Willson Osborne

1906 - 1979

Willson Osborne (1906-1979) was a composition and music theory undergrad at the University of Michigan (studying with Ross Lee Finney), and then moved on to be a student of Paul Hindemith’s at Yale University. Osborne was, like his mentor, a neoclassical composer. He taught music theory and composition at Philadelphia’s New School of Music (now part of the Boyer College of Music at Temple University). Osborne’s work remains little-known except for his Rhapsody, which is the most frequently-performed work in the literature for unaccompanied bassoon, and in an adapted version is also popular as a recital piece for the clarinet. Rhapsody, originally written in 1952 as Study for Bassoon, came into the public notice after being recorded by noted Philadelphia Orchestra bassoonist Sol Schoenbach and broadcast on WNYC during a special contemporary American music feature. Despite the success of this piece, little has been written about Osborne or his work. In addition to Rhapsody, Osborne wrote several solo piano pieces (including a set entitled Six Pieces for the Young Pianist), chamber pieces for brass ensembles, and works for a cappella mixed choir, and also arranged and harmonized several other works. His last published original composition was a 1965 piano solo, The Quiet Sons. Though he continued to write, the later works remain unpublished.