Death of Ned Rorem, major American composer of the 20th century

It was an inescapable name of the American musical horizon. As well known for his orchestral works and his melodies as for his diaries, his “diaries”, the composer Ned Rorem died on November 18 in New York, announced his publisher Boosey & Hawkes. An atypical figure in American music, Ned Rorem remained faithful to the principles of chromatic tonality throughout his career, not wishing to follow the dominant forces of serialism and atonalism. This choice to step aside and go against the tide will make him the ugly duckling of the American musical avant-garde.

During a career that spans almost three quarters of a century, he leaves a substantial repertoire of works including ten operas and several dozen works for orchestra, including three symphonies and eleven concertos. Its composition Air Music: Ten Etudes of Orchestra (1975), commissioned for the bicentennial of the United States by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, will earn him the Pulitzer Prize for Music the following year. But the reputation of Ned Rorem rests mainly on more than 500 melodies which will make him one of the great American composers of the 20th century.

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Ned Rorem was born in Richmond, Indiana, on October 23, 1923. His family then moved to Chicago. A precocious musician, he was first introduced to the piano and to the works of Debussy and Ravel. Their music will be a revelation for the budding composer.

In 1940, he enrolled at the University of Chicago Laboratory School then to theAmerican Conservatory of Music. He continued his studies at the Northwestern University before joining the Curtis Institute of Philadelphia, where he studied alongside the famous opera composer Gian Carlo Menotti. He then joined Bernard Wagenaar at the Juilliard School from New York. During his studies, Ned Rorem received several prestigious scholarships, including the Fulbright scholarship in 1951 and the Guggenheim scholarship in 1957.

A freshly graduated young composer, he works as a copyist for the American composer and critic Virgil Thomson. He also joined composer Aaron Copland at Tanglewood Music Centerbefore leaving the United States in 1949 to settle in France for nine years.

Ned Rorem, famous “diarist”

Widely acclaimed throughout the United States and abroad for his musical creations, Ned Rorem will be known as much for his writings as his music. In 1966 he published The Journal of Paris by Ned Roremfollowed by Later Diaries 1951–1972 (1974) and The Nantucket Diary of Ned Rorem, 1973–1985 (1987), where he notably retraces his years as a young composer among the major artistic figures of post-war Europe.

In a style as funny as it is incisive, the writings of Ned Rorem never fail to seduce with their sincerity and honesty. He freely discusses his homosexuality, a subject still little openly discussed, and in particular his relationships with several celebrities including Leonard Bernstein, Samuel Barber, Virgil Thomson and the playwright Noël Coward. His writings made him one of the heralds of the Gay Liberation American in the late 1960s.

He also wrote numerous writings on music, all as frank and incisive as his diaries, not hesitating to target figures such as Pierre Boulez. But it is in his autobiographical writings that Ned Rorem evokes his most intimate relationship of all, that with music:

Why do I compose music? Because I want to hear it – it’s as simple as that. Others are perhaps more talented, have a greater sense of duty. But I only compose out of necessity, and no one else produces what I’m looking for », confides the composer in his book To Ned Rorem Reader, published in 2001.




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Death of Ned Rorem, major American composer of the 20th century