Keats, Donald (Howard)

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Keats, Donald (Howard)

Keats, Donald (Howard), significant American composer; b. N.Y., May 27, 1929. He received training in piano at the Manhattan School of Music in N.Y., and then studied composition with Porter and Hindemith and musicology with Einstein and Schrade at Yale Univ. (Mus.B., 1949). Following further training in composition with Luening, Moore, Beeson, and Cowell and in musicology with Lang at Columbia Univ. (M.A., 1953), he received a Fulbright grant in 1954 and studied with Jarnach at the Hamburg Hochschule für Musik. He completed his studies in composition with Fetler and Argento and in musicology with Riedel at the Univ. of Minn. (Ph.D., 1962). In 1948-49 he was a teaching fellow at the Yale Univ. School of Music. He then was called to military service and was an instructor at the U.S. Naval School of Music in Washington, D.C., in 1953-54. From 1957 to 1976 he taught at Antioch Coll. In 1969-70 he also was a visiting prof, of music at the Univ. of Washington in Seattle. In 1976 he became prof, of music and composer-in-residence at the Univ. of Denver School of Music, retiring from both positions in 1999. He also gave performances of his own piano works in various parts of the world. In 1964-65 and in 1972-73 he held Guggenheim fellowships. He also received awards and prizes from the NEA, Yale Univ., the Rockefeller Foundation, ASCAP, and the Ford Foundation. In his compositions, Keats appears as a classical lyricist; his music is sparse in texture but opulent in sonorous substance, frugal in diction but expansive in elaborate developments; its expressive power is a musical equivalent of “Occam’s razor” a medieval law of parsimony which proclaims the principle of multa paucis, multitude by paucity, abundance in concision. The titles of his works often indicate this economic precision of design: Musica instrumentalis; Polarities; Diptych; Branchings. In An Elegiac Symphony, he gives full expression to the lyric nature of his talent; it is an outgrowth of an orchestral Elegy inspired by the sadness upon the death of his infant son. His most performed work is his Piano Sonata.


dramatic ballet:The New Work (Dayton, Ohio, March 5, 1967). orch.:Concert Piece (1952; Columbus, Ohio, Feb. 3, 1968); 2 syms.: No. 1 (1955-57; Columbus, Ohio, April 1, 1959) and No. 2, An Elegiac Symphony (1962; Seattle, May 2, 1965); Elegy (1959; Cincinnati, Jan. 29, 1965); Branchings (1976; Boulder, Colo., July 5, 1980); Piano Concerto (1982-90; Denver, April 20, 1991). chamber: Clarinet Sonata (1948); String Trio (1948); Divertimento for Winds and Strings (1949; Lake Placid, N.Y., Sept. 6, 1950); 3 string quartets: No. 1 (1951; Munich, April 6, 1956), No. 2 (1965; Yellow Springs, Ohio, May 22, 1966), and No. 3 (1997–99); Polarities for Violin and Piano (1968; Yellow Springs, Ohio, May 26, 1971); Dialogue for Piano and Winds (1973; Cincinnati, March 1, 1974); Diptych for Cello and Piano (1974; N.Y., May 30, 1975); Musica Instrumentalis for Chamber Ensemble (Boulder, Colo., July 8, 1980); Revisitations for Violin, Cello, and Piano (Los Angeles, Oct. 18, 1992). Piano: Theme and Variations (1954; Hamburg, July 13, 1956); Sonata (1960; Yellow Springs, Ohio, May 6, 1962). vocal: The Naming of Cats for Vocal Quartet and Piano, after T.S. Eliot (1951; N.Y., Dec. 19, 1961); The Hollow Men for Chorus, Clarinet, 3 Trombones, and Piano, after T.S. Eliot (1952; Hamburg, July 12, 1955); anyone lived in a pretty town for Chorus, after e.e. cummings (1965); A Love Triptych, song cycle for Soprano and Piano, after Yeats (1970; Kansas City, Mo., May 2, 1971); Upon the Intimation of Love’s Mortality for Soprano and Piano, after Garrigue (1974; N.Y., May 30, 1975); Tierras del Alma for Soprano, Flute, and Guitar (1977; Denver, May 23, 1979).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire