Leslie Bassett (b. 1923) is an American composer who spent most of his career at the University of Michigan. He began as a trombonist in the public schools of Fresno, California. He enlisted during World War II and served as an arranger and performer in their bands. Following the war he began his studies at Michigan, which eventually led to his longstanding faculty position there. He has won numerous awards, including the 1966 Pulitzer Prize for his Variations for Orchestra, and the 1961-3 Prix de Rome.
Bassett wrote Sounds, Shapes, and Symbols in 1978 for the University of Michigan Symphony Band on a commission from its conductor, H. Robert Reynolds, who led the premiere performance on March 17. It was Bassett’s second piece for wind band, after 1964’s Designs, Images, and Textures. Sounds is in four untitled movements, each of which creates a unique, non-melodic soundscape by juxtaposing distinctive sonorities and textures against each other.
Sounds, Shapes, and Symbols is a complex piece that has spawned almost more literature than performances. Russell Mikkelson is a leading authority on the piece, having written both his doctoral dissertation and a Conductor’s Guild Journal article about it. Christopher Chapman wrote a chapter on Bassett and his wind music for the collection A Composer’s Insight (Google Books preview here). It is listed among the Greatest Works for Wind Band. It is mentioned in Frank Battisti‘s The Winds of Change. It is also featured on the Wind Repertory Project.
As for Bassett himself, he has his own website, a profile on the Living Composer’s Project, a mention in Who’s Who of Pulitzer Prize Winners, and a profile at the American Composer’s Alliance. In addition, Larry Rachleff conducted a fascinating interview with him.
Listen to the University of Michigan Symphony Band under Michael Haithcock play Sounds, Shapes, and Symbols: