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Catalogue Raisonné as Memoir: A Composer’s Life

Dominick Argento
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctttsrm3
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  • Book Info
    Catalogue Raisonné as Memoir
    Book Description:

    Each chapter of this memoir is based on a composition, surrounded by Dominick Argento's reflections on the period in his life when the piece was written and its opening performance. In a lifetime of compositions, Argento has encouraged audiences to focus on their own hopes and fears. Now he shares his own, illuminating the nature of music and its hold on the imagination._x000B_

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9688-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-xii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  4. Songs about Spring (1950)
    (pp. 1-4)

    I began to compose around the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, which is to say between my fourteenth and fifteenth birthdays, althoughSongs about Spring, which I consider my opus 1, was not written until I was almost twenty-three years old. Songs 1, 2, and 3 were composed in the summer of 1950 at the Cummington School of the Arts in Massachusetts, where Hugo Weisgall, a staff member, had obtained a scholarship for me. Hugo was not on the faculty of the Peabody Conservatory, where I was enrolled at the time, but he was the best-known composer in...

  5. Sicilian Limes (1953)
    (pp. 5-8)

    After completing my bachelor’s degree, I wroteThe Temptation of Saint Joseph(oratorio on W. H. Auden, completed in Florence in 1951) andAria Da Capo(one-act opera on Edna St. Vincent Millay, only two-thirds finished later during that same Fulbright year—its completion was discouraged by Hugo). It had been Nabokov’s recommendation that I study with Luigi Dallapiccola, Italy’s most successful contemporary composer, whose reputation had become international in the preceding decade. In Florence I showed the oratorio andSongs about Springto Dallapiccola, who strongly disapproved of my harmonic sense and started me at basics, a single line...

  6. Divertimento for Piano and Strings (1954)
    (pp. 9-12)

    Divertimento for Piano and Stringswas written during the first year of our marriage and the third and final year of my first academic appointment, at Hampton Institute in Virginia, a college founded in 1868 to educate newly freed slaves. The work was strongly influenced by Ernst Bloch’sConcerto Grosso no. 2 for Piano and Strings. Carolyn particularly liked the Bloch and we frequently played the recording.Divertimentowas my first piece of music publicly performed in Minneapolis, by Tom Nee conducting the Unitarian Society Orchestra in 1959. At intermission (just before the performance of the work) theMinneapolis Star’s...

  7. The Resurrection of Don Juan (1955)
    (pp. 13-16)

    My first composition lesson with Bernard Rogers at Eastman could not have been more devastating, particularly since my self-esteem was at its nadir. When I showed him a trio and some other finished bits ofFantasiohe was mightily unimpressed, criticizing my text setting and the subject in general as hopeless. I abandoned the opera and decided to try a different work for the stage, one without text: a ballet,The Resurrection of Don Juan, to an ingenious scenario by Richard Hart, a poet and head of the Enoch Pratt Library in Baltimore. To my surprise, Rogers praised the finished...

  8. Ode to the West Wind (1956)
    (pp. 17-19)

    Bernard Rogers thought my ballet revealed not only a gift for dramatic music but a lyric gift as well: had I done much text setting? He made the odd suggestion that I consider taking a crack at Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind,” adding that, given the poem’s greatness, he himself had never had the nerve to tackle it and doubted whether I’d be able to do much justice to the text either. Still, if I cared to try . . . I did not tell him that Shelley’s verse was the reason I got a D in undergraduate English...

  9. String Quartet (1956)
    (pp. 20-22)

    String Quartet no. 1(it has remained singular) was composed in the summer between my first and second years at Eastman when I studied with Alan Hovhaness. Composition was surely as much Alan’s natural element as water is to a fish. I mentioned earlier that he was an extremely prolific composer, writing music effortlessly and rapidly. I, too, was a relatively fast composer, but his example inspired me to try writing more spontaneously; as Verdi said, “Art without spontaneity is stillborn.” I chose one of my favorite Mozart quartets, studied and analyzed a single movement each morning, then composed one...

  10. The Boor (1957)
    (pp. 23-25)

    The Boorwas the major work written during my second year at Eastman while studying under Howard Hanson, as was required of all second-year composition Ph.D.’s. The opera had emerged with surprising ease, and I don’t recall a single criticism made by Hanson as I showed him the weekly installments. When it was finished he said he would like to have the opera presented during the annual festival. I pointed out that he had already told Bernard Rogers (who had shown him the score the previous year) that he was going to scheduleOde to the West Windon that...

  11. Six Elizabethan Songs (1957–58)
    (pp. 26-30)

    The two years at Eastman plus the following one abroad were the happiest and most fulfilling years of my life. When I graduated Bernard Rogers said, “Dominick, you’re one student I won’t worry about. I’m sure you’ll make it.” I was still an unknown composer, but my confidence had increased greatly, and I now had an exclusive contract with Boosey & Hawkes, the publisher of Strauss, Bartók, Stravinsky, and Britten. To top it off, I had been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. Not surprisingly, we opted to go to Florence.

    After touring England, France, Holland, Germany, and Switzerland, we moved into a...

  12. Colonel Jonathan the Saint (1958–61)
    (pp. 31-33)

    This first full-length opera took three years to complete because I had just started teaching at the university. Preparation for five different courses (a weekly total of nineteen class hours) left precious little time for composing. When act 1 was finished, Boosey arranged for me to audition it for New York City Opera head Julius Rudel and Phyllis Curtin, one of the leading singer-actresses of the period, who we hoped would take the role of Sabrina. Halfway through my playing, Rudel was called away (I didn’t see him again until twenty years later, when he conductedMiss Havisham’s Fire, his...

  13. Christopher Sly (1962)
    (pp. 34-37)

    Christopher Slyis the result of a request from the Mu Phi Epsilon music fraternity. It was designed for the highly limited resources available, both vocal and technical. The librettist was a theater department graduate student in my History of Opera course; a young Italian girl, also a major in theater, created the sets. After auditioning we wound up with only one decent voice student, the other eight or nine parts going perforce to amateurs. Fortunately, the sole voice major was Vern Sutton, whose performance as the Lord was spectacular; this was the first of many roles he would create...

  14. The Masque of Angels (1963)
    (pp. 38-40)

    This work marked the beginning of my reputation in the Twin Cities. Originally commissioned by the Ford Foundation for a church in Des Moines, it was rejected because the pastor there was offended that our little religious masque was a comedy and might provoke laughter in his sanctuary (we had driven there and back in a terrible snowstorm on New Year’s Eve just to read the libretto to him). Since we had rather hoped our little opuswouldprovoke some laughter, it seemed best to withdraw from the commission and allow his church to remain inviolate.

    At about that same...

  15. Royal Invitation, or Homage to the Queen of Tonga (1964)
    (pp. 41-43)

    Because the Des Moines church piece had fallen through,The Masque of Angelsdid not turn out to be my first important commission. That distinction came from the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. Inspiration for the ballet came from the First Chamber Dance Quartet, a New York–based group who performed beautifully through the serious parts of the opera and uproariously in the “Ballet of the Tie That Binds,” which brought down the house. Originally intended for dancing,Royal Invitationwas presented by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra almost as a piece of program music: the scenario John had concocted from...

  16. Variations for Orchestra (The Mask of Night) (1965)
    (pp. 44-47)

    The only wholly symphonic work I had written so far had beenIntroduction and Allegro, a bit of juvenilia dating from my undergraduate days fifteen years earlier. The idea for this new work was borrowed from Mahler’s Fourth Symphony, a piece three-fourths orchestral with a solo soprano added for the final quarter. The Mahler had been analyzed in great detail by Bernard Rogers in the orchestration class I had at Eastman, and Carolyn had just performed the piece with the Minneapolis Civic Orchestra the previous season.

    The principal inspiration, however, was Florence. Our newest apartment, Piazza Pitti 24, was on...

  17. The Revelation of Saint John the Divine (1966)
    (pp. 48-50)

    The success of the preceding three compositions prompted requests for several new works, among them a commission from Luther Seminary of Saint Paul for a large-scale composition for its choir. The only religious piece I had composed was the oratorio on a text from W. H. Auden’sFor the Time Being, later withdrawn. In all honesty, I must confess that I was attracted more to the dramatic possibilities of the text in the Book of Revelation than to its theology. I was also influenced by the fact that the choir consisted of approximately thirty men: just enough for Saint John’s...

  18. The Shoemakers’ Holiday (1967)
    (pp. 51-53)

    Douglas Campbell, the associate director of the Guthrie Theater, had the idea of doing Dekker’s play as a ballad opera—the simple, lowborn characters of that comedy having much in common with John Gay’sThe Beggar’s Opera—and to present it in repertoire during the regular season. It was a challenge (and a very enjoyable one) to write music for the large cast of actors, who were, for the most part, unable to read music. A few of the solo songs (particularly those for Douglas himself ) approach aria status, and the work abounds in ensembles for which I wanted...

  19. Letters from Composers (1968)
    (pp. 54-56)

    Vern Sutton and Jeffrey Van (a superb guitarist and composer) asked me to compose a cycle for tenor and guitar, and the form of their commission was a promise to subsidize a commercial recording that was later released on the CRI label. The new cycle was the first vocal work wherein I chose to set prose rather than poetry, a procedure that was to become standard practice for many pieces. Since I felt that the pairing of solo voice and guitar was such an intimate combination, I wanted an equally intimate text to set.

    Finding that most poetry seems to...

  20. A Nation of Cowslips (1968)
    (pp. 57-59)

    We purchased our first home, 1919 Mount Curve Avenue, just before I turned forty. When it came on the market I was very taken with it, especially at the bargain asking price, which surprised me. It had been owned by a Dr. Berbos, who had made a lot of money in South Dakota as the doctor who delivered the celebrated Fischer quintuplets. With his windfall, he gave up obstetrics, came to the University of Minnesota to take up ophthalmology, and, receiving his new degree, couldn’t wait to get out of Minnesota and set up practice in sunny California (all we...

  21. Bravo Mozart! (1969)
    (pp. 60-62)

    This work was commissioned for a special summer music course at the university in collaboration with the Minnesota Orchestra. As part of the commission I was expected to give a thirty-minute lecture about its composition prior to the performance, which I did. In one senseBravo Mozart!may be my least characteristic work because it incorporates a few avant-garde techniques (avant-garde of the sixties, that is), such as improvisatory and aleatoric. Both the lecture and the music were love letters to Mozart, whose music, more than any other, has always been the most meaningful and miraculous to me. He is...

  22. Tria Carmina Paschalia (1970)
    (pp. 63-65)

    Tria Carmina Paschaliawas commissioned by the women’s music sorority Sigma Alpha Iota. I think of it as my “white-on-white” piece because the female voices, harp, and guitar are rather pale colors: a combination I thought appropriate for the dead language of the text and for the Easter subject. It is a kind of companion to its immediate predecessor,Bravo Mozart!, since it also makes use of a few avant-garde techniques (among them, tone clusters) not often encountered in my choral music. Both of these works were strongly influenced by the increasing use of experimental techniques in contemporary music of...

  23. Postcard from Morocco (1971)
    (pp. 66-68)

    The Masque of Angelsmade my local reputation;Postcard from Moroccomade it national. TheNew York Timessent Raymond Erickson, its principal music critic, to Minneapolis to cover the premiere, and he gave it a glowing review. The work was commissioned by the Center Opera Company, who recorded it on the Desto label a few months after the premiere and also toured it to Houston, Chicago, San Francisco, and other cities where it was unfailingly successful with audiences as well as reviewers. Within a short time it was presented in New York, London, Canada, and Germany. It has become...

  24. A Ring of Time (1972)
    (pp. 69-71)

    A long with a sabbatical leave for the academic year 1971–72, I also had a commission from the Minnesota Orchestra for a work commemorating its seventieth anniversary. The work was completely written in Florence at our third address there, via dei Bardi 58, a spectacular apartment at the foot of the Ponte Vecchio to which we were to return for more than twenty years. Giovanni Bardi, the conte del Vernio, was one of the inventors of opera, and I hoped our address would be talismanic. It was a seventh-floor penthouse (this time there was an elevator) with a fourteenth-century...

  25. Jonah and the Whale (1973)
    (pp. 72-74)

    Not counting the withdrawnTemptation of Saint Joseph, this work, commissioned in honor of the tenth anniversary of the Plymouth Music Series, is my fourth large religious piece. In compiling this catalogue it has surprised me to see just how much religious music I have written. Even as an undergraduate I had struggled for weeks over a cantata based on the Book of Job before realizing that the endless chain of woes that beset him was resulting in a very glum composition, far beyond the skill of the green composer I then was. ( Job’s tribulations could also defeat a...

