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Bruce, (Frank) Neelylocked

  • Keith Moore

(b Memphis, Jan 21, 1944). American composer, pianist, conductor and musicologist. He studied the piano with Roy McAllister at the University of Alabama (BM 1965), with Sophia Rosoff, and with Soulima Stravinsky at the University of Illinois (MM 1966), where he also studied composition with Ben Johnson (DMA, 1971) and had contact with Hamm, Hiller, Kessler and Brün. He served on the music faculty at Illinois (1968–74) before joining the staff at Wesleyan University. He was a member of the editorial committee of New World Records (1974–8), founding chairman of New England Sacred Harp Singing (1976) and has held visiting professorships at Middlebury College, Bucknell University and the University of Michigan. In 1980 he was Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Studies in American Music at Brooklyn College.

In 1968 Bruce founded the American Music Group (AMG), an ensemble innovative in its dedication to American music of all eras. AMG recorded the music of Anthony Philip Heinrich for Vanguard, toured widely in the United States and, under Bruce’s direction, gave the 20th-century première of Bristow’s Rip Van Winkle and the first continuous performance of Ives’s 114 Songs (co-directed by William Brooks). He has also conducted the Wesleyan Singers (since 1974) and commissioned works from Brant, Duckworth, Fulkerson, Oliveros and Wolff. In 1977 Bruce founded the American Music/Theater Group. As a pianist he gave the premières of Cage and Hiller’s HPSCHD, Duckworth’s Time Curve Preludes and Farwell’s Sonata op.113; his extensive repertory includes all his own pieces.

The obsessive lyricism and clearly delineated form of works such as the Suite Fantastique (1956) or Trio for Bands (1995) permeate Bruce’s prolific output. Much of his music since Variations on a Polonaise (1969) is characterized by the juxtaposition of seemingly incompatible musical elements, while later works such as Hansel and Gretel (1996–8) and Tanglewood (1993) exhibit greater accessibility. Certain periods focus on specific compositional concerns. Works after the Fantasy in C (1962) move from neo-classical styles and free chromaticism to serial procedures, culminating in the Fantasy for wind and percussion (1967). In 1969 he began to juxtapose widely contrasting compositional techniques. Information theory was used as a formal device to plot and shape the degree of incoherence in these ruptures of structure. Examples of this are the sixth piano sonata and The Trials of Psyche, the latter incorporating a rock group and requiring three conductors. From 1976 he focussed on assimilating the entire American musical tradition, including hymn tunes, marches and ragtime, and with Americana, or, A New Tale of the Genii he began his most ambitious project yet: a cycle of three operas, each encompassing a century of America’s musical heritage. Later works such as Arabesques Redux and The Blue Box use modes taken from jazz and non-Western traditional musics.


(selective list)


