Siegmeister, Elie

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Siegmeister, Elie

Siegmeister, Elie, significant American composer and teacher, whose works reflected the national moods and preoccupations from early social trends to universal concepts; b. N.Y., Jan. 15, 1909; d. Manhasset, N.Y., March 10, 1991. He took piano lessons as a youth with Emil Friedberger; in 1925 he entered Columbia Univ. and studied theory and composition with Seth Bingham (B.A., 1927); also took private lessons in counterpoint with Riegger; after training with Boulanger in Paris (1927–32), he received instruction in conducting from Stoessel at the Juilliard School of Music in N.Y. (1935–38). He was active with the Composers Collective of N.Y, for which he wrote songs under the name L.E. Swift; was a founder of the American Composers Alliance in 1937; was founder-conductor of the American Ballad Singers (1939–46), which he led in performances of American folk songs. He felt strongly that music should express the social values of the people; in his early songs, he selected texts by contemporary American poets voicing indignation at the inequities of the modern world; he also gave lectures and conducted choruses at the revolutionary Pierre Degeyter (composer of the Internationale) Club in N.Y. As a result of his multiple musical experiences, Siegmeister developed an individual style of composition ranging from the populist American manner to strong modernistic sonorities employing a sort of euphonious dissonance with intervallic stress on minor seconds, major sevenths, and minor ninths. In his syms. and chamber music, he organized this dissonant idiom in self-consistent modern formulations, without, however, espousing any of the fashionable doctrines of composition, such as dodecaphony. The subject matter of his compositions, especially in the early period, was marked by a strongly national and socially radical character, exemplified by such works as American Holiday, Ozark Set, Prairie Legend, Wilderness Road, and Western Suite, the last achieving the rare honor of being performed by Toscanini. Siegmeister did not ignore the homely vernacular; his Clarinet Concerto is a brilliant realization of jazz, blues, and swing in a classically formal idiom. Siegmeister achieved an important position as an educator; he taught at Brooklyn Coll. (1934), the New School for Social Research (1937–38), the Univ. of Minn. (1948), and Hofstra Univ. (1949–76), where he also was composer-in-residence (from 1966); in 1976 he became prof. emeritus. He received numerous commissions and awards; held a Guggenheim fellowship in 1978 and in 1990 was elected a member of the American Academy and Inst. of Arts and Letters. In accepting this honor, he stated his profession de foi as first formulated in 1943: “My aim is to write as good music as I can that will at the same time speak the language of all our people.”


