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Finney, Ross Lee

Finney, Ross Lee

Finney, Ross Lee, distinguished American composer and teacher, brother of Theodore M(itchell) Finney; b. Wells, Minn., Dec. 23, 1906. He studied at the Univ. of Minn, with Donald Ferguson and received a B.A. in 1927 from Carleton Coll. In 1927 he went to Paris, where he took lessons with Boulanger. Returning to America, he enrolled at Harvard Univ., where he studied with Edward Burlingame Hill (1928–29); in 1935 he had instructive sessions with Sessions. From 1929 to 1949 he was on the faculty of Smith Coll. He concurrently he taught at Mt. Holyoke Coll. (1938–40). In 1931–32 he was in Vienna, where he took private lessons with Berg; in 1937 he studied with Malipiero in Asolo. He then taught composition at the Hartt School of Music in Hartford, Conn. (1941–2), and at Amherst Coll. (1946–47). His professional career was facilitated by 2 Guggenheim fellowships (1937, 1947) and a Pulitzer traveling fellowship (1937). In 1948–9 he was a visiting lecturer at the Univ. of Mich, in Ann Arbor; from 1949 to 1973 he was a prof, there, and also served as chairman of the dept. of composition; furthermore, he established there an electronic music laboratory. He was the author of Profile of a Lifetime: A Musical Autobiography (N.Y., 1992). In 1962 he was elected a member of the National Inst. of Arts and Letters. F. Goossen ed. Thinking About Music: The Collected Writings of Ross Lee Finney (Tuscaloosa, 1990). Because of the wide diversification of his stylistic propensities, Finney’s works represent a veritable encyclopedic inventory of styles and idioms, from innocently pure modalities to highly sophisticated serialistic formations. About 1950 he devised a sui generis dodecaphonic method of composition which he called “complementarity.” In it a 12-tone row is formed by 2 mutually exclusive hexachords, often mirror im-ages of each other; tonal oases make their welcome appearances; a curious air of euphony of theoretically dissonant combinations is created by the contrapuntal superposition of such heterophonic ingredients, and his harmonies begin to sound seductively acceptable de-spite their modernity.


DRAMATIC Opera : Weep Torn Land (1984); Computer Marriage (1987). D a n c e : Heyoka (N.Y., Sept. 14, 1981); The Joshua Tree (N.Y., Oct. 10, 1984); Ahab (1985). ORCH.: 2 violin concertos: No. 1 (1933; rev. 1952) and No. 2 (1973; Dallas, March 31, 1976; rev. 1977); Barbershop Ballad (CBS, Feb. 6, 1940); Overture for a Drama (1940; Rochester, N.Y., Oct. 28, 1941); Slow Piece for Strings (1940; Minneapolis, April 4, 1941); 4 syms.: No. 1, Communique 1943 (1942; Louisville, Dec. 8, 1964), No. 2 (1958; Philadelphia, Nov. 13, 1959), No. 3 (1960; Philadelphia, March 6, 1964), and No. 4 (1972; Baltimore, March 31, 1973); Hymn, Fuguing, and Holiday, based on a hymn tune of William Billings (1943; Los Angeles, May 17, 1947); 2 piano concertos: No. 1 (1948) and No. 2 (968; Ann Arbor, Mich., Nov. 1, 1972); Variations (1957; Minneapolis, Dec. 30, 1965); 3 Pieces for Chamber Orch. and Tape (1962; Toledo, Ohio, Feb. 23, 1963); Concerto for Percussion and Orch. (1965; Northfield, Minn., Nov. 17, 1966); Symphonie Concertante (1967; Kansas City, Mo., Feb. 27, 1968); Summer in Valley City for Band (1969; Ann Arbor, Mich., April 1, 1971); Landscapes Remembered (1971; Ithaca, N.Y., Nov. 5, 1972); Spaces (1971; Fargo, N.Dak., May 26, 1972); Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Wind Orch. (1974; Ann Arbor, Mich., April 17, 1975); Narrative for Cello and 14 Instruments (1976; Urbana, III, March 5, 1977); Concerto for Strings (N.Y, Dec. 5, 1977); Skating on the Sheyenne for Band (1977; N.Y., May 20, 1978). CHAMBER: 3 violin sonatas (1934, 1951, 1955); 8 string quartets (1935–60); 2 viola sonatas (1937, 1953); 2 piano trios (1938, 1954); Piano Quartet (1948); Cello Sonata No. 2 (1950); 2 piano quintets (1953,1961); Chromatic Fantasy for Cello (1957); String Quintet (1958); Fantasy in 2 Movements for Violin (Brussels, lune 1, 1958); Divertissement for Piano, Clarinet, Violin, and Cello (1964); 3 Studies in 4 for 4 Percussionists (1965); 2 Acts for 3 Players for Clarinet, Percussion, and Piano (1970); 2 Ballades for Flute and Piano (1973); Tubes I for 1 to 5 Trombones (1974); Quartet for Oboe, Cello, Percussion, and Piano (1979); 2 Studies for Saxophones and Piano (1981); solo pieces. KEYBOARD : Piano : 5 sonatas (1933–61); Fantasy (1939); Nostalgic Waltzes (1947); Variations on a Theme by Alban Berg (1952); Sonata quasi una fantasia (1961); Waltz (1977); Lost Whale Calf (1980); Youth’s Companion (1980); Narrative in Retrospect (1983). VOCAL: Pilgrim Psalms for Chorus (1945); Spherical Madrigals for Chorus (1947); Immortal Autumn for Tenor and Chorus (1952); Edge of Shadow for Chorus and Orch. (1959); Earthrise: A Trilogy Concerned with the Human Dilemma:!, Still Are New Worlds for Baritone, Chorus, Tape, and Orch. (1962; Ann Arbor, Mich., May 10, 1963), 2, The Martyr’s Elegy for High Voice, Chorus, and Orch. (Ann Arbor, Mich., April 23, 1967), and 3, Earthrise for Soloists, Chorus, and Orch. (1978; Ann Arbor, Mich., Dec. 11, 1979); The Remorseless Rush of Time for Chorus and Orch. (1969; River Falls, Wise., April 23, 1970).


D. Amman, The Choral Music ofR.L. F. (diss., Univ. of Cincinnati, 1972); E. Borroff, Three American Composers (1986); S. Kitchens, F.L. F.: A Bio-Bibliography (Westport, Conn., 1996).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

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