.A. Philharmonic at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

“Shapero reveals himself here as a superb craftsman, an artist totally in control of the grandiose variables at hand. The writing is clever, subtle, elegant,” Times critic Martin Bernheimer wrote in his review.

The same year, Shapero told a Times reporter that “I’m a notoriously slow worker.... I’m like Beethoven in my work habits. I have a desk covered with huge unfinished projects.”

Shapero was born in Lynn, Mass., on April 29, 1920. He studied at Harvard University and was a regular presence at the MacDowell Colony during the 1940s. The colony is a prestigious arts retreat in New Hampshire.


The composer is survived by his wife, Esther, and a daughter.


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