Composition at Curtis

Date: April 15, 2014 Category:
Sketch of Jennifer Higdon's 'String Trio', 1988

Sketch of Jennifer Higdon’s ‘String Trio’, 1988

New music has been important at Curtis from the beginning. Philadelphia Orchestra conductor Leopold Stokowski, who played an important role in the founding of the school in 1924, embraced contemporary music, a tradition that was followed by his successors. Curtis founder Mary Louise Curtis Bok generously supported composers throughout her life.

This exhibit features the history of composition of Curtis, from early students Samuel Barber and Gian Carlo Menotti, to the appointment of Ned Rorem in 1980, and the department’s more recent resurgence under the faculty that is teaching today.

 

 

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Studying with Scalero, 1924-1946

In the early days of the Curtis Institute of Music the study of composition was typically combined with studies in music theory. The Italian composer Rosario Scalero (1870–1954), an original member of the Curtis faculty, taught courses in Analysis, Form, and Aesthetics; Counterpoint and Instrumentation; and Composition. In 1926  composition was described in the Catalogue as a freestanding discipline for the first time. Two years later Scalero became head of the Department of Theory and Composition, remaining in this position until his retirement in 1946. His students included Marc Blitzstein (’26), Gian Carlo Menotti (’33), Samuel Barber (’34), Nino Rota (’35), Hugo Weisgall (’39), Lukas Foss (’40), Ned Rorem (’44), Rolf Scheurer (’44), and George Walker (’45). Barber, Menotti, and Rorem returned to Curtis as faculty members.

Students about Scalero: Gian-Carlo Menotti ’33; Constant Vauclain ’39

 

Rosario Scalero, Catalogue, 1926–27

Rosario Scalero, Catalogue, 1926–27

Rosario Scalero, Catalogue, 1926–27
Music Theory Exam, May 1927

Music Theory Exam, May 1927

This examination makes clear the degree to which composition figured in the music theory curriculum. Students were required to write a short scherzo for string trio or quartet as well as a three-part fugue or invention for piano; and had to set eight lines of text to music. [Curtis Archives, Annual Reports of the Dean]

Music Theory Exam, May 1927
Scalero with five students in Gressoney, Italy, July 1929

Scalero with five students in Gressoney, Italy, July 1929

In the 1920s it was common practice for Curtis students to spend the summer with their teachers to continue their studies. Scalero took his students to his home country, Italy. He is pictured here with (back row) Carl Bricken (’29) and Gian Carlo Menotti (’34); and (front row) Jeanne Behrend (’34), Samuel Barber (’34), and Eleanor Meredith (’35). [Curtis Archives Photograph Collection]

Scalero with five students in Gressoney, Italy, July 1929
Scalero to Mary Louise Curtis Bok, August 10, 1930

Scalero to Mary Louise Curtis Bok, August 10, 1930

Scalero wrote about a failed attempt to get the Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini to Curtis; and about his new student Nino Rota, who had already started working with him. Mary Louise Curtis Bok replied: “It gives me great pleasure that you are to have so gifted a pupil as Nino Rota. It is a privilege to have talent to mold, but he, too, is fortunate to have your hand upon him.” [Curtis Archives, President's correspondence, “Scalero”]

Scalero to Mary Louise Curtis Bok, August 10, 1930
Randall Thompson with students, 1940

Randall Thompson with students, 1940

From 1939 to 1941 Curtis was directed by a composer: Randall Thompson (1899-1984), shown here at the piano with students. The third from the left is Leonard Bernstein (Conducting ’41), and the student to the right is Constant Vauclain (Composition ’39). Vauclain would teach composition and theory at Curtis from 1939 until 1963. [Photographer: William Rittase]

Randall Thompson with students, 1940

 

The Menotti years, 1941-1976

Although a number of composers taught at Curtis during the 30 years after Scalero’s departure in 1946, the period is primarily associated with Gian Carlo Menotti (1911–2007). Menotti taught composition from 1941 to 1955 (heading the department from 1946), and appeared on the faculty list again from 1965 to 1971, along with Samuel Barber, although no students graduated during these years. Before, Barber only taught at Curtis from 1939 to 1941, when he conducted the Madrigal Chorus. (Read “Reflections of Samuel Barber” in Overtones.)

