Mechem, Kirke (Lewis)

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Mechem, Kirke (Lewis)

Mechem, Kirke (Lewis), American composer, conductor, and lecturer on music; b. Wichita, Kans., Aug. 16, 1925. He was a pupil of Harold Schmidt, Leonard Ratner, and Sandor Salgo at Stanford Univ. (B.A., 1951) and of Walter Piston, Randall Thompson, and A. Tillman Merritt at Harvard Univ. (M.A., 1953). After serving as director of music at Menlo Coll. in Calif. (1953–56) and as a teacher and conductor at Stanford Univ. (1953–56), he was active in Vienna (1956–57; 1961–63). He was composer-in-residence at the Univ. of San Francisco’s Lone Mountain Coll. (1964–65; 1966–72) and a teacher and conductor at San Francisco State Coll. (1965–66). As a composer, Mechem considers himself a conservationist, his aim being to find new ways to enlarge and enrich the tonal heritage. He maintains that music is a language, and thus cannot develop by revolution but only by evolution. He became well known as a composer of choral works and instrumental pieces. His opera Tartuffe (1977–80) proved an immediate success at its premiere and was subsequently performed more than 200 times, with translations into Chinese, Russian, German, and Czech.


dramatic: opera:Tartuffe, after Molière (1977–80; San Francisco, May 27, 1980); John Brown (1988–89); The Newport Rivals, after Sheridan (in progress). orch.: 2 syms.: No. 1 (1958–59; San Francisco, Jan. 6, 1965) and No. 2 (1966; San Francisco, March 29, 1967; rev. 1968; San Francisco, Jan. 15, 1969); Haydn’s Return, fugue and variations on Haydn’s Farewell Symphony (1960; Santa Rosa, Calif., Feb. 12, 1961); The Jayhawk, overture to a mythical comedy (1974; Topeka, Kans., March 19, 1975). chamber: Suite for 2 Violins (1952–53); Suite for Piano (1954); Trio for Oboe, Clarinet, and Bassoon (1955); Trio for Piano, Violin, and Cello (1956–57); Divertimento for Flute, Violin, Viola, and Cello (1958); String Quartet No. 1 (1962–63). piano: Sonata (1964–65); Whims, 15 easy vignettes (1967; also as Brass Buttons for Brass Quintet, 1969). vocal:Songs of Wisdom, sacred cantata for 4 Soloists and Chorus (1958–59; San Francisco, March 10, 1960); The King’s Contest, cantata for 4 Soloists, Chorus, and Orch. or Chamber Ensemble (1960–61; San Rafael, Calif., May 1, 1965; rev. 1972); The Winged Joy: A Woman’s Love by Women Poets for Mezzo-soprano, Treble Chorus, and Piano (1963–64; Boston, Feb. 21, 1965); 7 Joys of Christmas, sequence of carols for Soprano, Chorus, and Harp or Keyboard Instrument (San Francisco, Dec. 9, 1964; also for Soprano, Chorus, and Chamber Orch., 1974); The Shepherd and His Love for Chorus, Piano, Piccolo, and Viola (Cambridge, Mass., Aug. 17, 1967); Singing is So Good a Thing: An Elizabethan Recreation, cantata for Soprano or Tenor, Chorus, and Chamber Orch. or Instrumental Ensemble (1970–71; Elgin, III, Jan. 23, 1972); Speech to a Crowd for Baritone, Chorus, and Orch. or 2 Pianos (Anaheim, Calif., March 26, 1974); American Madrigals for Chorus and Instrumental Ensemble or Piano (1975; Palo Alto, Calif., Feb. 13, 1976); Songs of the Slave for Bass-baritone, Chorus, and Orch. (1993; Los Angeles, June 12, 1994); 3 Motets for Chorus (1993–94); Barter for Women’s Chorus, Trumpet, and Piano, 4-Hands (1994; Florence, July 1995); Choral Variations on American Folk Songs for Chorus and Piano (1995); Earth My Song for Chorus and Piano (1996); Winging Wildly for Chorus (1996); To Music for Chorus and Organ or Piano (1998).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire