Deems Taylor

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Taylor, (Joseph) Deems

Taylor, (Joseph) Deems, greatly popular American composer and writer on music; b. N. Y., Dec. 22, 1885; d. there, July 3, 1966. He graduated from N.Y.U. (B.A., 1906); studied harmony and counterpoint with Oscar Coon (1908-11). After doing editorial work for various publishers and serving as war correspondent for the N.Y. Tribune in France (1916-17), he was music critic for the N.Y. World (1921-25), ed. of Musical America (1927-29), and music critic for the N.Y. American (1931-32). He was an opera commentator for NBC (from 1931); was intermission commentator for the N.Y. Phil. national broadcasts (1936-43); also served as director (1933-66) and president (1942-48) of ASCAR In 1924 he was elected a member of the National Inst. of Arts and Letters and in 1935 of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1967 the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award was created in his memory for honoring outstanding writings on music. Following the success of his orch. suite Through the Looking-Glass, after Lewis Carroll’s tale (1923), he was commissioned by Walter Damrosch to compose a symphonic poem, Jürgen (1925). Meanwhile, 2 widely performed cantatas, The Chambered Nautilus and The Highwayman, had added to his growing reputation, which received a strong impetus when his opera The Kings Henchman, to a libretto by Edna St. Vincent Millay and commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera, was premiered in that house on Feb. 17, 1927. Receiving 14 performances in 3 seasons, it established a record for American opera at the Metropolitan Opera, but it was surpassed by Taylor’s next opera, Peter Ibbetson (Feb. 7, 1931); this attained 16 performances in 4 seasons. These successes, however, proved ephemeral, and the operas were allowed to lapse into unmerited desuetude.


dramatic: Opera: The King’s Henchman (1926; N.Y., Feb. 17, 1927); Peter Ibbetson (1929-30; N.Y., Feb. 7, 1931); Ramuntcho (Philadelphia, Feb. 10, 1942); The Dragon (N.Y., Feb. 6, 1958). Other: Cap’n Kidd & Co., comic opera (1908); The Echo, musical play (1909); The Breath of Scandal, operetta (1916); incidental music. ORCH.: The Siren Song, symphonic poem (1912; N.Y., July 18, 1922); Through the Looking- Glass for Chamber Orch. (1917-19; N.Y., Feb. 18, 1919; for Full Orch., 1921-22; N.Y., March 10, 1923); Jürgen, symphonic poem (N.Y., Nov. 19, 1925; rev. 1926 and 1929); Circus Day for Jazz Orch. (1925; orchestrated by F. Grofé for Full Orch., 1933); Marco Takes a Walk (N.Y., Nov. 14, 1942); A Christmas Overture (N.Y., Dec. 23, 1943); Elegy (1944; Los Angeles, Jan. 4, 1945); Restoration Suite (Indianapolis, Nov. 18, 1950). CHAMBER: The Portrait of a Lady, rhapsody for 10 Instruments (1919); piano pieces. VOCAL: The Chambered Nautilus, cantata for Chorus and Orch. (1914); The Highwayman, cantata for Baritone, Mixed Voices, and Orch. (1914); song cycles; solo songs.


(all publ. in N.Y): Of Men and Music (1937); The Well Tempered Listener (1940); Walt Disney’s Fantasia (1940); ed., A Treasury of Gilbert and Sullivan (1941); Music to My Ears (1949); Some Enchanted Evenings: The Story of Rodgers and Hammerstein (1953).


J. Howard, D. T (N.Y., 1927; 2nd ed., 1940).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

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Deems Taylor (Joseph Deems Taylor), 1885–1966, American composer and music critic, b. New York City, grad. New York Univ., 1906. After other journalistic posts he was music critic (1921–25) of the New York World and editor (1927–29) of the magazine Musical America. In 1933 he was appointed music consultant for the Columbia Broadcasting System and later was a commentator (1936–43) for the radio broadcasts of the New York Philharmonic. His first widely recognized composition was the orchestral suite Through the Looking Glass (1919, rev. 1922). Two of his operas were commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera CompanyThe King's Henchman (1927), with libretto by Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Peter Ibbetson (1931), based on George Du Maurier's novel. Taylor composed several other orchestral works and incidental music for a number of plays. He also appeared as the master of ceremonies in Walt Disney's motion picture Fantasia (1940). His books include Of Men and Music (1937), The Well-Tempered Listener (1940), and Some Enchanted Evenings (1953).

See biography by J. A. Pegolotti (2003)

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Taylor, (Joseph) Deems (b NY, 1885; d NY, 1966). Amer. composer, critic, and author. Mus. critic, New York World 1921–5. Orch. works well received; commissioned by NY Met to write opera The King's Henchman (1926–7), this being followed by Peter Ibbetson (1930–1). Became mus. adviser to CBS 1936 and well-known for narrations of NY Met broadcasts and NYPO concerts. Spoke narration in Disney's Fantasia. Popular orch. works incl. Through the Looking Glass (1922) and Marco Takes a Walk (1942).