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.
Conrad Susa’s (born 1935) entire creative life has been centered on vocal and dramatic music. As a student he earned a B.F.A. from Carnegie Institute of Technology and an M.S. from The Juilliard School, where he studied with William Bergsma and Vincent Persichetti. He joined the composition department at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music in 1988, becoming its Chair in 2000. His musical language is strongly tonal with influence from Baroque counterpoint and polyphony plus many contemporary techniques and idioms drawn from popular music.
Susa has composed more than 100 works for theater, documentary films, and television. His first opera, Transformations, has become one of the most-performed American operas. Since then, he has written operas commissioned by San Francisco Opera, Minnesota Opera, and the American Guild of Organists, among others.
With a background rich in theater, serving as Composer-in-Residence for the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego and dramaturge at the Eugene O’Neill Center in Connecticut, it is no surprise that he is known for composing choral cycles that follow a story line or are linked thematically. Examples include whimsical cycles such as Landscapes and Silly Songs and Hymns for the Amusement of Children, the latter an intriguing setting of texts by the 18th-century poet Christopher Smart. Many of his larger choral works use instrumental ensembles of all sorts.
Some of Susa’s most beloved compositions are for the Christmas season, such as A Christmas Garland, his popular Carols and Lullabies: Christmas in the Southwest, The Midnight Clear, and Three Mystical Carols.