Joseph Schillinger (1895-1943) was a Russian theorist and composer. He studied composition and conducting at the St. Petersburg Conservatory (1914–1918), where his teachers included Nicolas Tcherepnine. He was also trained in mathematics. After the completion of his studies, he began a successful career in Kharkiv, Moscow, and Leningrad (St. Petersburg) as a teacher, administrator, and conductor. He conducted the Ukrainian Symphony Orchestra (1920–1921), served as composer for the State Academic Theatre (1925–1928), and with Leopold Teplitsky organized the first jazz band concert held in Russia (1927). Most of his compositions were written during these years. In 1928 he emigrated to the US and settled in New York, where he taught music, mathematics, art history, and his own rhythmic theories at the New School for Social Research, New York University, and Columbia University Teachers College.
During the 1920s and 1930s Schillinger developed a system of musical composition that reduced melody, harmony, and especially rhythm to geometric phase relationships. Every conceivable permutation of these relationships was "scientifically" catalogued in his theoretical writings. He extended his ideas to include issues of orchestration and the emotional and semantic aspects of music, as well as applying them to dramatic theatre, graphic design, motion pictures, and other kinetic art forms. His experiments with complex rhythms were realized on the "rhythmicon," an electronic device constructed by Lev Termen (Leon Theremin) to specifications of Henry Cowell. The Schillinger System became the basis of the course of study used for Schillinger’s private pupils, many of whom were composers and arrangers of commercial and film music. His best-known students included Tommy Dorsey, Vernon Duke, George Gershwin, Benny Goodman, Oscar Levant, Eubie Blake, John Lewis, Gerry Mulligan, Carmine Coppola, and Glenn Miller. Schillinger's music, apart from some classroom exercises and examples in his theoretical writings, shows no clear connections to his pedagogical system. His style is generally conservative and reflects an eclectic Russian influence. A number of songs are written under the pseudonym Frank Lynn. (Edited from "Schillinger, Joseph" in Oxford Music Online.)
Following Joseph's death in 1943, Frances Schillinger devoted herself to promoting both his legacy and his methods through publishing his work, running the Schillinger Society (in cooperation with her third husband, Arnold Shaw), and granting licenses to individuals and institutions to teach the Schillinger Method. Among those licensed was Lawrence Berk, whose institution would later become the Berklee School of Music. Frances had a diverse range of correspondents (including the photographer Richard Avedon, the musicologist Charles Seeger, and the composer Henry Cowell) and her letters reflect her untiring belief in the value of Joseph Schillinger’s work.
In the later years of her life, Frances Schillinger Shaw donated materials documenting Joseph Schillinger’s life and work to a number of cultural institutions. In addition to the Peabody Institute, Schillinger materials can be found at the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming, the New York Public Library, the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Museum, the Smithsonian Institution, the Library of Congress and others.
Quist, Ned. "Toward a Reconstruction of the Legacy of Joseph Schillinger." Notes 58, no. 4 (June 2002): 765-786.