Grammy Winner Ned Rorem Passed Away At The Age Of 99: Ned Rorem, a Grammy and Pulitzer-winning composer renowned for both his prodigious output of songs and his biting and occasionally scandalous prose, passed away on Friday at the age of 99.
A publicist for his longtime music publisher, Boosey & Hawkes, confirmed the news, stating that he passed away at his home on Manhattan’s Upper West Side of natural causes.
The attractive, active artist wrote 16 books in addition to a thousand works that included everything from solo instrumental, chamber, and vocal music to symphonies and operas. He also helped with the music for the Al Pacino movie “Panic in Needle Park.”
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Rorem was lauded as “the world’s best composer of art songs” by Time magazine at one point, and he is remembered for his numerous works for the solo human voice. He was referred to as “an untortured artist and dashing narcissist” by poet and librettist J.D. McClatchy in The Paris Review.
Rorem didn’t hesitate to criticize other notable contemporaries who supported the dissonant avant-garde, like Pierre Boulez, in his printed words. Rorem’s music was primarily tonal but very modern. Rorem once penned, “France still has Pierre Boulez, if Russia had Stalin and Germany had Hitler.”
“Write gracefully for the voice,” he advised, “which means to make the voice line as seen on paper have the arched flow that singers like to interpret.” In 1976, Rorem’s “Air Music: Ten Etudes for Orchestra” won the Pulitzer Prize.
The Atlanta Symphony’s performance of Rorem’s “String Symphony, Sunday Morning, and Eagles” won the 1989 Grammy for best orchestral recording.
A 17-song cycle he composed in 1962 called “Poems of Love and the Rain” is based on poems by American poets; the same poem is set twice, each time in a different way.
— Andrew LaVallee (@andrewlavallee) November 18, 2022
Rorem was born in Richmond, Indiana, the son of C. Rufus Rorem, a pacifist who turned to Quaker philosophy in the 1930s and whose ideas formed the foundation for the Blue Cross and Blue Shield insurance plans.
At the exclusive University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, the younger Rorem attended day school. The composer, whose music was tinged with French lyricism, said that when he was 10 years old, his piano teacher introduced him to Debussy and Ravel, which “changed my life forever.”
After that, he attended the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia and the Juilliard School in New York, as well as the American Conservatory of Music in Hammond, Indiana, and Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.
He spent the majority of his eight years abroad as a young composer in the 1950s in Paris, with two of those years spent in Morocco.
His stay in Paris is chronicled in “The Paris Diary,” which is full of the famous people he met there, including James Baldwin, Paul Bowles, John Cage, Man Ray, and Salvador Dali. It was “worldly, intelligent, licentious, and highly indiscreet,” according to the late writer Janet Flanner. According to Rorem, his text was “filled with inebriation, sex, and the talk of my betters.”
— Janet Horvath (@playinglesshurt) November 18, 2022
His literary self-portrait was published in “The New York Diary,” “The Later Diaries,” and “The Nantucket Diary” up until 1985.
McClatchy once said of him, “His essays are composed like scores.” Indirection, instinctive grace, intellectual aplomb, and a lyrical line are characteristics of Rorem’s essays that are similar to those we look for in his music.
Rorem’s infamous account of his interactions with Leonard Bernstein, Noel Coward, Samuel Barber, and Virgil Thomson—four well-known men in the world of music—appalled some people. Others were also revealed by him.
However, James Holmes, an organist and choir director with whom he shared a New York City apartment for thirty years, was the focus of most of his personal life. In 1999, Holmes perished. Rorem is survived by six nieces and nephews and eleven grandnieces and grandnephews, according to a statement from Boosey & Hawkes. Rorem passed away surrounded by friends and family.
“In my canary-yellow shirt, my golden legs in khaki shorts, my tan sandals and orange hair, I look like a jar of honey.” But he went on: “Famous last words of Ned Rorem, crushed by a truck, gnawed by the pox, stung by wasps, in dire pain: ‘How do I look?’” https://t.co/zhecAo1rnp
— Rasheed Newson (@RasheedNewson) November 19, 2022
Rorem drew inspiration from his upbringing and based his “Quaker Reader”—a selection of organ pieces—on Quaker texts. In regards to his non-musical writings, he stated: “No less compromising than my prose, my music is a diary.
However, a diary differs from a musical composition in that it captures the moment and the writer’s current mood, whereas if it were written an hour later, it might sound quite different.” The essays written by Rorem about music can be found in the anthologies “Setting the Tone,” “Music from the Inside Out,” and “Music and People.”