It was only after he entered Dante’s Inferno — his name for the series of federal penitentiaries that became his home for two years — that the composer Marvin David Levy marshaled the resolve to write the kind of music he had always wanted.
Mr. Levy, who died on Monday at 82, was at midcentury an American composer of seemingly limitless promise, compared by Leonard Bernstein to Benjamin Britten.
But after the critical failure of his most famous work in the late 1960s, his life followed a path that, while it would scarcely raise eyebrows in the pop music world, is almost unheard-of in classical music’s rarefied orbit: Convicted of serving as a bagman in a multimillion-dollar marijuana smuggling operation, he was incarcerated alongside murderers and other seasoned felons.
“It shattered me,” Mr. Levy told The Chicago Tribune in 1987, speaking of that time.
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