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Ned Rorem obituary | classical music

If there have been a classical composer of the trendy period whose music embodied the quiet triumph of intuitive lyricism over systemic dogma, it was Ned Rorem, who has died aged 99. Rorem aligned himself with no compositional college, preferring to write down the music that he “ wished to listen to” relatively than at somebody’s else’s diktat, a deeply retro stance to soak up the postwar interval. Rorem composed music that many others wished to listen to, or to carry out, notably singers.

The majority of his output includes greater than 500 artwork songs, of which the 95-minute-long cycle, Proof of Issues Not Seen (1997), for 4 singers and piano, setting 36 texts by 24 totally different writers, isn’t solely his magnum opus however a compendium of the expressivity Rorem searched for as a composer. The fourth track, The Rainbow, is a wonderful instance of his innate present for easy lyricism catching 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 many musically richest, most exquisitely customary, most voice-friendly collections of songs… by any American composer.” Rorem’s genius for dramatic characterization is clear within the thirty fourth track, setting Mark Doty’s poem Religion.

Though stylistically Rorem adopted his personal star, he adopted broadly within the line of older colleagues equivalent to Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland and Virgil Thomson, all of whom Rorem met throughout one extraordinary and formative weekend in 1942, whereas he was nonetheless a pupil on the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia.

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

Whereas the majority of Rorem’s songs have been settings for voice with piano, the vary of poets he illuminated was breathtakingly large, and included Edith Sitwell, Demetrios Capetanakis, Theodore Roethke, Shakespeare, Tennyson, Yeats, Whitman, and two up to date Pulitzer prizewinners (for poetry ): Wallace Stevens (a 1972 set accompanied by cello and piano) and James Schuyler.

His 5 Poems of Walt Whitman (1957) juxtaposes music of darkish drama and beautiful, delicate magnificence. He created a considerable physique of choral music, too, from single half 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 composed in all kinds of chamber and orchestra genres, too: of his 5 symphonies, solely the three for full orchestra are numbered, with the Sinfonia for winds and percussion (1957) and the String Symphony (1985), exterior the canon; the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s recording of this last-named, carried out by Robert Shaw, received a Grammy award in 1989.

In 1976, Rorem was awarded the Pulitzer prize for music, for Air Music (1974), a vibrant orchestral concerto within the type of 10 etudes, a part of a sequence of multi-movement instrumental works drawing inspiration from the pure world, which incorporates the harp suite Sky Music (1976).

Given Rorem’s sense for the dramatic and lyric in music, it was inevitable that he could be drawn to opera. He composed eight in all, of which the a lot revised Miss Julie (1965, with its ultimate model 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 has entered the repertoire within the US. Rorem was additionally drawn – finally – to that the majority theatrical of instrumental varieties, the concerto, with its dramatic opposition of soloist(s) and orchestra. He composed 4 for piano (1948-91, the final for left hand solely) and others for violin (1984), organ (1985), English horn (1992), flute, cello (each 2002), and percussion (Mallet Concerto, 2003).

Ned Rorem at a efficiency of his work at St Thomas Church, New York, in 2003. {Photograph}: Hiroyuki Ito/Getty Photos

This final was written for Evelyn Glennie on his stipulation that no unpitched devices have been to be featured – “non-pitched percussion is superfluous, even in Beethoven”, he wrote on the time of the premiere, “I’m morally towards all cymbal crashes, and really feel that snares and bongos are strictly decorative… The 4 parts of music are melody, concord, counterpoint and rhythm. Rhythm is probably the most dispensable.”

His knack for provocative utterances – his orchestral music had featured its fair proportion of cymbal smashes, in any case – usually with a self-deprecating side, have been traits of the sequence of diaries that he printed from 1966 to the flip of the millennium.

His candor concerning the folks he knew, his gay relationships with many celebrated figures (Bernstein and Thomson, the composer Samuel Barber, Noël Coward, and plenty of others), shocked literary and musical circles within the US, particularly his outing of figures whose major sexual orientation was not publicly identified. Rorem was shocked on the reactions, remarking to the New York Occasions in 1987 that “it by no means occurred to me something you say about somebody may be the unsuitable factor to say”.

Rorem was born in Richmond, Indiana, the youthful youngster of Clarence Rufus Rorem, a medical economist of Norwegian inventory (the household title was an Americanized type of Rorhjem), and Gladys (nee Miller), a Quaker and peace activist. The household later moved to Chicago and it was right here that Rorem’s musical training – and his love of French music – started, with introductions to the music of Debussy and Ravel.

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

He traveled on 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 fellowship facilitated his return to the US. Commissions and high-profile premieres continued unabated from 1959, from Bernstein and Eugene Ormandy, the choreographer Glen Tetley, and plenty of others.

Rorem’s appointment as composer-in-residence at Buffalo College from 1959 to 1961 signaled a patchy engagement with academia. He was professor of composition, then composer-in-residence at Utah College (1965-67) and in 1980 started educating on the Curtis Institute, the place he had been a pupil 4 a long time earlier than.

In the identical yr, he grew to become composer-in-residence on the Santa Fe pageant, returning a number of occasions over the subsequent 10 years. He additionally appeared as visitor lecturer at many establishments, together with the College of Miami in 1978, the place he met and gave encouragement to the then undergraduate Kenneth Fuchs, who recalled: “He was extraordinarily complementary [about some settings of William Blake] and inspired me to maneuver to New York Metropolis to pursue my dream of finding out composition on the Juilliard College with a number of of the nice American symphonists and avant-gardists who comprised the composition facility on the time”. Fuchs ended up dwelling a block away from Rorem, the beginning of a friendship that continued till Rorem’s loss of life from him.

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

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

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