Another birthday – it was Ned Rorem’s 90th yesterday..
It’s an occasion that would be easy to miss. Apart from some concerts here and there, there has not been a fanfare, or any special mention in the media for this prolific American composer and Pulitzer Prize winner.
He became notorious for his diaries published from the 1950s and he is far better known in certain circles for his literary work than as a composer. As he put it to the Paris Review in 1999, his early diaries were “filled with drunkenness, sex, and the talk of my betters.”
In an interview with WYNC’s Sarah Fishko in 2002 he reminisces about his teacher who introduced him to the music of Debussy, Stravinsky and Ravel, and also pointedly adds
“I never go to classical concerts any more and I don’t know anyone who does. It’s hard still to care whether some virtuoso tonight will perform [Beethoven‘s] Moonlight Sonata a bit better or a bit worse than another virtuoso performed it last night.”
From his website–
Words and music are inextricably linked for Ned Rorem. Time Magazine has called him “the world’s best composer of art songs,” yet his musical and literary ventures extend far beyond this specialized field.
Rorem has composed three symphonies, four piano concertos and an array of other orchestral works, music for numerous combinations of chamber forces, ten operas, choral works of every description, ballets and other music for the theater, and literally hundreds of songs and cycles. He is the author of sixteen books, including five volumes of diaries and collections of lectures and criticism.
Ned Rorem is one of America’s most honored composers. In addition to a Pulitzer Prize, awarded in 1976 for his suite Air Music, Rorem has been the recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship (1951), a Guggenheim Fellowship (1957), and an award from the National Institute of Arts and Letters (1968). He is a three-time winner of the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award; in 1998 he was chosen Composer of the Year by Musical America. The Atlanta Symphony recording of the String Symphony, Sunday Morning, and Eagles received a Grammy Award for Outstanding Orchestral Recording in 1989. From 2000 to 2003 he served as President of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 2003 he received ASCAP’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and in January 2004 the French government named him Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters.
Here is a sample of his piece for flute and guitar, “Romeo and Juliet”
An extract from his Piano Trio, Spring Music
Voice and guitars
3rd Symphony conducted by Leonard Bernstein