After Menotti left Curtis in 1955, composition students studied with Constant Vauclain (’39), who taught Theory and Composition from 1939 to 1963; Bohuslav Martinu, who taught Composition in the 1955–56 school year; Vittorio Giannini, who taught Composition from 1956 to 1964; and Myron Fink, who taught Music Theory from 1970 to 1973 and Composition from 1974 to 1976. Between 1963 and 1976, however, only three students majored in composition at Curtis, and in 1976 the department was suspended.

Students about Menotti: Lee Holby ’52; Stanley Hollingsworth ’53 

 

Premiere of "Amelia Goes to the Ball," 1937

Premiere of "Amelia Goes to the Ball," 1937

This was Menotti's first opera, originally titled "Amelia al Ballo" and performed in Italian. On this picture Margaret Daum, who played the title role, with Gian Carlo Menotti, and Mary Louise Curtis Bok. [Curtis Archives Photograph Collection]

Premiere of "Amelia Goes to the Ball," 1937
Class photo with Menotti and Barber as faculty, 1945

Class photo with Menotti and Barber as faculty, 1945

During the Second World War the student body was very small. Among the students graduating in 1945, four were composition students: David Kimball (back, fourth from left) and Paul Garabadian, Wainwright Churchill, and George Walker (back, fourth to second from right). Sitting on the left of Mary Louise Curtis Bok Zimbalist is Gian Carlo Menotti. Samuel Barber is to the right of Curtis director Efrem Zimbalist, wearing an army uniform. Samuel Barber, who conducted the Madrigal Choir from 1939 to 1941, is listed as teaching Orchestration in the course catalogue from 1942 to 1945. It was Menotti, however, who actually taught the subject, because Samuel Barber was serving in the Army. [Curtis Archives, Class Photos]

Class photo with Menotti and Barber as faculty, 1945
Recital of compositions by graduating students, 1945

Recital of compositions by graduating students, 1945

Concerts devoted to works by student composers were held less frequently in the 1940s than they are today. George Walker (’45) graduated in both composition and piano. [Curtis Recital Programs]

Recital of compositions by graduating students, 1945
Menotti with students at Commencement, 1949

Menotti with students at Commencement, 1949

[Curtis Archives Photograph Collection]

Menotti with students at Commencement, 1949
Other composition faculty, 1939–1976

Other composition faculty, 1939–1976

Top to bottom, left to right: Constant Vauclain (Theory and Composition 1939–1963); Vittorio Giannini, (Composition 1956–1964); Bohuslav Martinu (Composition 1955–56); and Myron Fink (Music Theory 1970–73 and Composition 1974–76).

Other composition faculty, 1939–1976

 

A new era, 1980-2003

In 1980 Curtis Director John de Lancie (’40) reinstated the composition department with the appointment of Ned Rorem (’44). Rorem would direct the composition department with David Loeb, who had been teaching musical studies and music theory since 1973. Their first new composition students graduated in 1982 and 1983, followed by 27 more students before Loeb’s retirement in 2000 and Rorem’s in 2003 (view the alumni database). In 1997 Curtis President Gary Graffman (’46) had appointed Richard Danielpour to the faculty with a special mandate to bring more coordination and structure to the composition program. In 2000 Rorem and Danielpour were joined by Jennifer Higdon (’88). In 2003 Curtis celebrated Ned Rorem’s 80th birthday with Roremania, a two-week festival in cooperation with the Kimmel Center of performing arts.  (Read “Roremania,” Overtones, 2003). Six years later David Ludwig (’01), who had been teaching musical studies at Curtis since 2002, joined the composition faculty.

