Paul Fetler was born in the United States and spent his youth in Eastern Europe, particularly in Latvia, where the influences of Russian culture made a great impression upon him. At the age of six he experimented at the piano with sound combinations which he found expressive, in one case particularly descriptive of a painting of a queen’s lavish coronation. Fetler credits his mother with making sure that his musical training was uninterrupted, despite the family’s frequent changes of residence, including a couple of years in both Sweden and Switzerland.
Fetler studied at Northwestern University where he received his Bachelor of Music degree under David Van Vactor. His Master’s degree was at Yale, where he studied with Quincy Porter and Paul Hindemith. He took advanced compositional studies with Boris Blacher at the Berlin Academy of Music. He accepted a post at the University of Minnesota, where he later completed his doctorate and where he taught composition and also composed for many years.
Fetler has described his compositional approach as one of “progressive lyricism,” and has often said, “I am not out to prove systems or theories. I am out to reach people. My goal is the merger of listener and music.” His compositions include over 150 works in diverse genres. Many of these have been performed by leading orchestras, soloists, choral ensembles and chamber groups across the United States and Europe. He has been the recipient of important awards from the Society for the Publication of American Music, the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. He is currently Professor Emeritus at the University of Minnesota.
“While the arts are in a constant state of flux,” says Fetler, “time takes its toll and history takes over. A work becomes a classic or it vanishes from the scene. At times it lingers on as a curiosity of the past. But above all, what once was modern is modern no more. All the issues vanish, only expression remains.”