Time magazine has lauded Ned Rorem (born 1923) as "the world's best composer of art songs," but his notable achievements, both musical and literary, extend well beyond this refined world. For Rorem, words and music are inextricably linked. Rorem has composed three symphonies and four piano concertos, among many other orchestral works; music for chamber ensembles of various instruments; 10 operas; a wide variety of choral works; ballet scores; music for the theater; and literally hundreds of songs and song cycles. He is the author of 16 books, including five volumes of diaries and collections of lectures and criticism.
At age 17, Rorem enrolled in the Music School of Northwestern University; only two years later, Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute awarded him a scholarship. He eventually ended up at Juilliard, the world-renowned conservatory in New York’s Lincoln Center, where he studied composition under Bernard Wagenaar earned his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees.
Rorem has been the recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship (1951), a Guggenheim Fellowship (1957), and an award from the National Institute of Arts and Letters (1968). In January 2000, he was elected president of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1971, the American Society of Composers, Artists and Publishers awarded him its ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award for his book "Critical Affairs, A Composer's Journal"; again in 1975 for "The Final Diary"; and in 1992 for an article on American opera in Opera News. His orchestral suite Air Music won him the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for Music. In 1988, the Atlanta Symphony’s recording of "String Symphony, Sunday Morning," and "Eagles" received the Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Recording; and Musical America chose Rorem as Composer of the Year.
He has been commissioned to compose new works by the Ford Foundation ("Poems of Love and the Rain," 1962), the Lincoln Center Foundation ("Sun," 1965), the Koussevitzky Foundation ("Letters from Paris," 1966), the Atlanta Symphony ("String Symphony," 1985), the Chicago Symphony ("Goodbye My Fancy," 1990), and Carnegie Hall ("Spring Music," 1991). "Our Town," an operatic rendering of Thornton Wilder’s classic drama with libretto by J.D. McClatchy, premiered at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music in February 2006.
The list of eminent conductors who have performed his works include Leonard Bernstein, Kurt Masur, Zubin Mehta, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Eugene Ormandy, André Previn, Fritz Reiner, Leonard Slatkin, William Steinberg and Leopold Stokowski.
music by Ned Rorem, text by David Bergman, sung here by Kurt Ollmann; published by Boosey & Hawkes
In the Artist's Own Words...
"A Dream of Nightingales" is Rorem's contribution to the "AIDS Quilt Songbook." Begun in 1981, when reports were just beginning to filter out about a quickly spreading deadly virus among gay men, the "Songbook" has been an ongoing effort, like the AIDS Quilt it commemorates. Intended as "a never-ending work whose meaning and spirit is renewed and redefined with every addition," the "Songbook" eventually grew to 67 songs, of which 18 are included in the published edition.