Author Topic: Ned Rorem (1923 -)  (Read 9909 times)

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Offline Mirror Image

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Ned Rorem (1923 -)
« on: January 08, 2011, 09:46:37 PM »

"Anyone can be drunk, anyone can be in love, anyone can waste time and weep, but only I can pen my songs in the remaining years or minutes," wrote Ned Rorem. Known both as a writer and a composer, Rorem is intriguing as both a musical figure and as a personality. He is self-described as a profoundly diatonic composer and his music language betrays the influence of his French impressionist idols Debussy and Ravel. Rorem's harmonic palette is generally characterized by vertical extrapolations -- through modality, polymodality, and chordal alterations -- of an essentially tonal framework. Some works conduct innovative experiments in the song cycle form; Poems of Love and Rain, for example, sets eight different poems to music, then sets them again in reverse order to contrasting music. Many of his works juxtapose passages of harmonic and rhythmic complexity with moments of elegance and repose.

Rorem was the second of two children of Clarence Rufus Rorem, one of the founders of the Blue Cross, and Gladys Miller Rorem, a peace activist. The family soon moved to Chicago, where Rorem began studying piano and where he heard live such famous performers as Josef Hofmann, Sergey Rachmaninov, and the Ballets Russes. An early teacher exposed him to Debussy and the impressionists. Subsequent teachers taught him about American contemporary composers like Griffes and John Alden Carpenter, as well as the blues of Billie Holiday, and Rorem learned to notate the little tunes he had composed.

By the age of 16, Rorem had graduated from high school and already performed a concerto with the American Concerto Orchestra. He studied music theory with Leo Sowerby at the American Conservatory for a brief period before entering Northwestern University, where his time was largely spent absorbing a piano repertoire. In 1943, he accepted a scholarship from the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, where he would study counterpoint with Rosario Scalero and musical-dramatic forms with Gian Carlo Menotti. After only a year there, Rorem moved to New York City, where he worked as Virgil Thomson's copyist in exchange for $20 a week plus composition lessons. Rorem also worked as rehearsal accompanist for Martha Graham and Eva Gauthier. Eventually Rorem entered Juilliard, where he completed bachelor's (1946) and master's (1948) degrees. He also studied with Aaron Copland during two summers at Tanglewood.

An award allowed Rorem to travel to France. What was intended to be a three-month visit ended up lasting 12 years. However, the first portion of his stay was largely spent in Morocco at the home of a friend, where he had the peace and quiet requisite for the 20 or so large-scale works he produced during this period. His work earned more honors, including the Lili Boulanger Award in 1950 and a Fulbright Fellowship the following year.

At this point, Rorem went on to Paris to study with Honegger. Through the influence of the Vicomtesse Marie-Laure de Noailles, he entered a social circle that included Jean Cocteau, Francis Poulenc, and Georges Auric. During this time, he also wrote several rather explicit diaries that were published a decade later to the shock and delight of many.

Rorem returned to New York in 1958 and during the next few decades held teaching positions at the University of Buffalo (1959-1960), the University of Utah (1965-1966), and the Curtis Institute (1980-1986). He still remained more of a composer than pedagogue, and is widely revered as the modern master of the art song genre. He received a Pulitzer Prize in 1976 for Air Music, two Guggenheim Fellowships, and commissions from several major symphony orchestras.

[Article taken from All Music Guide]

I didn't see a composer thread for Ned Rorem, so I figured I would start one. What do you guys think about his music? I've only heard (so far) his three symphonies and his Piano Concerto No. 2, which I think is an outstanding piece of music.
« Last Edit: January 08, 2011, 09:49:11 PM by Mirror Image »
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Offline Mirror Image

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Re: Ned Rorem (1923 -)
« Reply #1 on: January 09, 2011, 07:41:26 AM »
No Rorem fans here? Man, tough crowd.  :-[
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Offline springrite

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Re: Ned Rorem (1923 -)
« Reply #2 on: January 09, 2011, 07:43:43 AM »
No Rorem fans here? Man, tough crowd.  :-[

Give them time.

I just got off the plane.

I will be listening to ...of Love and the Rain tonight.
Do what I must do, and let what must happen happen.

Offline Mirror Image

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Re: Ned Rorem (1923 -)
« Reply #3 on: January 09, 2011, 09:04:52 AM »
Give them time.

I just got off the plane.

I will be listening to ...of Love and the Rain tonight.

This thread has already had 20+ views and not one of them felt compelled to comment about Rorem, which is disappointing, but not surprising.

Anyway, Springrite, have you picked up the Naxos recordings of his symphonies and concerti yet? These are outstanding recordings.
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Offline springrite

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Re: Ned Rorem (1923 -)
« Reply #4 on: January 09, 2011, 09:10:07 AM »
This thread has already had 20+ views and not one of them felt compelled to comment about Rorem, which is disappointing, but not surprising.

Anyway, Springrite, have you picked up the Naxos recordings of his symphonies and concerti yet? These are outstanding recordings.

