28 Years After His Death, a Composer Gets a Publishing Deal

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Julius Eastman rehearsing in the 1970s.

Credit
Ron Hammond

The rediscovery of the distinctive Minimalist composer Julius Eastman, who died in obscurity in 1990, took a major step forward on Wednesday, when the publisher G. Schirmer announced it would restore, reconstruct, publish and promote his music.

The publishing deal will ensure that the recent Eastman renaissance — spearheaded by a dedicated group of former colleagues, scholars and family members — will continue and grow. And it promises to restore the neglected work of a gay, black composer to the modern-music canon.

“In my opinion, the post-1950 history of American classical music is incomplete without inclusion of Julius Eastman’s contribution,” Robert Thompson, the president of G. Schirmer, wrote in an email.

When Eastman, who once said that he strove to be “black to the fullest, a musician to the fullest, a homosexual to the fullest,” died in Buffalo at 49, he had fallen on hard times. A onetime fixture of New York’s avant-garde music circles, he had been evicted from his East Village apartment and largely dropped off the radar. Many friends and colleagues did not learn of his death until The Village Voice published an obituary some eight months after the fact. Without extant scores or commercial recordings, his music seemed irretrievably lost.

But over the past two decades, some of those who knew and worked with Eastman, especially the composer Mary Jane Leach, have been painstakingly collecting and restoring his scattered works. In 2005, New World Records issued the first commercial Eastman release, a three-disc set called “Unjust Malaise.” In 2015, “Gay Guerrilla,” a book of essays that takes its title from one of his works, was published. This winter, The Kitchen, in New York City, presented “Julius Eastman: That Which is Fundamental,” an ambitious three-week festival.

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