Born Ludwig Andreus Priwin, April 6, 1929, in Berlin, Germany. As a child, emigrated with family to U.S.; married Betty Bennett (a singer), 1952 (divorced, 1957); married Dory Langdon (a lyricist), 1958 (divorced, 1969); married Mia Farrow (an actress), 1969 (divorced, 1978); married Heather Hales, 1982; has several children. Military/Wartime Service: Served in the National Guard in Korean War. Addresses: Home--Surrey, England. Record company--Telarc, 23307 Commerce Park Rd., Cleveland, OH 44122.

Jack Priwin was an energetic, successful criminal lawyer who lived and worked in pre-World War II Berlin, Germany, along with his wife, Charlotte, their son, Stefan, and daughter, Leonore. He was also an avid classical music enthusiast who often dreamed of siring the next Mozart. With the birth of Ludwig Andreus Priwin on April 6, 1929, the elder Priwin's wishes, it seemed, were granted: A short five years later, at the boy's first piano lesson, it was clear that he was destined for musical greatness. Although he has yet to achieve the same rank as famed composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart--or his namesake, Ludwig von Beethoven--Andre Previn, as the precocious child came to be known, has left an indelible stamp upon the world of music as conductor, composer, arranger, orchestrator, and virtuoso pianist in both the classical and jazz arenas. "All it took was one beat," he explained in Andre Previn: A Biography, "and I knew I would spend the rest of my life chasing after music."

Starting at age five, each child in the Priwin family was required to begin musical instruction on the piano. Although Stefan and Leonore both did well, it was Andre who shone. His father immediately recognized the boy's gift and undertook to train his son in the classics. Jack collected countless phonograph records of Beethoven, Brahms, Haydn, and Mozart, and played these for Andre at every occasion. He also escorted the boy to innumerable classical concerts and performances. When his son reached age six, Jack arranged to have Andre admitted to the venerable Berlin Conservatory.

The young Andre's career was nearly cut short, however, when the fascist Nazi party, who upheld a policy of exterminating Jews, rose to power in Germany. Being of Jewish descent, the family was forced to flee their native land when Andre was nine. Having waited too long to leave, they were unable to bring any of their material possessions. Thus it was that the Previns, who changed their name during their trans-Atlantic voyage, arrived nearly penniless in Hollywood, California, in 1939.

The whole family worked together in order to survive. Jack, like the rest of his family, could not speak a word of English, and the family lacked the money for him to study American law. Instead, Jack Previn became the neighborhood piano teacher. Stefan--now Steve--worked as a messenger at Universal Studios. Andre continued to study the piano and also took odd, short-term musical employment. It wasn't long, however, before Andre, with the help of his American-born film composer uncle, Charlie Previn, landed a job at MGM Studio's music department. The boy's prodigious talent quickly elevated him from part- time arranger to full-fledged composer and orchestrator. By 1948, not yet 20, he had scored his first film.

After graduating from Beverly Hills High School, Previn continued to study music and work at MGM. At that time there was still a possibility in the United States that any young man in his early twenties could be called upon to serve in the armed forces. Like many others, Previn thought the best legal way to avoid being drafted into the army was to join the National Guard--that is, until his unit was mobilized in 1950 at the start of the Korean War.

Previn was anything but a typical soldier--he was called away from latrine-digging duty one day to be informed of his nomination for an Academy Award. In addition, his musical experience earned him a place as composer and arranger for the 6th Army band rather than as an infantry soldier in Korea. He was stationed in San Francisco and, already enamored with jazz piano legend Art Tatum, would often accompany his fellows to local bebop jazz clubs. Previn soon became fascinated with what to him was a completely new world of music. He would use his passes to sit in with jazz bands all over the city in an attempt to master this fresh art form. As always, Andre was quick to make friends, and when discharged from the army, he remained in San Francisco to study the classics with the prestigious conductor Pierre Monteux, and also to play jazz with his newly formed combo.

In 1952, with his impulsive marriage to jazz singer Betty Bennett, Previn began a tumultuous and public romantic life that would eventually overshadow, at times, his extraordinary musical career. During this period he returned to Hollywood to resume scoring films for MGM. He found that he had become more valuable than ever before as a classical composer capable of understanding jazz, and his talents were much in demand. Previn also found time to form a new combo and a long-lasting friendship with noted jazz percussionist Shelly Manne. As if that were not enough, in the mid-1950s the composer became a best- selling recording artist for the jazz label Contemporary Records. His album My Fair Lady earned the status of the biggest-selling jazz record to date. However, Previn was at the same time nursing a deep-seated dissatisfaction with where his life was heading. He ended his marriage with Bennett in 1957, only a few months before the birth of their second child.

Not satisfied being chained to MGM, Previn continued to score films as an independent agent and also to play and record jazz. In 1958 he married Dory Langdon, a lyricist who had been invited by studio management to collaborate with Previn on songs for several of his movie soundtracks. They worked together successfully for some years and saw a number of their songs receive Academy Award nominations. Previn, however, was becoming increasingly displeased with his film work. He had always desired to conduct, and when his father died in 1962, Previn decided it was time to leave Hollywood--and the jazz life--firmly behind him.

As with nearly all of his endeavors, Previn threw himself into his new occupation with astonishing single-mindedness and energy. He accepted every guest-conducting invitation he received, and to improve his image as a "serious" musician, he also accepted invitations to perform at the piano in classical concerts. He often conducted directly from the piano stool. Previn made his first recording as a conductor in 1962 with the St. Louis Symphony, which was released to critical plaudits. By 1966 he had made such a name for himself that he was offered the position of conductor of the Houston Symphony.