  26. To Be Sung upon the Water (1973)
    (pp. 75-77)

    After tenor Mallory Walker created the title role in my Civil War opera,Colonel Jonathan the Saint, he asked me to compose a song cycle for him. As withLetters from Composers, a commercial recording was guaranteed in place of a monetary commission, and the president of the record label Desto, which had recently issuedPostcard from Morocco, agreed to take it on. Unfortunately, the recording sessions were arranged during one of our extended stays in Florence, and I never learned why Mallory was not asked to record it. Desto had chosen John Stewart, whom I had never heard and,...

  27. A Water Bird Talk (1974)
    (pp. 78-81)

    This piece has an unusual origin. Whenever composition students expressed the desire to compose an opera, I encouraged them to begin with a short chamber-size work, preferably a comedy (I thought it easier for a beginner to handle than serious drama), and, if possible, to write the libretto themselves since collaboration with an experienced librettist was generally out of the question. When asked where to start, I usually suggested an adaptation from one of the short plays by Chekhov or Cervantes, or something comparable and—very important, as one will see from later remarks—free of copyright restraints. I often...

  28. From the Diary of Virginia Woolf (1974)
    (pp. 82-84)

    Bruce Carlson, manager of the Schubert Club, booked soprano Jessye Norman for a recital in 1974 and commissioned me to write a cycle for her. By the time I had searched for and found a suitable text to fit her unique talents (excerpts from Sappho), she canceled. I learned she was going to be replaced with Beverly Sills, for whom I felt Sappho was unsuited. Instead, I thought to compose something “actressy,” perhaps a gallery of Shakespearean heroines: Ophelia, Cleopatra, and so on. I can’t remember why Sills also had to cancel, but to my good fortune she was replaced...

  29. The Voyage of Edgar Allan Poe (1975–76)
    (pp. 85-87)

    The dean of the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota, Frank Sorauf, was president of the Minnesota Opera in 1974, and it was his idea that the university commission me to write an opera in honor of America’s Bicentennial. Tossing around for a subject of more than simple national or historical interest (however chauvinistic the topic, I wanted the opera to be about something that Europeans were also familiar with), I finally settled on Edgar Allan Poe because he seemed the first American artist to achieve international significance. I began seriously researching his life and works, and...

  30. In Praise of Music (1977)
    (pp. 88-90)

    A Ring of Timewas commissioned for the Minnesota Orchestra’s seventieth anniversary, andIn Praise of Musicwas commissioned for its seventy-fifth. The original subtitle—Seven Songs for Orchestra—was an unfortunate choice. The Friedheim Awards presented at the Kennedy Center alternate annually between orchestral music and chamber music. Submissions for the competition (as are Pulitzer Prize nominations) are made only by presenters or publishers. The orchestral competition is limited to purely instrumental music, without solo voices or chorus, and this was the category in which Boosey correctly nominatedIn Praise of Music. Seeing the subtitle, the judges assumed “songs”...

  31. Miss Havisham’s Fire (1977–79)
    (pp. 91-94)

    One afternoon in the summer of 1977 I came in from the terrace of our Ponte Vecchio apartment to answer the phone. Stuart Pope, calling from New York, said, “Are you sitting down?” I sat. “I’ve been talking with Beverly Sills and Julius Rudel. They’d like you to compose a piece for her last operatic appearance and his final appearance as director of City Opera. I’ll set up a meeting for when you return from Florence.” Sills had a tentative suggestion for a libretto: Empress Carlotta of Mexico. I found a copy ofImperial Madnessat a Florentine bookstore and...

  32. A Thanksgiving to God, for His House (1979)
    (pp. 95-97)

    I found this Herrick poem charmingly appropriate for the occasion it had been commissoned to celebrate: Philip Brunelle requested a choral piece to commemorate his anniversary at the church where he held the position of organist and choirmaster and also organized a very successful music series. Like most of the anthems I have written for the Plymouth Congregational Church choir, it was a gift. Apart from the day or two I spent composing this work after the fiasco at New York City Opera in March, much of the remainder of that year was spent attempting to salvageMiss Havisham’s Fire....

  33. Let All the World in Every Corner Sing (1980)
    (pp. 98-100)

    The American Guild of Organists held its convention in Minneapolis in 1980, and I was asked to compose a suitable piece for the inaugurating worship service. Since the music had been completed well in advance of the event, Boosey was able to have it in print by the time the convention opened. As a result, the twenty-five hundred registered organists and choirmasters who filed into Central Lutheran Church (then the fourth largest church in the United States) that Sunday morning each received a complimentary copy of the choral score.

