The National Endowment for the Arts’ American Masterpieces: Choral Music initiative is designed to celebrate our national musical heritage by highlighting significant American choral composers and their works of the past 250 years. Stanton’s Sheet Music is proud to present this series highlighting the composers and their works featured in this groundbreaking project.
Decades ago Time magazine called Ned Rorem (born 1923) “the world’s best composer of art songs” and few have challenged that judgment since. Though he has written exceptionally fine orchestral music (his suite Air Music won the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for music), his songs and choral pieces seem destined to remain his best-known legacy, in part because they are so performer-friendly, but most importantly because audiences find them full of striking and beautiful ideas.
He was born in Richmond, Indiana, then moved with his family to Chicago as a child. He began piano lessons and was enchanted by Debussy and Ravel. His later studies were at Northwestern University School of Music, The Curtis Institute, and The Juilliard School. Along the way, he served briefly as Virgil Thomson’s copyist and studied with Aaron Copland at Tanglewood.
From 1949 to 1958 he lived in France, composing and writing his diaries. Uniquely, Rorem early on became just as famous for his literary efforts – which now total 14 books of music criticism, lectures, and his frank personal diaries – as for his music. His inner life has thus become perhaps the most public of any composer in history.
His outstanding choral works, many with organ accompaniment, encompass a variety of anthems, canticles, motets, and hymns. Among them are “Shout the Glad Tidings,” a setting of an 1826 hymn text, the Three Motets on texts by Gerard Manley Hopkins, and the beautiful anthem of peace, “Sing, My Soul, His Wondrous Love.”