Ned Rorem, Pulitzer-winning composer and celebrated diarist, dies at 99

Ned Rorem, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and author of more than a dozen published diaries that were remarkable for their candid entry into gay and artistic circles from the 1960s onward, died November 18 at his home in Manhattan. He was 99 years old.

His niece, Mary Marshall, confirmed the death but did not provide a cause.

Mr. Rorem first gained fame when he was in his twenties as a composer of “art songs”—tightened musical tenets for verse that were meant to be sung by classically trained singers, usually incorporating an elaborate piano part that was less accompaniment than a full complement to the melody.

From the very beginning, he had a clear understanding of what a human voice could and could not do. His melodies, though sometimes intense and somewhat dissonant, were invariably linear, and the words usually came out in a natural, unforced rhythm, almost like refined speech, easy for the listener to follow.

By the time Mr. Rorem was 40 years old, he had written more than 400 such songs, plus three symphonies, several one-act operas, and a great deal of chamber music, making him one of the most prolific American composers. . He won the Pulitzer Prize for Composition in 1976 for his orchestral suite, Air Music.

But Mr. Rorum once called his song cycle “Evidence of Things Not Seen” (1998) his best work. For this massive composition, which lasts more than an hour and a half without interruption, Mr. Rorem has selected 36 different texts, mostly poems but also fragments from speeches, journals, and biographies, and set them to music for soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor, baritone and piano, with solo numbers interspersed Collections of all kinds.

Writing in New York Magazine, critic and sound historian Peter G. Davis described “Evidence” as “one of the richest, most amazing, and most sound-friendly ensembles of instrumental songs I have ever heard by any American composer.”

However, at this point Mr. Rorum was known at least for his diaries and his music. In 1966 he published The Paris Diary, which generated considerable controversy, largely because of its candid first-person account of the author’s, gay, and heavy partner’s sexuality at a time when no inclination was considered an appropriate topic of conversation.

New York writer Janet Flanner said the book was “worldly, witty, bawdy, deeply unreserved”.

The Paris Diaries set the tone for the diaries that followed for the next four decades. They combined inspiring cultural criticism with purple prose, laid out in episodic and narrative fashion and tempered with satirical wit.

Of Norwegian descent, tall, blue-eyed, movie-star handsome and gifted with immense personal charm, Mr. Rorem was once described by art critic John Groene as looking like “a mixture of the solemn and the calculating”.

Mr. Rorem seems to know everyone in the world of culture—in fact, from 2000 to 2003, he served as President of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Acquaintances, however, can never be sure that they will not end up immortal, for better or for worse, in one of Mr. Rorem’s books.

He wrote candidly and candidly about his love affairs, including what he calls “four covers of Time magazines” (John Schaeffer, Tennessee Williams, Leonard Bernstein and Noel Coward). He published his memoirs in 1993, Knowing When to Stop, which led to an anonymously reported comment in the London Independent: “The trouble with Ned is that he doesn’t”.

Ned Miller Rorum was born in Richmond, Indiana, on October 23, 1923, the son of C.R. Rufus Rorem, the medical economist whose research helped inspire the Blue Cross and Blue Shield, and his wife, the former anti-war Gladys Miller. An activist in the Society of Friends.

“We Quakers were more of the intellectual than the Puritan type,” wrote Mr. Rorum in his second book, New York Diaries (1967). Throughout his life, he had described himself as an “atheist Quaker”, finding no contradiction in the statement.

He grew up in Chicago, where he was introduced to the music of Ravel and Debussy by his first piano teacher. At the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, he spent a year studying with Gian Carlo Menotti, at the time America’s most famous opera composer.

Opera composer Gian Carlo Menotti dies at the age of 95

Mr. Rorum graduated in 1946 from the Juilliard School in New York, from which he also received his master’s degree in 1948. To support himself in New York, he worked as an assistant and transcriber to the composer and critic Virgil Thompson, who paid the young man $20 a week and gave him lessons in orchestration.

He also studied with composer Aaron Copland at what is now known as the Tanglewood Music Center in Lenox, Massachusetts.

Monsieur Rorem moved to Morocco in 1949 and then to Paris, where he became the keeper and constant companion of Vicomtesse Marie-Laure de Noel, a wealthy patron of the arts; He lived with her until 1957, after which he returned to New York to, in his words, “publish and perform.”

He was always forthright about his ambitions: “In order to become famous, I would sign any paper,” a reference to the Faust legend.

By the time Mr. Rorem was in his mid-forties, he was an alcoholic, and sometimes contentious. His early diaries are filled with self-pity and self-accusation of his condition.

He told Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide in 2010: “Drinking was caused by drunkenness. I’ve never been so drunk. Nobody believes it, but I was really, really shy. If you drink a lot, you’re less shy. Because I was nice, mind.” “People have me, so I drank more than I should have. I stayed out later than I should have. Finally, I said to myself, Anyone can get drunk, but only I can write my music.”

He achieved general sobriety in the late 1960s and, after occasional relapses, had his last drink in 1973.

Although Mr. Rorem has always considered himself “a composer who also writes, not a writer who also composes”, his memoirs and other autobiographical works have reached a larger general audience. They describe both his hyperactive early love life and then the long period of happy home life he shared with organist James Holmes, who died in 1999.

These books are filled with strong opinions—he hated the music of Beethoven (who seemed “outdated,” as he said), Berlioz and most of his fellow leading composers, from Pierre Boulez to Philip Glass (who wrote, he said, in English). Musical Esperanto).

He has taken regular portraits for authors as diverse as William S. [his] charming alter ego”) and Truman Capote (who “sold his talent for a mess of fate”). Mr. Rorum also seemed driven to share details with his readers that they might have done without – for example the exact actual location of the herpes outbreak, how many trips he takes to the bathroom every night.

Despite these private musings, Mr. Rorem was an inspiring teacher who gave master classes around the country and taught for many years at the Curtis Institute, where his students included Pulitzer-winning composer Jennifer Higdon and opera composer Daron Hagen.

In a 2003 profile of Mr. Rorem, Hagen told the New York Times that he was once at an artists’ retreat and wrote his former mentor a letter that “described a doomed love affair, writer’s block, gossip, and all sorts of nonsense. I got this sweet little postcard once.” Another saying: “Dear Daron: Nobody expects you to be happy,” Colette said. Just get your work done. love ned. I put it in my studio, and I got back to work.”

Mr. Rorem stopped teaching in his late seventies to devote his time to his own composition. In all, he wrote 10 operas of various lengths, large collections of works for piano and organ, chamber music of all kinds and over 500 songs.

In addition to his notes and memoirs, Mr. Rorem has published critical books, including Music Inside Out (1967), Set the Tune (1983), Settle the Score (1988), and Other Entertainments (1996). He has also published a general collection of his letters, “Wings of Friendship” (2005), and a limited collection of his correspondence with author and novelist Paul Bowles, “Dear Paul, Dear Ned” (1997).

Mr. Rorum left no immediate survivors.

He told the Hartford Courant in 1993 that he was shocked to receive a Pulitzer because he felt the “stifling” music establishment would punish him for his “evil ways”.

“But it kind of gives you a certain power,” he added. My name is now always preceded by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer… So if I die in a brothel, at least the obituary will say, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Ned Rorum dies in a brothel. “

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