Home » Uncategorized » David Van Vactor and his Symphony No. 1

David Van Vactor and his Symphony No. 1


David Van Vactor (May 8, 1906 – March 24, 1994) was an American composer who was born in Plymouth, IN, and received Bachelor of Music (1928) and Master of Music (1935) degrees from Northwestern University in Chicago, IL. He studied with Arne Oldberg, Mark Wessel, Ernst Nolte, Leo Sowerby, Paul Dukas, Franz Schmidt, and Arnold Schoenberg.  In 1933 and 1934 he was the assistant conductor of the Chicago Civic Orchestra.  Then he served as both the flute section leader and assistant conductor the Kansas City Philharmonic Orchestra from 1943 to 1947.

In 1947 Van Vactor came to the University of Tennessee Knoxville as a professor and the founding department head of the new Department of Fine Arts.  In addition, he was the conductor of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra from 1947 until 1972.  Also he appeared as guest conductor with the New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, and the orchestras of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Santiago, Chile.

Van Vactor composed well over one hundred major works, including seven symphonies, nine concertos, five large pieces for chorus and orchestra, many orchestral, chamber and vocal works, and four pieces for symphonic band.  In 1938 his Symphony in D won the Second Annual Competition of the New York Philharmonic-Symphony Society for a major symphonic work by a U. S. composer.  His former teacher Mark Wessel received the sole Honorable Mention in the same competition.  The Symphony was premiered on January 19, 1939, by the Philharmonic-Symphony, conducted by the composer, and  was recorded by the conductor William Strickland.

Following his retirement, Van Vactor was Professor Emeritus of Composition and Flute at the University of Tennessee Knoxville.   His notable students include the “Van Vactor Five”: Gilbert Trythall, Richard Trythall, David P. Sartor, Jesse Ayers, and Doug Davis.   Van Vactor died in Los Angeles, CA, on March 24, 1994.  The David Van Vactor Collection is held by the University of Tennessee Special Collections Library in Knoxville, Tennessee.  The Music Library was named for George F. DeVine, Professor Emeritus of the Department of Music who served for many years with Van Vactor, on the occasion of his retirement in 1985.

I have the following five works by Van Vactor in my collection:

Recitativo and Salterello, Overture (1946; originally intended as one of Three Dance Scenes).

Sinfonia Breve (1964).

Symphony No. 1 (1937).

Symphony No. 2, Music for the Marines (1943/1957).

Symphony No. 3 (1958).


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