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23.10.03

Ned Rorem

There's a lot of attention on American composer Ned Rorem right now. In honor of Rorem's 80th birthday (today, October 23), Alex Ross has published an appreciation of his life and music (The Gentleman Composer: Eighty Years of Ned Rorem, issue of October 20) in The New Yorker, and other tributes have followed in other places, including on National Public Radio this morning (commentary by Joel Rose). (There is also a nice feature from Minnesota Public Radio, Eighty Years of Ned Rorem.)

I have always been a fan of Rorem's music, maybe partially because of his own obsession with the city of Paris (see the sometimes too detailed account of his years in France in The Paris Diary). He has been composing all this time in one of the most durable styles of the past century, in a sort of harmonically enriched tonality. This is in spite of the overwhelming academic authority behind serial music, which has been taught and sustained by some as the only style for serious contemporary music. In spite of the derision of some serial composers (whom Rorem labeled this morning on NPR as "the serial killers") toward his music, Rorem has survived. I know mostly his songs and his choral music, a few examples of which we have performed at the National Shrine. The choir just performed, at this past Sunday's noon Mass, the first of his Three Motets (1973), "O Deus, Ego Amo Te," and we have been rehearsing the other two. The beautiful text of this motet (O God, I love thee) is a prayer of the Jesuit missionary St. Francis Xavier, translated by Gerard Manley Hopkins.

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