Unfortunately, at the same time his career was soaring, Previn's marriage to Dory Langdon began to disintegrate. Langdon had a history of mental illness and had begun a series of extended visits to various sanitariums. Previn's constant absence only served to worsen the situation, since his wife was deathly afraid of air travel and could not join him.

Meanwhile, Previn's work with the Houston Symphony brought him glowing reviews and worldwide acclaim, and in 1968 he accepted the position of conductor of the renowned London Symphony Orchestra (LSO). Around this time, gossip columnists began to notice him frequently in the company of actress Mia Farrow, who was previously married to popular singer Frank Sinatra. Farrow became pregnant with Previn's twin sons, and the scandal that ensued resulted in his leaving the Houston Symphony.

Previn divorced Langdon--at the time residing in a California mental hospital--and married Farrow in the fall of 1969. The couple settled with their children in the English countryside. Previn also redoubled his efforts with the LSO, touring with them around the world and using his pop-star image to tirelessly promote the orchestra on television and in the news media. His diligence was to earn him the longest tenure with the LSO of any single conductor.

The 1970s were once again tumultuous for Previn. In 1975 internal squabbling led him to leave the LSO to become the full-time musical director of the Pittsburgh Symphony, a post he retained until 1984. His marriage to Mia Farrow, with whom he had three children and three adopted orphans, finally broke up in 1978 due largely to their conflicting careers. Previn seemed always to be off in some corner of the world conducting, while Farrow was busy furthering her acting career. In 1984 Previn left the Pittsburgh Symphony over a clash with management about his casual attire and too-modern musical choices and was almost immediately snatched up by the Los Angeles Philharmonic for the 1985 to 1986 season. He remained as conductor for the Los Angeles Philharmonic until 1988, departing, as he had with other orchestras in the past, due to conflicts with management.

Since then, Previn has led a life of comparative stability. In 1982 he married Englishwoman Heather Hales and settled into his home--dubbed the Haven--in the wooded hills of Surrey. Despite the fact that he eventually came to look upon the years he spent in jazz as time squandered (he feels his true destiny has always been in conducting), Previn made something of a comeback in that arena, gathering his old friends to record a series of albums for the Telarc label. The first of these, After Hours, received a Grammy nomination in 1989. Previn also continues to accept guest conducting positions with various orchestras throughout the world.

In 1991 Previn published a memoir of his days as a film composer. It is titled No Minor Chords: My Days in Hollywood, in reference to a proclamation against minor chords issued by a studio magnate who heard a passage he disliked in a score for one of Previn's films. Notwithstanding the fact that Previn spent many years trying to shake his "Tinsel Town" image, and has on occasion expressed nothing but contempt for the movie industry and nearly all those involved in it, he wrote, "I have to say that I can't consider my ... years in Hollywood as any kind of waste. They were entertaining and educational and highly paid, and I am thankful for all that."

Previn has, though, finally and fully embraced his chosen profession of orchestral conductor. As he explained in No Minor Chords, conducting provides the "healthy and sobering experience of constantly working with music that is invariably better than any performance of it can be. It keeps final goals out of reach and it means that boredom is a very rare occurrence. I have always found it necessary for my work to scare me. It doesn't do any good to be totally secure in the knowledge that tomorrow's efforts will not be too difficult, and [that] they will, with rare exception, be accepted with praise. Nowadays, worry and self-doubt are roommates of mine. I'm frightened by the glory of the music I have to work with, and plagued by personal inadequacies. In my profession, triumphs and failures are allowed to be more private, and mass opinions neither make nor break a lifetime career."

by Alan Glenn

Andre Previn's Career

Composer, conductor, and pianist. While in high school, worked as arranger and orchestrator for MGM Studios, Hollywood, CA; became film composer for MGM; began recording career as a jazz artist; conductor with Houston Symphony Orchestra, beginning in 1966; London Symphony Orchestra, 1968-75; Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, 1975- 84; and Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, 1985-88; recorded a series of jazz albums on the Telarc label. Composer of numerous film scores. Author of memoir No Minor Chords: My Days in Hollywood, Doubleday, 1991.

Andre Previn's Awards

Academy awards for film scores Gigi, 1958, Porgy and Bess, 1959, Irma La Douce, 1963, and My Fair Lady, 1964; Academy Award nominations for film scores Three Little Words, 1950, Kiss Me Kate, 1953, It's Always Fair Weather, 1955, Bells Are Ringing, 1960, Elmer Gantry, 1960, Two for the Seesaw, 1962, Thoroughly Modern Millie, 1967, and Jesus Christ Superstar, 1973; Grammy Award for jazz album Plays Songs by Harold Arlen, 1960; Grammy Award nomination for jazz album After Hours, 1989.

Famous Works

Recent Updates

February 13, 2005: Previn won the Grammy Award for best instrumental soloist performance with orchestra for Previn: Violin Concerto "Anne-Sophie"/Bernstein: Serenade, with Anne-Sophie Mutter. Source: Grammys.com, www.grammys.com/awards/grammy/47winners, February 14, 2005.

Further Reading

Books

Periodicals

Visitor Comments Add a comment…

about 9 years ago

I wish they would release the soundtrack from "The Fortune Cookie" on CD.