Composers Datebook®

Steve Heitzeg's "Nobel Symphony"

Composers Datebook for October 2, 2020


In 2001, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Nobel Prize, Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota, commissioned American composer Steve Heitzeg to write a “Nobel Symphony.”

In 1866, the Swedish engineer and scientist Alfred Nobel had invented dynamite. His patent helped him amass a great fortune, but, troubled by the destructive power and potential misuse of his invention, Nobel arranged that his estate would award annual prizes to those who made significant contributions to world peace.

For his “Nobel Symphony,” Heitzeg chose to set quotes from a variety of Nobel laureates , including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Elie Wiesel, Martin Luther King, Jr, and the Dalai Lama. Purely instrumental effects were also employed to convey something of their ideas and ideals. For example, in a section honoring a 1997 winner of the Nobel Prize, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, Heitzeg scored an eerie march for a percussion ensemble consisting of hollow artificial limbs.

The October 2, 2001 premiere of Steve Heitzeg’s “Nobel Symphony” came shortly after the tragic events of September 11th. Understandably, its message had a special resonance for the performers and audiences present at its first performance.

Music Played in Today's Program

Steve Heitzeg (b. 1959) Nobel Symphony Gustavus Orchestra; Warren Friesen, cond. Gustavus Adolphus 60171-10022

On This Day


  • 1893 - American composer and pianist Leroy Shield, in Waseca, Minn.; His wrote much of the uncredited film music for the Hal Roach studios in the 1930s (including many classic Laurel & Hardy and "Our Gang," comedies);

  • 1929 - British composer Kenneth Leighton, in Wakefield, Yorkshire;


  • 1920 - German composer Max Bruch, age 82, in Friedenau (near Berlin);

  • 1943 - Canadian-born American composer R. Nathaniel Dett, age 60, in Battle Creek, Mich.;

  • 1996 - Finnish composer Joonas Kokkonen, age 74, in Jarvenpaa;


  • 1913 - Butterworth: "A Shropshire Lad," at the Leeds Festival, with Artur Nikisch conducting;

  • 1960 - Shostakovich: String Quartet No. 8, in Leningrad, by the Beethoven Quartet;

  • 2001 - Steven Heitzeg: "Nobel Symphony" at Gustavus Adolpus College in St. Peter, Minn., by the Gustavus Orchestra, soloists and choirs, conducted by Warren Friesen;


  • 1828 - Two weeks before his death, Schubert writes a letter to a music publisher offering them his latest work, the String Quintet in C (D. 956); The publisher declined the offer; The work was first performed in public in 1850, and was not published until 1853;

  • 1849 - Johann Strauss, Jr., takes over his father's orchestra, one week after his father's death.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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