Students about David Loeb: David Powell ’82; Jennifer Higdon ’88
Students about Ned Rorem: Daron Hagen ’84; Gregory Hall ’86
Ned Rorem about teaching at Curtis, 1980 

 

André Previn consults Ned Rorem on the score of his Piano Concerto No. 4, 1993

André Previn consults Ned Rorem on the score of his Piano Concerto No. 4, 1993

Conductor André Previn consults Ned Rorem during a rehearsal of Rorem's Piano Concerto No. 4. The left-hand piano concerto, commissioned by Curtis for its director, pianist Gary Graffman, premiered on February 4, 1993 at the Academy of Music and Carnegie Hall on February 4–5, 1993. (view article about the concert in Overtones) [Photographer: David Swanson]

André Previn consults Ned Rorem on the score of his Piano Concerto No. 4, 1993
David Loeb with student David Powell ('82), 1982

David Loeb with student David Powell ('82), 1982

This photo was taken in Loeb's New York apartment. [photo courtesy of David Powell ('82)]

David Loeb with student David Powell ('82), 1982
Composition Forum at Alumni Day, May 9, 1999

Composition Forum at Alumni Day, May 9, 1999

Ned Rorem moderated this forum, which also featured panelists Richard Danielpour and Jennifer Higdon. [Photographer: Don Tracy]

Composition Forum at Alumni Day, May 9, 1999
Composers from Curtis Chamber Ensemble, 1999

Composers from Curtis Chamber Ensemble, 1999

The Composers from Curtis Chamber Ensemble was founded in 1998 by students David Ludwig, Mimi Stillman (Flute ’99), and Daniel Kellogg, with faculty adviser Jennifer Higdon (’88). To Higdon’s left in this photo are Jeremy Kurtz-Harris (Double Bass ’99), Margo Tatgenhorst Drakos (Cello ’99), and Nathan Cole (Violin ’00), with Anthony McGill (Clarinet ’00) in front. [Photograph courtesy of Mimi Stillman]

Composers from Curtis Chamber Ensemble, 1999
Curtis celebrates Rorem's 70th birthday, 1993

Curtis celebrates Rorem's 70th birthday, 1993

On November 14, 1993, Curtis celebrated Ned Rorem's 70th birthday with a concert of his works, opening with Eleven Studies for Eleven Players. It was conducted by Rossen Milanov ('94) and performed by Elizabeth Ostling (Flute '94), Kathy Lord (Oboe '94), Gregory Raden (Clarinet '94), Jack Sutte (Trumpet '95), Anthony Lafargue (Timpani and Percussion '95), Ryan Leveille (Timpani and Percussion '94), Steven Copes (Violin '94), Choong-Jin Chang (Viola '94), Jeffrey Lastrapes (Cello '96), Katerina Englichova (Harp '94), and Reiko Uchida (Piano '94). (View article in Overtones)

Curtis celebrates Rorem's 70th birthday, 1993

 

Composition at Curtis today

Today new music is as important as Curtis as it was when the school was founded. Curtis commissions more compositions than ever before, and the school’s contemporary music group, the Curtis 20/21 Ensemble, directed by David Ludwig, performs at Curtis and various venues for new music in the country. In addition, a composer-in-residence program, introduced in 2009, enables student performers to work with composers directly.

Within this environment, composition students develop their craft according to the Curtis motto “learning by doing.”  Active collaborations with performing students, interaction with faculty and artists-in-residence, and commissioning opportunities help them prepare for 21st-century careers as musical creators. (Read “New Traditions” in Overtones.)

