Oscar winning composer, conductor André Previn dies at 89

André Previn, the jazz and classical artist and conductor and award-winning film composer, died at his home in Manhattan on Thursday, February 28. He was 89.

André Previn in 1973. (Photo by Bert Verhoeff/Anefo)

Previn, whose Jewish parents fled the Nazis from his birthplace of Berlin, first lived in Paris for a year in 1938 before emigrating to the United States. His great uncle was the music director of Universal Studios in Los Angeles, where the family settled. 

Previn became a naturalized citizen of the U.S. in 1943 and attended Beverly Hills High School.  He began his musical journey at MGM Studios, emerging as a respected film composer as a young man of just 19. Later, he joined the U.S. Army and during his service from 1950-51 at the Presidio in San Francisco was instructed in conducting by the eminent French and American conductor Pierre Monteux, who had conducted at the Metropolitan Opera, the Boston Symphony Orchestra and was then the conductor for the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. Previn considered that experience as one of the most important in his classical career.

Previn was active as a film score composer for over 50 films until 1975. He was nominated for an Academy Award 11 times and won four Oscars, including two back-to-back on two occasions (1958-59 and 1963-64), a feat only matched by fellow film composer Alfred Newman. He also was the only person ever to be nominated for three Academy Awards in the same year (1961).

Previn’s work in jazz, classical and contemporary classical music has been preserved on hundreds of recordings. He was exposed to jazz music while still in high school and his output as a leader and sideman never truly ended, even during those times when he was a valued classical conductor and composer.

He served as the music director for the Houston Symphony Orchestra in 1967 and accepted a similar position with the London Symphony Orchestra the following year. Later, Previn was associated with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra before assuming the music director’s post with the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra. Previn was also the principal guest conductor of the Tokyo NHK Symphony Orchestra and the Oslo Philharmonic from 2002-2006 and guest conducted for several major orchestras including the Vienna Philharmonic. Previn was also the principal conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra from 1985-1988.

Previn composed the opera “A Streetcar Named Desire,” which had its second performance with the New Orleans Opera Association in 1999.

Previn was nominated for a Best Musical Tony Award in 1977 for “Coco,” which was based on the life of fashion designer Coco Chanel. Previn received the Kennedy Center Honors in 1998 and was the recipient of the Glenn Gould Prize in 2005. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Grammophon Magazine in 2008 and a Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Recording Academy in 2010 to accompany his other 10 Grammys. Previn was named a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in 1998, but was not permitted the title of “Sir” because he was an American Citizen.

He was married a total of five times, first to jazz singer Betty Bennett from 1952-1957, then to Dory Langan from 1959-1969, whom he divorced after her mental breakdown. He next married actress Mia Farrow from  1970-1979 before leaving her for British homemaker Heather Sneddon, the most stable of his marriages, from 1982-1997. However, he left Sneddon in a publicly embarrassing manner when he took up with German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter. He and Mutter were married from 2002-2006, when they split. 

Previn was predeceased by Lark Song, one of two Vietnamese daughters he adopted with then-wife Mia Farrow. He is survived by his children from his first marriage Claudia Previn Stasny and Alicia, his twins Matthew and Sasha and son Fletcher from his third marriage as well as his other adoptive children, Summer “Daisy” Song and Soon-Yi Previn, who was Korean. Although Previn was still friendly with Farrow and Mutter, he had a break with Soon-Yi after her relationship and eventual marriage to filmmaker Woody Allen.



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