Pyramus and Thisbe (chbr op, 1, Bruce, after W. Shakespeare), 1964–5

The Trials of Psyche (op, 1, J. Orr, after Apuleius), 1970–71

Americana, or, A New Tale of the Genii (op, 4, T. Connor), 1978–83

Hansel and Gretel (op, 2, Bruce, after J.L.C. and W.C. Grimm), 1996–8

incid music, film scores


Large ens

Perc Conc., 1967

Vn Conc., 1974

Atmo-Rag, chbr orch, 1987

Americana, or, a New Tale of the Genii, ov., 1987–8

Santa Ynez Waltz, chbr orch, 1989

Orion Rising, rock group, orch, 1990

One, Two, Ready, Go!, chbr orch, 1991

Barnum’s Band, wind band, 1991–2

Songs of Zion Recycled, tuba, orch, 1992–3

Grand Polka de Bataille, chbr orch, 1996–7

other orch works

Small ens

Fantasy, 10 wind, perc, tape, 1967

Wind Qnt, 1967

Preludium, fl, ob, va, cl, bn, 1968

[7] Grand Duos, 1 inst, pf, 1971–78

Music for 2 Gui, 1980

The Hartford and Middletown Waltzes, vn, pf, 1986

Narrative Objects, ob, cl, 2 a sax, bn, 1991

Brass Bouquet, brass qnt, 1992

Analogues, vn, a sax, 1993

4 + 1, str qt, pf, 1994

Trio for Bands, 3 rock bands, 1995

The 3 Rs, pedagogical sonata, db, pf, 1997

other orch works

Piano solo

Suite Fantastique, 1956

7 Variations on ‘Suzy, Little Suzy’, 1961

Fantasy, C, 1962

Improvisations I, 1968

Variations on a Polonaise, 1969

Andante variée, 1970

Introductions and Variations, 1978

Esercizi, 1980

Furniture Music in the Form of 50 Rag Licks, 1980

[6] Gymnopédies, 1980–82

Siagi Tamu Tango, or, Tango Rue Jardin, 1984

Homage to Charlie, 1985

Rock Album, 1989–91

2 Moods, 1990

Tango Variation, 1991

Chopin Jam, 1995

40 x 40, 1996

The Blue Box, 1998

Homage to Seb, 1998

9 nocturnes, 6 sonatas

Other kbd

Fantasia on Kyrie fons bonitatis, org, 1961

Org Prelude ‘Kyrie fons bonitatis’, 1961

Variations on an Original Theme, hpd, 1962

Sonata, org, 1963

6 Meditative Pieces, org, 1964

Variations and Interludes, org, 1968

A Book of Pieces, hpd, 1968–85

Choral Fantasy on Old 124th, org, 1972

Homage to Maurice, org, 1986

Pink Music, org, 1989–92

O magnum mysterium, org, 1992

The Enchantment of Heavenly Love, cel, 1993

Grand March of the Brownies, org, 1996

Tunes ‘n’ Timbres ‘n’ Time, org, 1996–7

Partita on Arleby, org, 1997

Other solo inst

Music for Jim Fulkerson, trbn, 1977

For Tom Howell, fl, 1978–84

Music for Dancing II, fl, 1980

12 Inventions, gui, 1985–6

Arabesques Redux, vn, 1996



Psalms for the Nativity (orat), Mez, T, B, chbr orch, 1971, rev. 1998

3 Choruses on Poems by Herman Melville, pf, 1971

There was a child went forth (W. Whitman), TTBB, fl, pf, perc, 1972

Perfumes and Meanings (Whitman), 16vv, 1980

Hamm Harmony (Old Baptist Hymnal, Bible), 1988–92

Hugomotion (orat, H. Grotius), S, A, T, B, orch, 1989–95

The First Noel, chorus, orch, 1990

O magnum mysterium, TB, 2 ob, eng hn, bn, 1991

Emily’s Flowers (E. Dickinson), 1991–2

Shaker Shapes, 1992–8

Tanglewood (orat, Bruce, after Ovid and N. Hawthorne), S, A, T, B, SATB, SSA, orch, 1993

Young T.J. (T. Jefferson) TB, 1993

Les eaux et les forêts (P. Jaccottet), 1994

Ps xxvii, chorus, steel drums, 1994

Elegy (Whitman), 3 S, 3 A, 3 T, 3 B, vc, 1997

Ps xix, tambura, mṛdaṅgam, 1997

Ps cxxii, insts, 1997

Not Xanadu, 1998

Ps cxxii, S, A, T, B, brass qnt, str qt, timp, org, 1998

other choral works


Chinese Love Poems, 1961, rev. 1980

The Blades o’ Bluegrass (various Kentucky poets), S, A, T, B, pf, vn obbl, fl obbl, 1974–97

5 Songs (J. Ferdon), 1978

Marriage-Reflections (S. Jendall Bayles), S, fl, pf, 1980, rev. 1985

Stanzas for Shep and Nancy (G. Stein), 1980–85

Whitman Fragments (Song of Myself), B, 1981–4

Neighbors (cycle of 30 pop/rock songs, T. Connor), 4–6vv, 2 kbd, gui, rhythm gui, trap set, 1984–8

Paul Goodman Settings, 1985–9

Poètes vivants, S, 1995

many others

Other vocal

Aphorisms (Hong Zicheng), S, pf, 2 perc, 1969

For Robin Lustig (G. Stein), vv, pfs, tape, 1980

The Plague (rock-cant., Bruce, G. Boccaccio and others), S, A, T, B, tape, 1983–4

Stanzas for 3 (Stein), S, T, B, pf, 1984

6 Whitman Settings, 12vv, 12 insts, 1986–7

The Dream of the Other Dreamers (Whitman), S, A, T, B, 2 SPX-90 Sound processor, 1987

8 Ghosts (M. McClure), S, A, T, B, 4 SPX-90, 1989

2+2+2 (Stein), 6vv, 1989

The Marriage in the Garden (cant., Bible: Solomon), S, T, str qt, hpd, 1995

Leon’s Invasion, S, fl, bar sax, trbn, vn, theremins, 1996

Principal publishers: American Music/Theater Group, Media


  • ‘Ives and 19th Century America’, An Ives Celebration: Brooklyn, NY and New Haven, CT, 1974, 36–41
  • ‘Sacred Choral Music in the United States: an Overview’, The Cambridge Companion to the Voice, ed. J. Potter (Cambridge, MA, 1999)


  • S. Huserik: ‘Bruce, Neely’, American Keyboard Artists, ed. S. Husarik (Chicago, 1989, 2/1992)
  • D. Zavin: ‘Dancing in the Seats’, Rolling Stone, no.639 (1992), 83–9
  • R. Kostelanetz: Dictionary of the Avant Gardes (Chicago, 1993)
  • S. Metcalf: ‘A Very Original Opera’, Hartford Courant (15 March 1998) [on Hansel and Gretel]