Sessions, Roger (Huntington)
Sessions, Roger (Huntington)
Sessions, Roger (Huntington), eminent American composer and teacher; b. Brooklyn, Dec. 28, 1896; d. Princeton, N.J., March 16, 1985. He studied music at Harvard Univ. (B.A., 1915), and took a course in composition with Parker at the Yale School of Music (B.M., 1917). He then took private lessons with Bloch in Cleveland and N.Y., an association of great importance for Sessions; his early works were strongly influenced by Bloch’s rhapsodic style and rich harmonic idiom verging on polytonality. He taught theory at Smith Coll. (1917–21), then was appointed to the faculty of the Cleveland Inst. of Music, first as assistant to Bloch, then as head of the dept. (1921–25). He lived mostly in Europe from 1926 to 1933, supporting himself on 2 Guggenheim fellowships (1926, 1927), an American Academy in Rome fellowship (1928), and a Carnegie Foundation grant (1931); also was active with Copland in presenting the Copland-Sessions Concerts of contemporary music in N.Y. (1928–31), which played an important cultural role at that time. His subsequent teaching posts included Boston Univ. (1933–35), the N.J. Coll. for Women (1935–37), Princeton Univ. (1935–44), and the Univ. of Calif, at Berkeley (1944–53); returned to Princeton as Conant Professor of Music in 1953 and as co-director of the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center in N.Y. in 1959; subsequently taught at the Juilliard School of Music in N.Y. (1965–85); also was Bloch Prof. at Berkeley (1966–67) and Norton Prof. at Harvard Univ. (1968–69). In 1938 he was elected a member of the National Inst. of Arts and Letters, in 1953 of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and in 1961 of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 1974 he received a special citation of the Pulitzer Award Committee “for his life’s work as a distinguished American composer.” In 1982 he was awarded a second Pulitzer Prize for his Concerto for Orchestra (1979–81). In his compositions, Sessions evolved a remarkably compact polyphonic idiom, rich in unresolvable dissonances and textural density, and yet permeated with true lyricism. In his later works, he adopted a sui generis method of serial composition. The music of Sessions is decidedly in advance of his time; the difficulty of his idiom, for both performers and listeners, creates a paradoxical situation in which he is recognized as one of the most important composers of the century, while actual performances of his works are exasperatingly infrequent.
DRAMATIC:Opera : Lancelot and Elaine (1910); The Fall of the House of Usher (1925; unfinished); The Trial ofLucullus (Berkeley, April 18, 1947); Montezuma (1941–63; West Berlin, April 19, 1964).Incidental Music To:L . Andreyev’s The Black Maskers (Northampton, Mass., June 1923; orch suite, 1928; Cincinnati, Dec. 5, 1930); Volkmüller’s Turandot (Cleveland, May 8, 1925). ORCH.: Sym. in D major (1917); 9 numbered syms.: No. 1 (Boston, April 22, 1927), No. 2 (1944–46; San Francisco, Jan. 9, 1947), No. 3 (1955–57; Boston, Dec. 6, 1957), No. 4 (1958; Minneapolis, Jan. 2, 1960), No. 5 (Philadelphia, Feb. 7, 1964), No. 6 (Newark, N.J., Nov. 19, 1966), No. 7 (Ann Arbor, Mich., Oct. 1, 1967), No. 8 (N.Y., May 2, 1968), and No. 9 (1975–78; Syracuse, Jan. 17, 1980); Nocturne (1921−22); 3 Dirges (1933; withdrawn); Violin Concerto (1930–35; Chicago, Jan. 8, 1940); Piano Concerto (N.Y., Feb. 10, 1956); Divertimento (1959–60; Honolulu, Jan. 9, 1965); Rhapsody (Baltimore, March 18, 1970); Concerto for Violin, Cello, and Orch. (N.Y., Nov. 5, 1971); Concertino for Chamber Orch. (Chicago, April 14, 1972); Concerto for Orchestra (1979–81; Boston, Oct. 23, 1981). chamber: Piano Trio (1916); 3 violin sonatas (1916; 1953; 1981, unfinished); Pastorale