    The first performance of the piece followed the opening prayer and...

  34. Miss Havisham’s Wedding Night (1981)
    (pp. 101-103)

    The libretto of this monodrama existed beforeMiss Havisham’s Firewas composed, and not only did it provide the impetus for the commissioning of the full-length opera (via Ms. Sills’s enthusiasm for the character); it also served in a somewhat abbreviated form as its epilogue. After a long struggle to redeem the failed work, I had to accept the fact that it seemed a hopeless aspiration. The opera’s epilogue, however, had been conceived from the start as an independent piece and it could be rescued, I believed, although the big orchestra employed inMiss Havisham’s Firewould be far too...

  35. Peter Quince at the Clavier (1981)
    (pp. 104-106)

    Peter Quince at the Clavierwas commissioned by Pennsylvania State University to celebrate the tercentenary of the State of Pennsylvania. I was chosen because I was born in Pennsylvania. It seemed a point of honor with the commissioners, understandably, that the words of the new composition should also be by a native of the state. My research into early or historical texts that might satisfy the commissioners as Pennsylvanians and at the same time interest me as a composer yielded very little apart from some uninspiring bucolic prose by William Penn (after whom my high school in York had been...

  36. Fire Variations (1982)
    (pp. 107-109)

    The monodrama that blossomed out of the epilogue toMiss Havisham’s Firewas an attempt to lessen the disappointment of that experience.Fire Variationswas similarly motivated. It had been commissioned by the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony, and I agreed to do it mainly because I had written nothing for orchestra since 1977 and the field of opera was still looking unattractive to me.

    InGreat ExpectationsPip sings a work song he learned at the forge while helping Joe Gargery and the other blacksmiths. Dickens supplied the lyrics for “Old Clem,” which I had assumed was a genuine work song known...

  37. I Hate and I Love (Odi et Amo) (1982)
    (pp. 110-112)

    This is the first piece the Dale Warland Singers commissioned from me, although I was familiar with Dale’s fine work a dozen years earlier, when he premieredTria Carmina Paschalia, and from other concerts I had attended in the years since. In my opinion this has been Minnesota’s premier choral group deserving national as well as regional attention. I have yet to meet a choral conductor who can match the results he invariably obtains: a comparison of Dale’s recording of this work with the one made by Robert Shaw, the man generally regarded as America’s finest choral conductor, will easily...

  38. The Andrée Expedition (1982)
    (pp. 113-116)

    With its thirteen songs,The Andrée Expeditionis the most ambitious of my song cycles, although in duration it is only five or six minutes longer than theWoolfcycle’s eight diary excerpts. It was commissioned by the Schubert Club and written with a specific singer in mind, the popular Swedish baritone Håkan Hagegård, and the personality of the singer determined the choice of text.

    On a Saturday morning during one of my traditional forays into the university library, I was searching for a suitable text for this work. I had nothing specific in mind, but having drifted away from...

  39. Prelude for Easter Dawning (1982)
    (pp. 117-119)

    This is yet another composition prompted by a request from Philip Brunelle. In lieu of a commission,Prelude for Easter Dawningwas written on the assurance that the work would be included in a soon-to-be-published anthology of contemporary organ music to be issued by Oxford University Press. That was less my reason for writing the piece than my friendship with Philip, who over the years had been a truly committed champion of my music. Since he intended to perform the piece as a prelude for Easter morning worship service, several thoughts occurred to me: the music should attempt to suggest...

  40. Casa Guidi (1983)
    (pp. 120-122)

    Neville Marriner wanted to commission a work for Janet Baker and the Minnesota Orchestra, but at that time she was curtailing her appearances in the United States. One afternoon I sat in Neville’s office while he phoned Frederica von Stade. He asked if she was interested in having a new work written for her. She was. He handed me the phone and, after introducing myself, I asked if there was any special poetry or poet she’d prefer.

    Her first choice didn’t surprise me: Robert Frost. I think of Frost as a boy’s poet, and Frederica was famous forhosenrollen(“trousers...

  41. Casanova’s Homecoming (1984)
    (pp. 123-125)

    The Ordway Music Theatre was due to open in 1985, and the Minnesota Opera, one of the three groups to occupy this new home, asked me for an inaugural work. Two conditions were imposed: that it be a comedy and that I be my own librettist. “New home” in Italian iscasa nuova(while in England, Casanova styled himself “Mr. Newhouse”), and thoughts of an opera buffa about Casanova set in Venice—a city Carolyn and I love as much as Florence—began to form. Finally being asked to compose another opera after the New York City Opera disaster felt...

  42. Le Tombeau d’Edgar Poe (1985)
    (pp. 126-128)

    During my first year at the University of Minnesota, David Zinman was a graduate student and a teaching assistant who shared my office. It was clear from our first meeting that he was highly gifted in violin and conducting (and not quite as gifted in composing, a discipline he also enjoyed). After graduation and further study with Pierre Monteux, his blossoming career took him to Amsterdam, Rochester (New York), Baltimore, and back to Minneapolis as artistic director for several seasons of Sommerfest with the Minnesota Orchestra. While serving as conductor of the Baltimore Symphony (the orchestra I enjoyed weekly during...

  43. Capriccio for Clarinet and Orchestra (1985)
    (pp. 129-132)

    The clarinet was the instrument in which I minored, one of the requirements for a master’s degree at Peabody. I only studied—and rented— the clarinet for one year but had a fine teacher, the first chair of the Baltimore Symphony (and later of the National Symphony in Washington, D.C.), Sidney Forrest. I enjoyed the clarinet so much that my progress was fairly rapid, and by the end of that year I was playing a Stamitz concerto and Hindemith sonata. Sidney encouraged me to continue my studies after I met the minor requirement, and I’ve often wished that I had....

  44. Te Deum (Verba Domini Cum Verbis Populi) (1987)
    (pp. 133-135)

    The first thing that pops into my mind when I think about this piece is a funny incident during its composition. My studio is on the second floor of our house, with windows overlooking a park. I was working at the piano on a very hot summer day, wearing only Bermuda shorts, undershirt, no shoes, sweating profusely and singing very loudly some Latin phrase and banging out, over and over, a markedly dissonant chord. (Henry Cowell used to tell a story of the time he came upon Charles Ives doing exactly the same thing. He watched, fascinated, for several minutes...

  45. The Aspern Papers (1987)
    (pp. 136-138)

    The Minnesota Orchestra’s final stop on its national tour with Neville conducting and Flicka singingCasa Guidiwas the Kennedy Center in Washington. Neville and his wife, Flicka and her husband, and Carolyn and I had farewell drinks together at the Watergate. The tour had gone very well: Neville declared it the most satisfying commissioned work he had ever done, and Flicka simply adored doing the piece and it showed—I had never had a more loving performance of my music.

    Before the party broke up I announced that I hoped to compose an opera for Flicka. So, several months...

  46. Easter Day (1988)
    (pp. 139-141)

    It is odd that choral music should form such a substantial portion of this catalogue given that my sole experience in choir singing was a sham. In Rochester, Allen McHose, head of theory at Eastman and one of my advisers, was also organist and conductor of the Brick Presbyterian Church choir. Shortly after we arrived at Eastman, Carolyn auditioned for and was given the position of soprano soloist in his choir. I decided to try out for the choir as well, primarily so that Carolyn would not have to go to rehearsals alone but also because all the choir members...

  47. The Angel Israfil (1989)
    (pp. 142-144)

    The first thing to say about this piece is that the title is misspelled: the secondishould be ane. I have no excuse for this aberration. Israfel (correctly spelled) is a character inThe Masque of Angelsand the title of one of the songs inIn Praise of Music. After I returned the proofs of this piece to the publisher, the editor phoned me to point out the solecism, justifying a correction by saying they had just published a song titled “Israfel” by Leonard Bernstein. Apparently Poe’s “Imp of the Perverse” was with me that day, for...

  48. A Toccata of Galuppi’s (1989)
    (pp. 145-147)

    The score ofCasa Guidibegins with a simple musical phrase played on the piano. The text of the song that follows comes from a letter Elizabeth Browning wrote to her sister: “Robert wants a ducal bed for my room—all gilded and carving. I persuaded him to get a piano instead.” Browning must have been an adequate if modest pianist to judge by the music he owned. He had obtained a book of Baldassare Galuppi toccatas at a flea market near the steps of the Florentine church of San Lorenzo, the same emporium where he bought a secondhand document...