No, I have hardly purchased a CD in a long time. But I do have a few Rorem CDs from years ago, including 2 songs CDs, the left hand PC, Eagle and Morning... something, and a bit of chamber music. I always had the impression that Rorem is "too talented to compose true masterpieces", much like Saint-Saens etc. What I mean is he is so talentd that he seems to compose everything so well and so easily that he did not seem to put enough time and concentration into them, except in the songs. Maybe that has changed in some of his later works?
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Re: Ned Rorem (1923 -)
« Reply #5 on: January 09, 2011, 09:27:50 AM »
No, I have hardly purchased a CD in a long time. But I do have a few Rorem CDs from years ago, including 2 songs CDs, the left hand PC, Eagle and Morning... something, and a bit of chamber music. I always had the impression that Rorem is "too talented to compose true masterpieces", much like Saint-Saens etc. What I mean is he is so talentd that he seems to compose everything so well and so easily that he did not seem to put enough time and concentration into them, except in the songs. Maybe that has changed in some of his later works?

mmm,... very insightful there.

I have the song cycle 'Sun', and the SQ No.3, which I got because I had confused Rorem with Foss!

I have to agree with Paul's assessment: it comes too easy. I get the feeling of silver spoon implanted firmly...

My bigoted comment would be: typical gay american music,... sorry. ::) Nothing to see here. Move along.

Offline Mirror Image

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Re: Ned Rorem (1923 -)
« Reply #6 on: January 09, 2011, 10:05:30 PM »
No, I have hardly purchased a CD in a long time. But I do have a few Rorem CDs from years ago, including 2 songs CDs, the left hand PC, Eagle and Morning... something, and a bit of chamber music. I always had the impression that Rorem is "too talented to compose true masterpieces", much like Saint-Saens etc. What I mean is he is so talentd that he seems to compose everything so well and so easily that he did not seem to put enough time and concentration into them, except in the songs. Maybe that has changed in some of his later works?


I think this is a real one-sided way to look at Rorem. Composing (as with writing) came very easy to him, but this shouldn't mean that there aren't some gems in the pile. Look at Milhaud, Martinu, and Villa-Lobos they composed a lot of music and some of it was very fine, some it not so much, but there's a lot to choose from in their output. The same applies to Rorem, but only with him there really haven't been many recordings of his orchestral works available. This part of his output seems to not get much press for whatever reasons. Listen to the slow movement of "Piano Concerto No. 2" and tell me that 12 minute movement isn't a masterpiece just by itself. His Violin Concerto is also a masterful work.


I guess all of this comes down to what someone considers to be a "masterpiece," but I think Rorem composed at least a few of them.
« Last Edit: January 10, 2011, 08:22:44 AM by Mirror Image »
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Offline Mirror Image

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Re: Ned Rorem (1923 -)
« Reply #7 on: January 09, 2011, 10:07:20 PM »
My bigoted comment would be: typical gay american music,... sorry. ::) Nothing to see here. Move along.


And my bigoted response would be that you sound like you're dismissing a composer you haven't spent any time getting to know. You should definitely try to listen to his orchestral works.
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Offline springrite

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Re: Ned Rorem (1923 -)
« Reply #8 on: January 10, 2011, 04:34:39 AM »

I think this is a real one-sided way to look at Rorem. Composing (as with writing) came very easy to him, but this shouldn't mean that there are some gems in the pile. Look at Milhaud, Martinu, and Villa-Lobos they composed a lot of music and some of it was very fine, some it not so much, but there's a lot to choose from in their output. The same applies to Rorem, but only with him there really haven't been many recordings of his orchestral works available. This part of his output seems to not get much press for whatever reasons. Listen to the slow movement of "Piano Concerto No. 2" and tell me that 12 minute movement isn't a masterpiece just by itself. His Violin Concerto is also a masterful work.


I guess all of this comes down to what someone considers to be a "masterpiece," but I think Rorem composed at least a few of them.

I will certainly explore more of Rorem's orchestral works when I get a chance!
Do what I must do, and let what must happen happen.

Offline jowcol

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Re: Ned Rorem (1923 -)
« Reply #9 on: January 10, 2011, 07:09:39 AM »
I've very much enjoyed the Rorem Symphonies disc on Naxos.  I picked up two other discs with concerti, and but they did not register as much. Based on his Third Symphony alone, Rorem is all right with me, and one of those artists I need to dig back into.
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Re: Ned Rorem (1923 -)
« Reply #10 on: January 29, 2013, 12:02:57 PM »

And my bigoted response would be that you sound like you're dismissing a composer you haven't spent any time getting to know. You should definitely try to listen to his orchestral works.

A random search brought me back to Rorem. Let's see what happens this time...


btw- had there not been a Thread, I would have shot for 'Scorin' with Rorem' or 'Whorin' with Rorem', or something. :-*

Offline Mirror Image

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Re: Ned Rorem (1923 -)
« Reply #11 on: January 29, 2013, 12:08:31 PM »
A random search brought me back to Rorem. Let's see what happens this time...

