The Life of Alfred H. Bartles

[Formal photograph of Alfred H. Bartles]

A formal, professionally taken photograph of Alfred H. Bartles.

[Photo of Alfred H. Bartles with a camera]

A photograph of Alfred H. Bartles with his camera. Photography was a hobby of his.

Alfred Howell Bartles was born to Paul and Martha Howell Bartles on November 10, 1930, and was raised in a family that had been in Nashville since the early 1800s. His maternal grandparents were both considered very musical, as were his parents. When Alfred was five, his father died from the aftereffects of poison gas in World War I. Thereafter, he and his mother lived with his mother's younger sister, Isabel Howell, who took on being a father to Alfred in many respects.

From an early age, he showed remarkable musical talent, first on the piano. To supplement the family's very modest income, he began playing low-wage dance-band jobs before he was old enough to join the musicians' union. Some years later in the Hillsboro High School band, he taught himself to play cornet, later switching to baritone. He spent the summer of 1949 in New York City studying with the prominent jazz pianist Lennie Tristano.

Bartles entered Vanderbilt University in the fall of 1949 with the intention of pursuing a premedical curriculum. However, the next year his plans changed, and he transferred to Peabody College to study composition with Roy Harris. With the beginning of the Korean War in 1950, the Army Reserve band in which Bartles played trombone and served as arranger-pianist was called into active duty. This experience proved influential for his growth as a composer, and connections with others within the group led him to transfer to the University of Mississippi following his release from military duty.

In Oxford, Mississippi, he developed a new interest in the cello through an introductory string class. Despite his late start with the instrument, his conscious, adult dedication toward mastering the technique enhanced his later interest in string pedagogy. Also at the University of Mississippi, he met Claus Adam, cellist with the New Music Quartet. The quartet had been in Oxford for a week or so and had played one of Bartles's compositions written for them. Bartles also met Martha Jean Smith, a piano student from Newton, Mississippi. She was in the class a year ahead of him and was headed off to graduate school the next year at Ohio University. In anticipation of joining her, Bartles took a heavy load of courses, passed exemption exams, marshaled credits for his Army experience and took additional courses during the summer. In the fall of 1953, they summarily moved to Athens, Ohio, and were married January 31, 1954. At Ohio University, Alfred studied composition with Karl Ahrendt and graduated by the end of the summer of 1954.

In the fall of that same year, Alfred and Martha moved to New York City where Alfred studied music theory with Felix Salzer at the Mannes School of Music, despite not being a formally enrolled student at the time. Bartles was also accepted as a cello student of Claus Adam, and also carefully studied the works of the Croatian cello pedagogue Rudolf Matz. This direction received further focus with his subsequent study with the cellist Luigi Silva, whose pedagogical technique Bartles later attempted to codify through a series of scale books and pieces.

Additional connections were fostered during this initial period in New York with the Rudolf Steiner School in Manhattan. Martha Bartles was hired there to play for eurythmy, while Alfred gave private cello lessons. The two of them also joined a group studying the anthroposophy of Rudolf Steiner, which remained a sustaining focus for them in future years. After a mandatory three-month residence in New York, Bartles joined the musicians' union and began playing as a jazz pianist in clubs in and around New York City as well as on the road with big bands. At the same time, he gradually moved over to free-lance cello work, playing in the orchestras for thirteen Broadway shows in Radio City Music Hall, in the Little Orchestra Society, in Mantovani's orchestra, in the Springfield Symphony, and, for a year, with the St. Louis Symphony. Through his connection with Claus Adam, he and Martha were able to spend a summer at Aspen and another at Blue Hill. During these years, his two daughters, Isabel and Julia, were born.

In 1969, Bartles received a grant from a small private foundation to study the teaching of music in Waldorf Schools in Germany and to have time to compose. The following year, the grant was renewed, but he began teaching at Schiller-College in Bönnigheim and at its sister campus in Heidelberg. Here he taught music history and theory and conducted the chorus.