DRAMATIC: Opera: Darling Corie (1952; Hempstead, N.Y., Feb. 18, 1954); Miranda and the Dark Young Man (1955; Hartford, Conn., May 9, 1956); The Mermaid of Lock No. 7 (Pittsburgh, July 20, 1958); Dublin Song (St. Louis, May 15, 1963; rev. version as The Plough and the Stars, Baton Rouge, La., March 16, 1969); Night of the Moonspell (Shreveport, La., Nov. 14, 1976); The Marquesa of O (1982); Angel Levine (N.Y., Oct. 5, 1985); The Lady of the Lake (N.Y., Oct. 5, 1985). Other: Doodle Dandy of the USA, play with music (N.Y., Dec. 26, 1942); Sing Out, Sweet Land, musical (Hartford, Conn., Nov. 10, 1944); Fables from the Dark Woods, ballet (Shreveport, April 25, 1976). Also incidental music; film scores, including They Came to Cordura (1959). ORCH.: American Holiday (1933); Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight (1937); Ozark Set (1943; Minneapolis, Nov. 7, 1944); Prairie Legend (1944; N.Y, Jan. 18, 1947); Wilderness Road (1944; Minneapolis, Nov. 9, 1945); Western Suite (N.Y, Nov. 24, 1945); Sunday in Brooklyn (N.Y, July 21, 1946); Lonesome Hollow (1946; Columbus, Ohio, 1948); 8 syms.: No. 1 (N.Y, Oct. 30, 1947; rev. 1972), No. 2 (1950; N.Y, Feb. 25, 1952; rev. 1971), No. 3 (1957; Oklahoma City, Feb. 8, 1959), No. 4 (1967–70; Cleveland, Dec. 6, 1973), No. 5, Visions of Time (1971–75; Baltimore, May 4, 1977), No. 6 (1983; Sacramento, Nov. 4, 1984), No. 7 (1986), and No. 8 (1989; Albany, N.Y, March 30, 1990); Summer Night (1947; N.Y, Sept. 27, 1952); From My Window (1949; also for Piano); Divertimento (1953; Oklahoma City, March 28, 1954); Clarinet Con-certo (Oklahoma City, Feb. 3, 1956); Flute Concerto (1960; Oklahoma City, Feb. 17, 1961); Theater Set, after the film score They Came to Cordura (1960; Rochester, N.Y, May 8, 1969); Dick Whittington and His Cat for Narrator and Orch. (1966; Philadelphia, Feb. 10, 1968); 5 Fantasies of the Theater (1967; Hempstead, N.Y, Oct. 18, 1970); Piano Concerto (1974; Denver, Dec. 3, 1976; rev. 1982); Shadows and Light: Homage to 5 Paintings (Shreveport, La., Nov. 9, 1975); Double Concerto: An Entertainment for Violin, Piano, and Orch. (Columbia, Md., June 25, 1976); Violin Concerto (1977–83; Oakland, Calif., Jan. 29, 1985); Fantasies in Line and Color: 5 American Paintings (1981); From These Shores: Homage to 5 American Authors (1986; Merillville, Ind., Feb. 13, 1990); Figures in the Wind (1990); also works for Band. CHAMBER: Nocturne for Flute and Piano (1927); Prelude for Clarinet and Piano (1927); Contrasts for Bassoon and Piano (1929); 3 string quartets (1935, 1960, 1973); Down River for Alto Saxophone and Piano (1939); 6 violin sonatas (1951, 1965, 1965, 1971, 1975, 1988); Song for a Quiet Evening for Violin and Piano (1955); Fantasy and Soliloquy for Cello (1964); Sextet for Brass and Percussion (1965); American Harp for Harp (1966); Declaration for Brass and Timpani (1976); Summer for Viola and Piano (1978); Ten Minutes for 4 Players for Wind Quartet (N.Y, Jan. 15, 1989). Piano: Theme and Variations No. 1 (1932) and No. 2 (1967); Toccata on Flight Rhythms (1937); 5 sonatas: No. 1, American (1944), No. 2 (1964), No. 3 (1979), No. 4, Prelude, Blues, and Toccata (1980), and No. 5 (1987; N.Y, Jan. 15, 1988); Sunday in Brooklyn (1946); 3 Moods (1959); On This Ground (1971); 3 Studies (1982); also 4 vols, of educational pieces (1951–77). VOCAL: Choral : Heyura, Ding, Dong, Ding (1935–70); John Henry (1935); American Ballad Singers Series (1943); American Folk Song Choral Series (1953); I Have a Dream, cantata for Baritone, Narrator, Chorus, and Orch., after Martin Luther King Jr. (1967; Omaha, Oct. 7, 1968); A Cycle of Cities for Soprano, Tenor, Chorus, and Orch. (Wolf Trap, Va., Aug. 8, 1974); Cantata for FDR for Baritone, Chorus, and Wind Ensemble (1981; Denver, May 5, 1982); Sing Unto the Lord a New Song for Chorus and Organ (1981). Songs and Song Cycles (all for Solo Voice and Piano unless otherwise given): Cortège for Rosenbloom (1926); 4 Robert Frost Songs (1930); The Strange Funeral in Braddock (1933; also for Baritone and Orch., 1938); 3 Elegies for García Lorca (1938); Johnny Appleseed for Solo Voice (1940; also for Chorus, 1940); Nancy Hanks (1941); For My Daughters (1952); Madam to You (1964); The Face of War (1966; also for Voice and Orch., 1967–68; N.Y, May 24, 1968); Songs of Experience (1966; rev. for Alto or Bass, Viola, and Piano, 1977); 11 songs to words by e.e. cummings (1970); Songs of Innocence (1972); City Songs (1977); 3 Minute Songs (1978); Brief Introduction to the Problems of Philosophy (1979); Ways of Love for Voice and Chamber Orch. (1983; N.Y, Jan. 15, 1984); Bats in My Belfry (1990); 4 Langston Hughes Songs (1990); Outside My Window (1990).


Ed. with O. Downes, A Treasury of American Song (N.Y, 1940; third ed., 1984); The Music Lover’s Handbook (N.Y, 1943; rev., 1973, as The New Music Lover’s Handbook; new ed., 1983); Work and Sing (N.Y, 1944); Invitation to Music (Irvington-on- Hudson, 1961); Harmony and Melody (2 vols.; Belmont, Calif., 1965–66).


J. Gallagher, Structural Design and Motivic Unity in the second, third, and fourth Symphonies of E. S.(diss., Cornell Univ., 1982).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

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