Ornstein, Leo, remarkable Russian-born American pianist, teacher, and composer; b. Kremenchug, Dec. 11, 1892. The son of a synagogal cantor, he studied music at home, and then with Vladimir Puchalsky in Kiev and, at the age of 10, with Essipova at the St. Petersburg Cons. As a consequence of anti-Semitic disturbances in Russia, the family emigrated to the U.S. in 1907. Ornstein studied piano with Bertha Feiring Tapper and Goetschius at the Inst. of Musical Art in N.Y. He gave his first concert in N.Y., as a pianist, on March 5, 1911, and then played in Philadelphia and other cities. About 1910 he began to compose; he experimented with percussive sonorities, in dissonant harmonies. Ornstein made a European tour in 1913–14, and appeared in London on March 27, 1914, in a piano recital announced as “futuristic music” featuring his Sonata and other works. Returning to the U.S. early in 1915, he gave a series of recitals at the Bandbox Theater in N.Y., comprising works by Debussy, Ravel, Schoenberg, Scriabin, and other modern composers as well as his own; his Danse sauvage excited his audiences by its declared wildness and placed him in the center of controversy; he was hailed as the prophet of a new musical era. After several years as an active virtuoso, he turned mainly to teaching; was made head of the piano dept. of the Philadelphia Musical Academy (1920); also founded the Ornstein School of Music in Philadelphia (1940), and continued to teach until 1955. In 1975 he received the Marjorie Peabody Waite Award of the National Inst. of Arts and Letters. Ornstein’s longevity is unmatched by any composer of comparable magnitude.
orch.:3 Moods: Anger, Peace, Joy (1914); The Fog, symphonic poem (1915); Evening Song of the Cossack for Chamber Orch. (1923); Piano Concerto (1923; Philadelphia, Feb. 13, 1925); Lysistmta Suite (1930); Nocturne and Dance of the Fates (St. Louis, Feb. 12, 1937). chamber: 2 violin sonatas (c. 1915, c. 1918); 3 Russian Impressions for Violin and Piano (1916); 2 cello sonatas (c. 1918, c. 1920); Piano Quintet (1927); 3 string quartets (?, c. 1929, 1976); 6 Préludes for Cello and Piano (1931); Nocturne for Clarinet and Piano (1952); Ballad for Saxophone and Piano (1955); Allegro (Intermezzo) for Flute and Piano (1959); Fantasy Pieces for Viola and Piano (1972); Hebraic Fantasy for Violin and Piano (1975); Poem for Flute and Piano (1979). piano:At Twilight (1911); Wild Men’s Dance (Danse Sauvage) c. 1913); Three Moods (c. 1914; also for Orch.); Cossack Impressions (c. 1914); Impressions of Notre Dame (c. 1914); Suicide in an Airplane (c. 1915); Dwarf Suite (1915); 9 Miniatures (1915); Poems of 1917 (1917); A la Chinoise (c. 1917); An Allegory (c. 1917); 8 sonatas: No.s 1–3 (unaccounted for), No. 4 (1918), No. 5, Biography (1974), No. 6 (1981), No. 7 (1988), and No. 8 (1990); Impressions of the Thames (1920); 6 Water Colors (1921); 9 Arabesques (1921); Prelude Tragique (1924); Bagatelle (1952); 17 Waltzes (1958–80?); Tarantelle Diabolique (1960); 4 Legends (1960–82); A Long Remembered Sorrow (1964); Some New York Scenes (1971); Burlesca (A Satire) (1976); Valse Diabolique (1977); The Recruit and the Bugler (1978); Barbaro: A Pantomime (1978); A Reverie (1979); A Chromatic Dance (1978); The Deserted Garden (1982); Journal (1987–88). vocal:4 Songs for Voice and Orch. or Piano (1928).
F. Martens, L. O.: The Man, His Ideas, His Work (N.Y., 1918); T. Darter Jr., The Futurist Piano Music of L. O.(diss., Cornell Univ., 1979).
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis Mclntire