In 1973, both Alfred and Martha returned to the United States to accept positions at Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville, Alfred in music theory and cello, and Martha in piano. During this period, Alfred also played cello with the Nashville Symphony.

In 1978, both Alfred and Martha were each offered full-time positions at the Eurythmeum in Stuttgart. This institution was home to both a school of eurythmy and a professional performing group. Martha played and Alfred taught music theory to the students, also teaching cello at the Stuttgarter Musikschule. After about four years, Alfred concentrated entirely on teaching cello, and Martha migrated to the Waldorf School, then to the Stuttgart Music School, then to an adjunct position at the
Staatliche Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst Stuttgart. In 1980, she accepted a full-time position at the Pädagogische Hochschule Ludwigsburg, They continued in these positions until mandatory retirement in 1996 for Alfred and 1997 for Martha.

They later returned to Nashville permanently. Alfred took on teaching positions first at Murray State University in Kentucky and then at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville and Tennessee Technological University. He also built up a private cello teaching practice and was an active freelance cellist. Martha in turn became an adjunct piano teacher at the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt.

Alfred Bartles died in Nashville on December 28, 2006 of colon cancer.

Compositions and arrangements

Alfred Bartles’s output varies in genre and texture. He considered himself among the first in a generation of composers equally at home in the Classical and jazz spheres. Indeed, both genres are evident from his early compositions onward. Later works exhibit particular strengths in jazz ensemble writing, solo and chamber works, large ensemble works for orchestra and concert band, a series of jazz tunes written in collaboration with lyricist Bryan Lindsay, and pedagogical works for cello.

Some of Bartles’s works began to be published in the mid-1960s by the Brass Press, Sam Fox Music Publishers, and Boosey & Hawkes. A major accomplishment during this time was the Music for Symphony Orchestra and Jazz Ensemble, a 1966 commission from the Nashville Symphony, and now in the catalog of MJQ music publishers.

A large fraction of his writing remained—as is usual with composers—unpublished yet still performed during his lifetime. While in Germany during the years 1969-73, he wrote a piano sonata, an orchestral overture, a woodwind quintet, and Excalibur for symphonic band. His years at Tennessee Technological University saw several pieces for tuba through the influence of fellow faculty member R. Winston Morris. After returning to Germany, he composed music for various eurythmy performances, such as Nanabush and the Chickadees. His Ballad for Fluegel Horn and Jazz Ensemble was recorded at Süddeutscher Rundfunk by Erwin Lehn. Yair Kless, an Israeli violinist, commissioned the Lyric Poem for violin and piano and premiered the work with pianist Shoshana Rudiakov in the Liederhalle in Stuttgart. The Duo for Violin and Violoncello was premiered at the Sewanee Music Festival. In 1976, When Tubas Waltz was first published by Kendor Music Publishers and saw various adaptations over the next few decades, becoming one of his best-known works.

Arrangements and adaptations have also figured somewhat prominently within Bartles’s oeuvre. In 1985, his orchestration of Alban Berg's Piano Sonata, Opus 1 for chamber orchestra was premiered by the Alban Berg Foundation as part of the 50th- and 100th-year Berg Festival in Vienna, and later recorded at Süddeutscher Rundfunk by the Koechlin Ensemble. In 1988, he adapted the orchestration of Bartók's First Rhapsody for Violin to conform to Bartók's cello transcription of this work. This was premiered at the Sewanee Summer Music Festival in 2003.

In 1994, he completed two new cello volumes entitled Etudes and Recital Pieces for the Advanced Beginning 'Cellist. Later, he adapted Bartok's Roumanian Dances for brass quintet, and wrote a duo for cello and bassoon entitled Three for Two which was premiered in 1996 in Manchester, Vermont. In 1998-99 the Tennessee Chapter of the National Association of Music Teachers named him “Composer of the Year” and commissioned him to write Epidaurus for brass ensemble and percussion, which was
performed at the Sewanee Summer Music Festival in 1999. In 2001, Yardbird Suite by Charlie Parker and Out of this World by Arlen and Mercer were arranged for large jazz ensemble and premiered in Nashville, and Tubossa for solo tuba and symphonic band was completed, performed, and recorded in 2002. During this period, Bartles also directed much energy on the drafts for his six-part Pedagogical Approach to Technique on the Violoncello through Scales. At the time of his death, he was working on a piece for saxophone commissioned by Neal Ramsay.

His papers and compositions were donated to Vanderbilt University beginning in 2008.

— contributed by Alfred Bartles’s first cousin Clopper Almon, and further edited by Jacob Schaub

Alfred H. Bartles Biographical Time Line

Nov. 10, 1930

Born in Nashville to Paul Bartles and Martha Howell Bartles


Father dies from after-effects of poison gas from WWI; Alfred and his mother live with Isabel Howell, Martha’s younger sister who worked as a librarian at Vanderbilt University and the Tennessee State Library


Studies piano with Miss Frank Hollawol, a cousin and organist at First Baptist Church in Nashville


Attends Hillsboro High School, plays cornet and euphonium in the Hillsboro High School Band

Summers 1949, 1950, 1952

Studies with Lennie Tristano, jazz pianist in New York City

Fall 1949

Attends Vanderbilt with intention of pursuing pre-medical curriculum


Transfers to Peabody Teachers College and studies with Roy Harris and Johana Harris

Aug. 1950–Apr. 1952

Called to active duty with Army Reserves (Korean War), plays trombone in band and serves as arranger-pianist


Transfers to University of Mississippi and at age 22, begins cello studies using his grandfather’s cello; meets Claus Adam when New Music Quartet visits the University of Mississippi; meets Martha Jean Smith, piano student from Newton, Mississippi, who would later become his wife; writes a short piece for the New Music Quartet which they performed while there

Summer, 1953

Graduates from University of Mississippi with a BA in Music and follows Martha Jean Smith to Ohio University in Athens. Studies composition with Karl Ahrendt; receives assistantship in composition

Summer, 1954

Graduates from Ohio University with a Master of Fine Arts in Composition


Composes Theme in Three for orchestra and a 12-tone piece, Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano


Marries Martha Jean Smith on January 31

Fall, 1954

Alfred and Martha move to New York City; Alfred studies structural hearing at Mannes School of Music with Felix Salzer and cello with Claus Adam; employed as a chief packer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art while awaiting membership in Musicians’ Union Local 802


Introduced to Francis Edmonds, a Rudolf Steiner educator from England; Alfred and Martha join Youth Group that studied books on Steiner. Begin their long connection with eurythmy,   Waldorf education, and anthroposophy


Martha begins accompanying and playing for dance classes, including eurythmy classes at the Rudolf Steiner School

December, 1954

Becomes member of musicians’ union in New York City and plays piano in jazz clubs in and around New York City

Summer, 1956

In Aspen

Summer, 1957

In Blue Hill


Plays cello in 13 Broadway shows, Radio City Music Hall, Little Orchestra Society of New York (Thomas Schermann, conductor), in Mantovani’s orchestra on several tours, Springfield Symphony, and St. Louis Symphony


First daughter Isabel is born on August 20 


Alfred’s music begins to be published by Brass Press, Sam Fox Music Publishers, Boosey & Hawkes, MJQ Music Publishers, and Kendor Music Publishers 


Second daughter, Julia is born on November 8


Seven Easy Pieces for Beginning Cellists is published by Vanilla Music Publishing


Receives commission from the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, composes Music for Symphony Orchestra and Jazz Ensemble


Founded the composition program at the Sewanee Summer Music Festival at the University of the South and returns to teach there many times in the next three decades


Receives grant to study the teaching of music in Waldorf Schools in Germany and to compose 


Composes the Piano Sonata, Excalibur for Symphonic Band, an Overture for orchestra and a Woodwind Quintet


Begins teaching at Schiller International University (Heidelberg and Bönnigheim campuses); teaches music history and theory as well as conducting the chorus


Completes composition Excalibur for Band or Young Orchestra


Moves to Cookeville, Tennessee, to teach music theory and cello at Tennessee Technological University for four years. Alfred plays cello with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra; meets R. Winston, tuba/euphonium professor at Tennessee Technological University and begins composing tuba music


Composes When Tubas Waltz for Winston Morris


Alfred and Martha return to Germany and begin teaching at the Eurythmeum in Stuttgart (home to both a school of eurythmy and a professional performing group). Martha is resident pianist and Alfred teaches all the music courses. Alfred composes Ballad for Fluegelhorn and Jazz Ensemble (recorded in the Süddeutscher Rundfunkby Erwin Lehn and performed by Ach Van Roohen (flugelhornist) and the Jazz Ensemble)


Del Sawyer (Director of the Blair Academy) asks Alfred to write a composition for chorus and orchestra for the Nashville Youth Symphony featuring a favorite poem of Valere Blair Potter titled And Well I Shall Be There later performed at the War Memorial in Nashville by the Nashville Youth Symphony and McGavock High School Chorus, conducted by Jay Dawson


Martha accepts positions at the Waldorf School, then the Stuttgarter Musikschule as well as Stuttgarter Hochschule für Musik; Martha accepts full-time position at the Pädagogische Hochschule Ludwigsburg and continues there until mandatory retirement in 1997


Alfred Receives commission from Yair Kless (Israeli violinist) and writes Lyric Poem for violin and piano; work premieres in the Liederhall, Stuttgart


Teaches cello at the Stuttgart Music School, stays there until mandatory retirement in 1996


Composes Duo for Violin and Violoncello for his daughters (Isabel, violin and Julia, cello) premieres at the Sewanee Music Festival 


Universal Edition publishes two ‘cello books From the Notebook of Anna Magdalena Bach and Leopold Mozart for his Son Wolfgang Amadeus


Arrangement for chamber orchestra of Berg’s Piano Sonate, Op. 1 is premiered by the Berg Foundation as part of the 50th and 100th year Berg/Berio Festival in Vienna


Adapts the orchestration of Bartók’s First Rhapsody for Violin to make it playable for cello. Work is later premiered in 2003 at the Sewanee Summer Music Festival.  


Adapts Bartok’s Rumanian Dances for brass quintet


Completes Etudes and Recital Pieces for the Advanced Beginning ‘Cellist, Vol. 1 & 2


Three for Two (cello and bassoon duet) premieres at the Manchester, Vermont Music Festival


Alfred and Martha move to Nashville; Alfred teaches cello at Murray State University in Kentucky


Alfred teaches at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, TN; Continues to teach privately and compose music; Remains active as a free-lance cellist and jazz pianist


Martha accepts position as adjunct Senior Artist Teacher of piano at the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University


Named “Composer of the Year” by the Tennessee Chapter of the National Association of Music Teachers; composes Epidaurus for Brass Ensemble and Percussion


Epidaurus for Brass Ensemble and Percussion premieres at the Sewanee Summer Music Festival


Completes The New When Tubas Waltz for tuba/euphonium ensemble (Published by Tuba-Euphonium Press), which premieres in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada


Arranges Charlie Parker’s Yardbird Suite and Arlen/Parker’s Out of This World for large jazz ensemble which premieres in Nashville; completes Tubossa for Solo Tuba and Symphonic Band which is performed and recorded by Tim Northcut and Tennessee Technological University Symphony Band


Plays in regional orchestras in Jackson, TN, Paducah, KY, and Tuscaloosa, AL


A transcription/arrangement of Bartok’s First Rhapsody for Violin/Cello premieres at the Sewanee Summer Music Festival (Paul York, cellist)

Dec. 28, 2006

Alfred dies of cancer at his home in Nashville, TN

Jan. 2, 2007

Memorial service held at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Nashville, TN

The Life of Alfred H. Bartles