  49. Everyone Sang (1991)
    (pp. 148-150)

    One of the great poems to come out of World War I, “Everyone Sang” was first brought to my attention by Bernice Dalrymple, one of Minneapolis’s grand dowagers and a committed arts patron. She lived a block from us on Mount Curve, and during the last decade of her life we were invited to her home every few days for cocktails or dinner. At Bernice’s request, Carolyn and I gave a private recital in her home for a large party she hosted. At the end of the evening Carolyn was presented with a volume of modern poetry that Bernice, paraphrasing...

  50. The Dream of Valentino (1993)
    (pp. 151-154)

    The Florence apartment we rented several times in the early nineties was at Por Santa Maria 5, half a block north of the Ponte Vecchio, completing the encirclement of that bridge, as our previous apartments had been located to its east, south, and west as well as at its foot. Like two of our previous Florentine dwellings, this apartment was on the seventh floor and boasted two terraces. A small studio up a spiral stairway featured a window overlooking acres and acres of red tiled rooftops. Much ofThe Dream of Valentinowas composed there.

    I have often used this...

  51. To God “In memoriam M. B. 1994” (1994)
    (pp. 155-157)

    Still another request from Brunelle, and one I happily honored since I, too, wished to pay tribute to the M. B. of the title. For twenty-four years Marlene Baver was the deputy organist and choirmaster at Plymouth Congregational Church. Philip wrote of her: “She was a musical factotum whose talents included the obvious conducting and playing, being ‘ears’ for balance and ‘fetcher’ for missing music; she was also a woman whose musical talents included flute and trumpet, in addition to the keyboard and percussion instruments. On any composition that had three trumpet parts, Marlene always played third.” That inventory of...

  52. Valentino Dances (1994)
    (pp. 158-160)

    Years before David Zinman premieredValentino Danceswith the Minnesota Orchestra at a Sommerfest concert, he had commissioned a work for the Baltimore Symphony, for which he was principal conductor. The resulting composition wasLe Tombeau d’Edgar Poe. In our first discussion about a work for Baltimore, when I asked what sort of piece he had in mind, I was surprised to hear him say, “I can imagine a great twelve-to fifteen-minute tango from you; you know, a kind of tango version of Ravel’sLa valse.” Nothing at that time could have seemed more foreign to me, and I quickly...

  53. Spirituals and Swedish Chorales (1994)
    (pp. 161-163)

    This work was a gift commemorating the thirtieth anniversary of the Plymouth Music Series, an organization that has championed my music, both choral and instrumental, for many years. I do not know why I enjoy assembling and setting macaronic texts, but I do. In some instances these texts are created simply by placing Latin and vernacular texts cheek by jowl, as was done inTe DeumandJonah. Here, it was a matter of juxtaposing two different modern languages.

    What most intrigued me about placing these severe and solemn Swedish chorales of the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries alongside the more...

  54. Miss Havisham’s Fire (revised) (1995)
    (pp. 164-166)

    Sixteen years passed before I had sufficient objectivity to proceed with the revision of this opera. Or perhaps I should say it took that long for the disappointment to die down sufficiently so that I could face the task with equanimity. From time to time during those years, I looked at the score with the intention of revising it, but after a few minutes enthusiasm dissipated and I returned the music to the shelf. I felt the biggest problem with the piece was a result of attempting to fulfill Beverly Sills’s desire to have an encyclopedic vehicle that would leave...

  55. Valse Triste (1996)
    (pp. 167-169)

    Of the various trifles I have written over the years (birthday greetings, album leaves, wedding processionals), this is the only one I allowed to be published, primarily because it was included in a CD of my music released by the Minnesota Orchestra. It was premiered during a Sommerfest concert of the orchestra conducted by David Zinman on his sixtieth birthday. I and nineteen others—a virtual Who’s Who of living American composers whose works David had premiered—had been asked to contribute a brief musical salute to him. Considering arrival at the age of sixty to be either a farewell...

  56. Walden Pond (1996)
    (pp. 170-173)

    For some reason, bodies of water—rivers, lakes, seas—hold a great fascination for me. Among the various titles in this catalogue areJonah and the Whale, A Water Bird Talk, To Be Sung upon the Water, andThe Voyage of Edgar Allan Poe. Even where no hint of some aquatic orientation is in the title of a work, the action is frequently located near or on a body of water:The Aspern Papersoccurs on the banks of Lake Como;Casanova’s Homecomingis set in Venice;Colonel Jonathan the Sainttakes place on Maryland’s Eastern Shore; evenThe Andrée...