Richard Danielpour about teaching at Curtis, 2012

 

Krzysztof Penderecki with Curtis composers, 2008

Krzysztof Penderecki with Curtis composers, 2008

Composer Krzystztof Penderecki visited Curtis in October 2008 to coach student and teach a master class in composition. Front row: Daniel Shapiro ('11), Wang Jie ('09), Krzysztof Penderecki, Ke-Chia Chen ('09), Matthew Cmiel ('09); back row: David Ludwig ('01), Christopher Weiss ('09), and Chris Rogerson ('10). Penderecki returned to Curtis in 2013-14 as composer in residence.

Krzysztof Penderecki with Curtis composers, 2008
Compositions for the Rock School of Dance, 2009–13

Compositions for the Rock School of Dance, 2009–13

The Rock School of Dance has commissioned ballets from Curtis composition students since 2009 through the generous support of Dr. and Mrs. Milton L. Rock. To celebrate the first five years of its collaboration with the Curtis institute of Music the Rock School created a compilation of ballet fragments (view the video). They include compositions by Wang Jie ('09), Ya-Jhu Yang ('11), Gabriella Smith ('13), Katerina Kramarchuk ('12), and Daniel Temkin ('13).

Compositions for the Rock School of Dance, 2009–13
Danielpour with Curtis On Tour performers, 2009

Danielpour with Curtis On Tour performers, 2009

Curtis commissioned Richard Danielpour to write a piece for baritone, viola, and piano for Curtis On Tour in 2009 (view 2009 European tour announcement). Danielpour set Walt Whitman's poem Come Up from the Fields, Father to music, in which the viola represents the grieving mother. (Hear the piece on Instant Encore). From left to right: Adrian Kramer (Opera '09), baritone; Richard Danielpour; Mikael Eliasen, piano; and Roberto Díaz ('84), Viola. [Photographer: Pete Checchia]

Danielpour with Curtis On Tour performers, 2009
Jennifer Higdon and David Ludwig with composer in residence George Crumb, 2012

Jennifer Higdon and David Ludwig with composer in residence George Crumb, 2012

George Crumb, seen here with composition faculty members Jennifer Higdon and David Ludwig, was composer in residence during the 2011–12 school year. Other composers in residence have included John Corigliano (2009–10), Joan Tower (2010–11), Steven Stucky (2012–13), and Kryszytof Penderecki (2013–14).

Jennifer Higdon and David Ludwig with composer in residence George Crumb, 2012
Dover Quartet with student composers, 2014

Dover Quartet with student composers, 2014

Curtis composition students write one significant chamber work and one full orchestra piece a year. Pictured here are the composition students with members of the Dover Quartet, which premiered their compositions on April 18, 2014. The Dover Quartet, formed by students at the Curtis Institute of Music in 2008, has been Curtis's quartet in residence for 2013–14. From left to right: Bryan A. Lee (Violin '11), Rene Orth, Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt (Viola '11), T.J. Cole, Riho Maimets, Alyssa Weinberg, Joel Link (Violin '11), Andrew Hsu, David Hertzberg, Camden Shaw (Cello '11). (View the program)

Dover Quartet with student composers, 2014

 

Commissions

Mary Louise Curtis Bok generously supported composers throughout her life. The Curtis Institute of Music has continued this legacy by commissioning faculty, students, and alumni, aided by grants and the generous support of donors. Other commissioning opportunities for Curtis students have arisen through collaborations with the Free Library’s One Book, One Philadelphia Festival, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the Rock School for Dance Education, which has commissioned ballets from Curtis composition students since 2009. In addition, donors to the school’s annual fund provide “learn by doing” opportunities for student composers through the Commissioning Circle of the Leopold Stokowski Society. The works they commission are performed on the Student Recital Series, Curtis On Tour, and in other important school events.

 

DISCLAIMER: The images and documents in this exhibit are made available for purposes of education and research. The Curtis Archives has made every attempt to determine the copyright status of materials displayed, but due to the nature of archival materials we are not always able to identify this information. We are eager to hear from any rights owners, so that we may obtain accurate information. Upon request, we will remove material from public view while we address a rights issue.