for Flute (1927; not extant); 2 string quartets: No. 1 (1936; Washington, D.C., April 1937) and No. 2 (Madison, Wise, May 28, 1951); Duo for Violin and Cello (1942); String Quintet (1957–58; N.Y., Nov. 23, 1959); 6 Pieces for Cello (1966; N.Y., March 31, 1968); Canons (to the Memory of Igor Stravinsky) for String Quartet (1971); Duo for Violin and Cello (1978; unfinished). KEYBOARD: Piano:3 sonatas: No. 1 (1927–30; N.Y., May 6, 1928), No. 2 (1946; N.Y., March 1947), and No. 3 (1964–65; Berkeley, Calif., March 1969); 4 Pieces for Children (1935–39); Pages from a Diary, later titled From My Diary (1937–39); 5 Pieces (1975); Waltz (1977–78). organ : 3 Chorale Preludes (1924–26); Chorale (1938). VOCAL : Romauldo’s Song for Soprano and Orch. (Northampton, Mass., June 1923); On the Beach at Fontana for Soprano and Piano (1930); Turn, O Libertad for Chorus and Piano, 4-Hands or 2 Pianos (N.Y., April 1944); Idyll of Theocritus for Soprano and Orch. (1953–54; Louisville, Jan. 14, 1956); Mass for Unison Chorus (1955; N.Y., April 1956); Psalm CXL for Soprano and Organ (Princeton, N.J., June 1963; also for Soprano and Orch., Boston, Feb. 11, 1966); When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d, cantata for Soprano, Alto, Baritone, Chorus, and Orch. (1964–70; Berkeley, Calif., May 23, 1971); 3 Choruses on Biblical Texts for Chorus and Orch. (1971–72; Amherst, Mass., Feb. 8, 1975).
The Musical Experience of Composer, Performer, Listener (Princeton, N.J., 1950); Harmonic Practice (N.Y., 1951); Reflections on the Music Life in the United States (N.Y., 1956); Questions about Music (Cambridge, Mass., 1970); E. Cone, ed., Roger Sessions on Music: Collected Essays (Princeton, N.J., 1979); A. Olmstead, ed., Correspondence of Roger Sessions (Ithaca, N.Y., 1979).
E. Schweitzer, Generation in String Quartets of Carter, S., Kirchner, and Schuller (diss., Eastman School of Music, 1965); R. Henderson, Tonality in the Pre-serial Instrumental Music ofR. S. (diss., Eastman School of Music, 1974); M. Campbell, The Piano Sonatas of R. S.: Sequel to a Tradition (diss., Peabody Inst., 1982); S. Kress, R. S., Composer and Teacher: A Comparative Analysis ofR. S.’s Philosophy of Educating Composers and his Approach to Composition in Symphonies Nos. 2 and 8 (diss., Univ. of Fla., 1982); C. Mason, A Comprehensive Analysis of R. S.’s Opera Montezuma (diss., Univ. of 111., Urbana, 1982); F. Prausnitz, R. S.: A Critical Biography (London, 1983); R. Meckna, The Rise of the American Composer-Critic: Aaron Copland, R. S., Virgil Thomson, and Elliott Carter in the Periodical “Modern Music,” 1924–1946 (diss., Univ. of Calif., Santa Barbara, 1984); A. Olmstead, R. S. and his Music (Ann Arbor, 1985); idem, Conversations with R. S. (Boston, 1986).
—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire
Sessions, Roger (Huntington)
OPERAS: Lancelot and Elaine (1910); The Trial of Lucullus (1947); Montezuma (1941–63).ORCH.: syms.: No.1 (1927), No.2 (1944–6), No.3 (1957), No.4 (1958), No.5 (1964), No.6 (1966), No.7 (1967), No.8 (1968), No.9 (1975–8); vn. conc. (1930–5, with orch. without vns. and with 5 cl.); Idyll of Theocritus, sop., orch. (1953–4); pf. conc. (1956); Divertimento (1959–60); Rhapsody (1970); conc. for vn., vc., and orch. (1971); Concertino (1972); Concerto for Orchestra (1979–81).CHAMBER MUSIC: str. qts.: No.1 (1936), No.2 (1951); 3 vn. sonatas (1916, 1953, 1981 (unfinished)); pf. trio (1916); solo vn. sonata (1953); str. quintet (1957–8); 6 Pieces for vc. (1966); Canons, str. qt. (1971).CHORAL: Turn, O Libertad, ch. and 2 pf. or orch. (1944); Mass (1955); When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd, soloists, ch., orch. (1964–70).PIANO: 3 sonatas (1927–30, 1946, 1964–5); From my Diary (1937–9); 5 Pieces (1975); Waltz (1977–8).