  57. A Few Words about Chekhov (1996)
    (pp. 174-176)

    A Few Words about Chekhovis part of a trilogy of cycles commissioned by the Schubert Club, the other two beingFrom the Diary of Virginia WoolfandThe Andrée Expedition. The first cycle was for mezzo, the second for baritone, and this one for mezzo and baritone. I seem to prefer mezzos to sopranos and baritones to tenors: the leading roles in most of my operas are for either or both of these voice types. Without intending it, I now notice that all three cycles share certain characteristics: they are person-oriented and exhibit a seriousness of purpose not present...

  58. Reverie (Reflections on a Hymn Tune) (1997)
    (pp. 177-179)

    When the Minnesota Orchestra commissioned a ten-minute work to take along on its tour of Europe, I thought of finding and using a tune familiar to most Europeans, one they might follow as it was subjected to continual variations. Believing that a well-known Protestant hymn tune stood a far better chance than any folk song of being recognized in England, Germany, Austria, France, and even in the United States, I fell back on one of my own favorites, the Easter hymn “Ellacombe,” which had originally been written for a Catholic service in Württemberg, then became popular with Protestants as well....

  59. Miss Manners on Music (1998)
    (pp. 180-182)

    In 1995, three years before this work was premiered, I received a letter from Robert Martin, the husband of Miss Manners, saying that I was his wife’s favorite living composer (I had met them both briefly at Wolftrap several years earlier during a performance ofPostcard from Morocco) and that he wished to celebrate her sixtieth birthday in 1998 with a surprise: a cycle of songs based on excerpts from her advice column. Would I accept such a commission? Thus began a correspondence that would stretch out over twenty months. Although it seemed like a harebrained idea, I didn’t want...

  60. The Vision (1999)
    (pp. 183-185)

    The Gloriæ Dei Cantores is a superb choral group composed primarily of amateurs devoted both to singing and to a religious community based on Cape Cod. I was told they leave their jobs for three months each year to practice, give concerts, and record. A few years previous to this composition I received in the mail one of their CDs, which included myEaster Day. To my great surprise, their performance was exquisite. A bit later they issued a box CD set covering four hundred years of American choral music, which concluded with myLet All the World in Every,...

  61. The Bremen Town Musicians (1999)
    (pp. 186-188)

    At the party following the premiere ofMiss Manners on Music, Judith Martin grew very enthusiastic about collaborating on an opera for children. I said of course I’d be interested as long as the libretto appealed to me. She and her husband left for their annual Venetian vacation during which I received a number of e-mails from Robert telling me he had never seen Judith work so hard: the libretto had become an obsession. When I finally received a complete act 1 and a synopsis of the second act, my heart sank. It was not at all what I had...

  62. Sonnet 64 (In memoriam 9/11/01) (2001)
    (pp. 189-191)

    My publisher asked me for a program note that would be printed in the score of this piece. It reads: “We were living in Florence when terrorists attacked the twin towers of the World Trade Center. A friend of mine and manager of St. Paul’s Schubert Club, Bruce Carlson, e-mailed Sonnet 64 to me, saying he had wished to reprint the poem in their booklet for an upcoming recital but his office staff, finding it too bleak, talked him out of it. I agreed with his staff, but his e-mail was pure serendipity to me: not having yet found a...

  63. Orpheus (2002)
    (pp. 192-194)

    This is the first (and may perhaps be the only) work I have composed using a computer. During our annual stays in Florence I have always rented a piano. For years its delivery (very often up seven flights of stairs) was accomplished by three burly gentlemen and a much smaller and older man who I assumed to be their father. Their procedure never varied: the little fellow, doubled over, carried the full weight of the upright piano on his back; two of the other men steadied the ends of the piano, one in front and one behind to keep it...

  64. From a Composer’s Journal
    (pp. 195-210)

    The following passages are taken from a diary I kept during the composition ofThe Voyage of Edgar Allan Poe. The diary was never meant to be published; it was intended to serve as a personal record of the compositional experience and as a reminder in later years of how the work progressed from idea to reality—something I am always unable to recall with earlier pieces of mine.

    In November 1975 I read portions of the journal to an audience of National Opera Association members. Some of them urged me to make the diary available. I have agreed to...

  65. Discography
    (pp. 211-216)
  66. Index
    (pp. 217-230)
  67. Back Matter
    (pp. 231-231)