Warren, Elinor Remick (1900-1991)

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Warren, Elinor Remick (1900–1991)

American composer and pianist whose works were widely acclaimed throughout her nearly 50-year career . Born Elinor Remick Warren in Los Angeles, California, on February 3, 1900; died on April 27, 1991; only child of Maude Remick Warren (a non-professional pianist) and James Garfield Warren (a businessman); studied piano with Kathryn Cocke at the Westlake School for Girls; after attending Mills College, studied in New York with Frank LaForge, Ernesto Beruman, and Clarence Dickenson; studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris in 1959; married Raymond Huntsberger (a physician), in 1925 (divorced 1929); married Z. Wayne Griffin (a producer in radio, film, and television), on December 12, 1936 (died 1981); children: (first marriage) James (b. 1928); (second marriage) Wayne (b. 1938); Elayne (b. 1940).

Had choral symphony The Legend of King Arthur broadcast over the Mutual Network (1940); premiered Suite for Orchestra (1955) and The Crystal Lake (1958) with Los Angeles Symphony; named Woman of the Year in Music by The Los Angeles Times as well as by the National Federation of Music Clubs; in addition to choral works, composed numerous works for orchestra.

Music was the central theme in the life of composer Elinor Remick Warren from the moment of her birth on February 23, 1900. Both her parents were musical: her mother Maude played the piano and her father James, a businessman, had a tenor voice of professional caliber. Elinor displayed her own musical talent at the age of 13 months, astonishing her parents by humming part of a lullaby, "Rock-a-bye Baby," perfectly. By age three, she was picking out short pieces on the piano which her mother copied into notebooks. (Years later, pianist Harold Bauer examined the notebooks and declared the compositions to be in perfect form.)

At age five, Warren began piano lessons with Kathryn Cocke , a young New England Conservatory graduate who applied the principles of kindergarten teaching to music. Under Cocke's sensitive tutelage, Warren progressed rapidly, learning harmony and theory along with her piano studies, and composing pieces which she could now write down herself. As a student at the Westlake School for Girls in Los Angeles, she excelled in academics and also developed a talent for acting and writing. While still a schoolgirl, Warren wrote "A Song of June," which she was urged to send to the New York publisher Schirmer. They accepted the song and sent her a contract.

As a teen, Warren studied theory and harmony with composer Gertrude Ross for several years. Following her graduation from Westlake, she stayed home for a year, working on advanced composition with Ross and continuing piano lessons with Olga Steeb . In 1919, she attended Mills College in Oakland and studied singing, "which was funny because I can't sing," she said later. After a year, her voice coach realized her talent for composition and urged her to go East to study.

After convincing her reluctant parents to let her live in New York, Warren began studying accompaniment and the art song with Frank LaForge, and orchestration and counterpoint with Dr. Clarence Dickinson. She continued to write and publish songs at a steady pace, and by 1922 her choral works began to appear in print. At LaForge's suggestion, she also started touring as an accompanist for opera star Florence Easton , with whom she formed a lifelong friendship. Warren also performed periodically with Lawrence Tibbett and Richard Crooks, occasionally appeared as a soloist with symphony orchestras, and made piano recordings for the Okeh label.

During the five or so years she was in New York, Warren returned to Los Angeles each summer. In the course of one of these visits, she began dating a childhood friend, Raymond Huntsberger, now a physician. In 1925, they married, but the union had problems from the beginning and ended four years later, shortly after the birth of a son, James. After her divorce, Warren left her son with her parents and continued to tour as an accompanist. She also embarked on an intensive study of orchestration and wrote her first orchestral work, The Harp Weaver, set to a narrative poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay . The work, large in scope, received its premiere at New York's Carnegie Hall in 1936, conducted by Antonia Brico . That same year, Warren married Wayne Griffin, a promising tenor who because of ill health had given up a career as a singer to work as a producer in radio, film, and television. Over the next six years, the couple established a happy, supportive relationship and moved several times to accommodate a growing family that included son Wayne Griffin, Jr., and daughter Elayne Griffin .

Warren's second major composition for orchestra, The Legend of King Arthur, had been brewing in her mind since her days at the Westlake School when she read Alfred, Lord Tennyson's Idylls of the King. "I was so thrilled with that part of it called 'The Passing of Arthur,'"

she recalled. "It just took hold of me, and, though it was beyond me then, I knew that one day, I would set it to music." The work had its world premiere in 1940, conducted by Britain's Albert Coates, who was in the United States for a series of appearances with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. "There is not a measure that does not fit cannily into the musical flux, which surges and glistens with radiant orchestral color, and flows in luminous tonal strands through massed choral forces," wrote a critic for the Los Angeles Daily News.

The premiere performance was also broadcast to a nationwide radio audience, giving Warren her first national exposure. The press picked up on her unusual story, running articles and pictures of the young mother feeding her two-year-old son with one hand while correcting a score with the other. When asked about combining motherhood and career, Warren always maintained that her family came first. Her husband provided her with unending encouragement and saw to it that the children respected their mother's working schedule. ("Only if you break a leg may you interrupt your mother when she's composing," he jokingly admonished them.) Warren, who was characterized as a private and introspective woman, had no difficulty surrendering to the isolation of the creative process. "Don't plan on going out to lunch," she once wrote. "You will rarely see even the friends dear to your heart. No phone calls, either, to break the concentration. How can one listen to the inner voice except in aloneness?"

Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, Warren composed some of her most important works, among them The Sleeping Beauty, The Crystal Lake, Along the Western Shore, Singing Earth, Transcontinental, Suite for Orchestra, and Abram in Egypt. In 1959, once again encouraged by her husband, she studied briefly in Paris with Nadia Boulanger , with whom she formed a close friendship.

In 1963, Warren received the commission to compose Requiem, a project that occupied her for three years and one she called "engrossing and monumental." The work had its world premiere at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Los Angeles Music Center on April 2, 1966. Critics were overwhelming in their praise of the piece. Patterson Greene of the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner called it "a devout, quietly intense work … a dignified, meditative and distinguished contribution to choral literature."

Commissions continued to occupy Warren, whose advancing age failed to slow her down. She produced several additional major works throughout the 1970s, including Symphony in One Movement and Good Morning, America!, for chorus, narrator and orchestra. In 1980, with her husband, she selected 12 of her 60 songs for a new collection, Selected Songs by Elinor Remick Warren, published by Carl Fischer. The publisher's copies reached Warren just months after her husband's death from cancer in 1981. Devastated by the loss, Warren was sustained by continuing to compose and play the piano. At age 86, she appeared as the accompanist on a compact disc of her songs produced by Cambria Records, marking the beginning of a comprehensive CD survey of her music. Warren continued to work almost up until the time of her death from pancreatic cancer in April 1991.

In summing up Warren's extraordinary career, Christine Ammer notes that Elinor never set herself apart from the mainstream as a "woman" composer, but frequently expressed her view that "there was no gender in music." Another biographer, Virginia Bortin , points out that unlike many of her contemporaries, the composer never compromised her musical ideals to achieve popularity. "Warren possessed a passionate romantic soul and was deeply moved by nature, beauty and the sublime," she writes. "Her music reflects her inner being and seems at times to come from a secluded, distant place."


Blivins, Pamela J. "Elinor Remick Warren: Requiem for a Composer," in The Maud Powell Signature: Woman in Music. Vol. 1, no. 1. Summer 1995.

Bortin, Virginia. Elinor Remick Warren: A Bio-Bibliography. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1993.

Cohen, Aaron I. International Encyclopedia of Women Composers. 2 vols. NY: Books & Music (USA), 1987.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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Warren, Elinor Remick (1900-1991)

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