Argento, Dominick, outstanding American composer and teacher; b. York, Pa., Oct. 27, 1927. He received training in piano from the age of 15, and soon began teaching himself theory and orchestration. After serving as a cryptographer in the U.S. Army in East Africa (1945–47), he pursued studies in piano with Alexander Sklarewski and in composition with Nabokov at the Peabody Cons, of Music in Baltimore (B.M., 1951). He also received private composition instruction from Weisgall. In 1951–52 he held a Fulbright fellowship and studied with Dallapiccola in Florence. From 1952 to 1955 he taught at the Hampton (Va.) Inst. During this period, he also served as music director of the Hilltop Opera in Baltimore. He concurrently pursued training in composition with Cowell at the Peabody Cons, of Music (M.M., 1954), and then completed his composition studies with Rogers, Hovhaness, and Hanson at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y. (Ph.D., 1957). In 1957–58 and in 1964–65 he held Guggenheim fellowships. In 1958 he joined the faculty of the Univ. of Minn., where he was named Regents’ prof. in 1980. In 1963 he co–founded the Center Opera Co. (later the Minn. Opera) in Minneapolis, which was inaugurated with his opera The Masque of Angels on Jan. 9, 1964. His remarkable opera Postcard from Morocco was premiered there on Oct. 14, 1971. In 1975 he won the Pulitzer Prize in Music for his notable song cycle From the Diary of Virginia Woolf A U.S. Bicentennial commission resulted in his outstanding opera The Voyage of Edgar Allan Poe, which was first performed in St. Paul on April 24, 1976. He received an award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1979. His compelling opera Casanova’s Homecoming opened the Ordway Music Theater in St. Paul on April 12, 1985. It won the National Music Theater Award in 1986. His highly rewarding opera The Aspern Papers, after Henry James, was premiered at the Dallas Opera on Nov. 19, 1988, and won wide recognition via its telecast by PBS. His finely crafted opera The Dream of Valentino was first performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 15, 1994. In 1997 he was named composer laureate of the Minn. Orch. in Minneapolis.
In his distinguished oeuvre, Argento has displayed a remarkable capacity for composing compelling vocal and orch. scores. His operas, choral works, and songs constitute major contributions to the vocal art in the U.S. Early on Argento eschewed the precepts of stark modernism to embrace an imaginative and well crafted style marked by melodic invention, a sure handling of orchestral color, and a heartfelt lyricism. An artful command of text setting is a hallmark of his vocal writing.
DRAMATIC: Sicilian Limes, opera (1953; N.Y., Oct. 1, 1954); The Resurrection of Don Juan, ballet (1955; Karlsruhe, May 24, 1959; orch. suite, Rochester, N.Y., May 5, 1956); The Boor, opera buffa after Chekhov (Rochester, N.Y., May 6, 1957); Colonel Jonathan the Saint, opera (1958–61; Denver, Dec. 31, 1971); Christopher Sly, comic opera after Shakespeare (1962; Minneapolis, May 31, 1963); The Masque of Angels, opera (1963; Minneapolis, Jan. 9, 1964); The Shoemakers’ Holiday, ballad–opera after Dekker (Minneapolis, June 1, 1967); Postcard from Morocco, opera (Minneapolis, Oct. 14, 1971); A Water Bird Talk, opera after Chekhov and Audubon (1974; N.Y., May 19, 1977); The Voyage of Edgar Allan Poe, opera (1975–76; St. Paul, April 24, 1976); Miss Havisham’s Fire, opera after Dickens (1977–78; N.Y., March 22, 1979; rev. 1995–96); Miss Havisham’s Wedding Night, opera monodrama (1980; Minneapolis, May 1, 1981); Casanova’s Homecoming, opera after Casanova (1980–84; St. Paul, April 12, 1985); The Aspern Papers, opera after Henry James (1987; Dallas, Nov. 19, 1988); The Dream of Valentino, opera (1993; Washington, D.C., Jan. 15, 1994); also incidental music to plays. ORCH.: Divertimento for Piano and Strings (1954; Rochester, N.Y., July 11, 1956); Overture to “The Boor” (1957); Royal Invitation (Homage to the Queen of Tonga) for Chamber Orch. (St. Paul, March 20, 1964); Variations for Orchestra (The Mask of Night) (1965; Minneapolis, Jan. 26, 1966); Bravo Mozart! (Minneapolis, July 3, 1969); A Ring of Time (Minneapolis, Oct. 5, 1972); In Praise of Music (Minneapolis, Sept. 23, 1977); Fire Variations (1981; Moorhead, Minn., April 24, 1982); he Tombeau d’Edgar Poe, suite from the opera The Voyage of Edgar Allan Poe (1985; Baltimore, Feb. 27, 1986); Capriccio for Clarinet and Orch., Rossini in Paris (1985; St. Louis, May 16, 1986); Valentino Dances (Minneapolis, July 13, 1994); Valse Triste for Strings and Harp (Minneapolis, July 10, 1996); Reverie (Reflections on a Hymn Tune) (Minneapolis, Nov. 26, 1997); The Town Musicians of Bremen for Narrator and Orch. (1998; Washington, D.C, April 11, 1999). CHAMBER: String Quartet (1956); The Angel Israfil for 2 Harps (San Antonio, June 1989). Organ: Prelude for Easter Dawning (1982). VOCAL: Songs about Spring for Soprano and Piano, after e.e. cummings (1950; Baltimore, May 22, 1951; aug. version for High Voice and Chamber Orch., Rochester, N.Y., July 14, 1960); Ode to the West Wind, concerto for Soprano and Orch., after Shelley (1956; Rochester, N.Y., April 29, 1957); Six Elizabethan Songs for High Voice and Piano (1957; Rochester, N.Y., May 6, 1958; also for High Voice and Baroque Ensemble, 1962; Minneapolis, March 8, 1963); The Revelation of St. John the Divine for Tenor, Men’s Chorus, Brass, and Percussion (Minneapolis, May 16, 1966); A Nation of Cowslips for Chorus, after Keats (Minneapolis, April 13, 1969); Letters from Composers, 7 songs for High Voice and Guitar (St. Paul, Oct. 23, 1968); Trio Carmina Paschalla for Women’s Voices, Harp, and Guitar or Harpsichord (St. Paul, Sept. 1970); To Be Sung Upon The Water for High Voice, Clarinet, and Piano, after Wordsworth (1973; Minneapolis, Oct. 20, 1974); Jonah and the Whale, oratorio for Tenor, Bass, Narrator, Chorus, and Instrumental Ensemble (1973; Minneapolis, March 9, 1974); From the Diary of Virginia Woolf, song cycle for Medium Voice and Piano (1974; Minneapolis, Jan. 5, 1975); A Thanksgiving to God, for His House for Chorus (Minneapolis, May 6, 1979); Let All the World in Every Corner Sing for Chorus, Brass Quartet, Timpani, and Organ (Minneapolis, June 1980); Peter Quince at the Clavier, sonatina for Chorus and Piano Concertante, after Wallace Stevens (Pa. State Univ., April 11, 1981); I Hate and I Love, song cycle for Chorus and Percussion, after Catullus (Minneapolis, March 14, 1982); The Andrée Expedition, song cycle for Baritone and Piano (1982; St. Paul, Feb. 15, 1983); Casa Guidi, 5 songs for Mezzo–soprano and Orch., after Elizabeth Barrett Browning (Minneapolis, Sept. 28, 1983; reduced arrangement, London, Nov. 23, 1989; also for Mezzo–soprano and Piano, Los Angeles, Jan. 6, 1984); Te Deum for Chorus and Orch. (1987; Buffalo, March 4, 1988); Easter Day for Chorus (1988; Minneapolis, March 26, 1989); A Toccata of Galuppi’s for Chamber Chorus, Harpsichord, and String Quartet, after Robert Browning (1989; Santa Fe, June 24, 1990); Everyone Sang for Double Chorus (Pittsburgh, April 20, 1991); Spirituals and Swedish Chorales for Chorus (St. Paul, Sept. 25, 1994); To God (”In Memoriam M.B., 1994”) for Chorus and Offstage Trumpet (Minneapolis, Sept. 25, 1994); A Few Words About Chekhov for Mezzo–soprano, Baritone, and Piano (St. Paul, Oct. 12, 1996); Walden Pond for Chorus, 3 Cellos, and Harp, after Thoreau (Minneapolis, Oct. 26, 1996); Miss Manners on Music, 7 songs for Mezzo–soprano and Piano, after Judith Martin (1997; Washington, D.C, Sept. 12, 1998); The Vision, motet for Chorus and String Quartet, after Dante (1999).
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire