Ned Rorem obituary | Classical music

By | November 20, 2022

If there was a classical composer of the trendy period whose music embodied the quiet triumph of intuitive lyricism over systemic dogma, it was Ned Rorem, who died on the age of 99. Rorem didn’t align himself with any college of composition, preferring to write down the music he “needed to listen to” relatively than at another person’s dictate, a deeply old style stance to soak up the post-war period. Rorem composed music that many others needed to listen to or carry out, particularly singers.

The majority of his output contains greater than 500 artwork songs, of which the 95-minute cycle, Proof of Issues Not Seen (1997), for 4 singers and piano, that includes 36 texts by 24 completely different writers, is barely not simply his magnum opus however a compendium of the expressiveness sought by Rorem as a composer. The fourth music, The Rainbow, is a superb instance of his innate present for easy lyricism capturing the essence of the textual content, on this case Wordsworth’s My Coronary heart Leaps Up.

The cycle was hailed in New York journal as “one of the vital musically wealthy, polished, and vocally-friendly songbooks…of any American composer”. Rorem’s genius for dramatic characterization is clear within the thirty fourth music, that includes Mark Doty’s poem Religion.

Though stylistically Rorem adopted his personal star, he largely adopted the road of older colleagues comparable to Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland and Virgil Thomson, all of whom Rorem met throughout a unprecedented and formative weekend in 1942. whereas nonetheless a school scholar. Curtis Institute in Philadelphia.

Rorem maintained lifelong friendships (and extra) with all three males, changing into Thomson’s copyist in 1944 (being paid whereas orchestrating), and a scholar of Copland on the Berkshire Music Heart in Tanglewood (1946-47) , whereas Bernstein created one of the best identified and most seductive of his 5 symphonies, the Third (1957-58).

Whereas the majority of Rorem’s songs had been preparations for voice with piano, the vary of poets he illuminated was extremely broad and included Edith Sitwell, Demetrios Capetanakis, Theodore Roethke, Shakespeare, Tennyson, Yeats, Whitman and two Laureates Pulitzer Prize contemporaries (for poetry): Wallace Stevens (a 1972 set accompanied by cello and piano) and James Schuyler.

His 5 Poems of Walt Whitman (1957) juxtapose music of darkish drama and beautiful, delicate magnificence. He additionally created a considerable physique of choral music, from one-voice songs and motets to An American Oratorio for tenor, refrain and orchestra (1983), on a group of texts by 10 Nineteenth-century American writers, together with Longfellow, Poe , Twain , Whitman and Melville.

Rorem additionally composed in all kinds of chamber and orchestral genres: of his 5 symphonies, solely the three for big orchestra are numbered, with the Sinfonia for winds and percussion (1957) and the Symphony for strings (1985), exterior the barrel; the latter’s recording by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, carried out by Robert Shaw, gained a Grammy Award in 1989.

In 1976, Rorem acquired the Pulitzer Prize for Music, for Air Music (1974), a vibrant orchestral concerto within the type of 10 research, a part of a sequence of multi-movement instrumental works impressed by the pure world, which incorporates the Sky Music Harp Suite (1976).

Given Rorem’s sense for the dramatic and the lyrical in music, it was inevitable that he can be drawn to opera. He composed eight in all, together with the much-revised Miss Julie (1965, the ultimate model of which was first staged in Manhattan in 1994) and Our City (2005), based mostly on Thornton Wilder’s play, are one of the best identified; the latter entered the repertoire in america. Rorem was additionally drawn – finally – to essentially the most theatrical of instrumental types, the concerto, with its dramatic distinction between soloist(s) and orchestra. He composed 4 for piano (1948-91, the final for the left hand solely) and others for violin (1984), organ (1985), English horn (1992), flute, cello (each in 2002) and percussion (Mallet Concerto, 2003).

Ned Rorem during a performance of his work at St Thomas' Church in New York in 2003.
Ned Rorem throughout a efficiency of his work at St Thomas’ Church in New York in 2003. Images: Hiroyuki Ito/Getty Photographs

The latter was written for Evelyn Glennie on her stipulation that no pitchless instrument needs to be featured – “percussion with out pitch is superfluous, even in Beethoven”, he wrote on the time of the premiere, “I’m morally towards all cymbals crash, and think about snares and bongos strictly decorative… The 4 parts of music are melody, concord, counterpoint and rhythm.Rhythm is essentially the most dispensable.

His expertise for provocative lyrics – his orchestral music had featured its fair proportion of cymbal bangs, in any case – typically with a facet of self-derision, had been attribute of the collection of journals he revealed from 1966 to the flip of the millennium.

His candor concerning the folks he knew, his gay relations with many well-known personalities (Bernstein and Thomson, the composer Samuel Barber, Noël Coward, and lots of others), shocked literary and musical circles in america, notably its output of characters whose sexuality is paramount. the orientation was not publicly identified. Rorem was shocked by the reactions, remarking to The New York Instances in 1987 that “it by no means occurred to me that something you say about somebody could possibly be the improper factor to say”.

Rorem was born in Richmond, Indiana, the youngest little one of Clarence Rufus Rorem, a Norwegian-born medical economist (the surname was an Americanized type of Rorhjem), and Gladys (née Miller), a Quaker and activist for the peace. The household then moved to Chicago and it was there that Rorem’s musical schooling – and his love of French music – started, with introductions to the music of Debussy and Ravel.

He studied with organist-composer Leo Sowerby on the American Conservatory in Chicago in 1938, earlier than going first to Northwestern College (1940), the Curtis Institute two years afterward a scholarship, and the Juilliard Faculty. of New York, from the place he obtained a grasp’s diploma in 1948.

He traveled to Paris and Morocco the next yr, settling within the French capital in 1951 (thanks partly to a Fulbright scholarship) till 1957, when a Guggenheim scholarship facilitated his return to america. . Excessive-level commissions and premieres continued unabated from 1959, from Bernstein and Eugene Ormandy, choreographer Glen Tetley and lots of others.

Rorem’s appointment as composer-in-residence on the College at Buffalo from 1959 to 1961 marked an uneven engagement with academia. He was professor of composition after which composer-in-residence on the College of Utah (1965-1967), and in 1980 started instructing on the Curtis Institute, the place he had been a scholar 4 a long time earlier.

That very same yr, he grew to become composer-in-residence on the Santa Fe Pageant, returning a number of occasions over the following 10 years. He additionally appeared as a visitor lecturer at many establishments, together with the College of Miami in 1978, the place he met and inspired then-undergraduate Kenneth Fuchs, who recalled, “He was extraordinarily complimentary. [about some settings of William Blake] and inspired me to maneuver to New York to pursue my dream of finding out composition on the Juilliard Faculty with most of the nice American symphonists and avant-garde who made up the composition heart on the time”. Fuchs ended up residing a block away from Rorem, the beginning of a friendship that continued till Rorem’s loss of life.

Rorem’s life companion from the late Sixties was organist James Holmes, who died in 1999. Rorem was outlived by all of his instant household.

Ned Rorem, composer and diarist, born October 23, 1923; died on November 18, 2022