Gideon, Miriam

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GIDEON, MIRIAM (1906–1996), U.S. composer of choral and orchestral works. Gideon was born in Greeley, Colorado, to Abram Gideon, a professor of philosophy and ordained rabbi, and Henrietta Shoninger Gideon, a teacher. Gideon's choice of a career in music was influenced by her uncle Henry Gideon, an organist and choir director at Temple Israel in Boston, with whom she spent summers. She studied piano and composition while attending Boston University, graduating in 1926 with a degree in French and mathematics. Gideon continued her musical studies in New York City, ultimately earning an M.A. from Columbia in 1946. She taught at several institutions in New York City, including City College, the Jewish Theological Seminary (1955–91), and the Manhattan School of Music (1967–91). In 1970, she received a Doctorate of Sacred Music in Composition, from the Jewish Theological Seminary. She married Frederick Ewen, an English professor, in 1949.

Gideon wrote over 50 compositions covering the gamut from orchestral to vocal chamber works. Her early choral settings include Slow, Slow Fresh Fount (1941) and Sweet Western Wind (1943). She turned to contrapuntal vocal chamber work with The Hound of Heaven (1945). In 1948, she was awarded the Bloch Prize for choral work for How Goodly Are Thy Tents – Psalm 84 (1947), a work in a modal idiom with Jewish melodic contours. Early orchestral works were Lyric Piece for String Orchestra (1944) and a full orchestral work, Symphonia Brevis (1953). Works with Jewish themes included May the Word of My Mouth (premiere, 1938), Adon Olom (1954), Three Biblical Masks (1958), and the cantata The Habitable Earth (1965), based on the Book of Proverbs. Her more important vocal chamber works include The Condemned Playground (1963), Questions on Nature (1964), Rhymes from the Hill (1968), and Nocturnes (1976).

Gideon was the first woman ever commissioned to set Jewish liturgy. She completed Sacred Service for Sabbath Morning (1971), based on Reform liturgy, for The Temple, Cleveland, Ohio. Shirat Miriam L'Shabbat, for Conservative liturgy, was completed in 1974 for Park Avenue Synagogue and published in 1976. Later Jewish text settings include Eishet Chayil (A Woman of Valor) (1982). Her sacred compositions reflect the influences of her exposure to synagogue music, yet remain introspective and personal. Awards include an ascap, for symphonic music (1958); National Federation of Music Clubs (1969); and a National Endowment for the Arts Award (1974). In 1975, she became the second woman ever admitted to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

[Judith S. Pinnolis (2nd ed.)]