My question to you is what Rorem works have you heard? The symphonies, Piano Concertos No. 2, and the VC are very fine. I need to re-listen to his Cello Concerto.
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Re: Ned Rorem (1923 -)
« Reply #12 on: January 29, 2013, 01:10:34 PM »
My question to you is what Rorem works have you heard? The symphonies, Piano Concertos No. 2, and the VC are very fine. I need to re-listen to his Cello Concerto.

I have a strategy. Shhh 8)... hear that? :o

Offline k a rl h e nn i ng

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Re: Ned Rorem (1923 -)
« Reply #13 on: January 29, 2013, 01:12:05 PM »
A random search brought me back to Rorem.

That's the risk of random searches, fella ; )
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Re: Ned Rorem (1923 -)
« Reply #14 on: January 29, 2013, 01:42:52 PM »
That's the risk of random searches, fella ; )

ewww, like when you run in to an ex?,... and they're with...NO! Not THAT guy....uuuggghhhhh..... ahhh :o, yea :(

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Re: Ned Rorem (1923 -)
« Reply #15 on: February 05, 2013, 08:32:55 PM »
After,... uh..., exhaustive study,... I found these recordings interesting and cheap:

Piano Concerto for the Left-Hand (NewWorld)

Symphony for Strings/Eagles (NewWorld)

Winter Pages/Bright Music (NewWorld)

I look forward to hearing them. I also noticed that the entire Rorem/Naxos catalog was already in a Box! He's got quite a little bit of Orchestral Music there.


So, I'm wondering about these works:

1) works for Violin+Piano

2) The 3 Piano Trios (including the Beaux Arts performance)

3) Piano Music (3 Sonatas, Barcarolle,...)

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Re: Ned Rorem (1923 -)
« Reply #16 on: February 06, 2013, 11:19:08 PM »
The Concerto for Left Hand is interesting, in that he starts out with what for me is promising material, then develops it in such an uninteresting way that you start to wonder what you saw in the opening in the first place.



i've found a lot of his stuff to have a similar effect on me—lots of potential but not much development. one gets the feeling that he's just not really good at developing material, and would be better off not doing so at all, in line with the basically French (Boulanger, etc) tradition he's one of the last surviving exponents of

some of the songs are nice

Offline Leo K.

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Ned Rorem (1923 -)
« Reply #17 on: February 07, 2013, 04:04:13 PM »
I'm going to get the Rorem Naxos box very soon. I particularly have enjoyed his orchestral music. His time will come.

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Re: Ned Rorem (1923 -)
« Reply #18 on: February 08, 2013, 09:22:34 AM »
The Concerto for Left Hand is interesting, in that he starts out with what for me is promising material, then develops it in such an uninteresting way that you start to wonder what you saw in the opening in the first place.



i've found a lot of his stuff to have a similar effect on me—lots of potential but not much development. one gets the feeling that he's just not really good at developing material, and would be better off not doing so at all, in line with the basically French (Boulanger, etc) tradition he's one of the last surviving exponents of

some of the songs are nice

I got all 3 cds yesterday. Well,... I'll agree with you,... maybe,... but,... mm,... I found him somewhat anonymous, yet engaging,... spiky, yet somewhat rounded,... perhaps the word 'somewhat' is what describes him best?

All the music on the three cds was all good for the kind of wintry, overcast weather we're having. It's all very 'cool',... Rorem does not seem to be wearing any hearts on any sleeves,... I like the 'non-involved' sound of it all. I don't need to listen hard here, so, it fulfills a certain Hindemithian 'workman' like quality,.... useful for background of a more modern variety. The oldest piece, 11 Movements for 11 Players, reveals a somewhat spiky Modernism with touches of jazz. Poulenc-meets-Copland? That may not be correct, but it's in the ballpark.


All these NewWorld discs have that company's usual, wonderful, sound quality, and the performers are all well known (Shaw, Sherry). I imagine that these three discs, along with the Naxos Box, would be quite the cornucopia of Rorem's Orchestral & Chamber Works.





There ARE the String Quartets, 2-4 (or is it 3-5?; the first one (or two) are early):

No.2 (or 3) on Newport

No.3 (or 4) on DG

No.4 (or 5) on a Ying Quartet cd ('America 'live' Vol.2 ???)

I felt ambivalent about the Newport, and I'm in no hurry to hear the other two,... unless of course you know better!

Offline Cato

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Re: Ned Rorem (1923 -)
« Reply #19 on: February 08, 2013, 09:38:18 AM »
Wow!  Hard to believe that Ned Rorem, whose image on records in the 1960's always seemed to involve a black turtle-neck sweater, will be 90 this year!  ??? ??? ???

I gave his music a chance back then, and just found little to nothing there for me: however, I do recall critics back then saying that his songs were exquisite.
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