Composers Datebook®

Meredith Monk

Meredith Monk (b. 1942) — Atlas (Meredith Monk Ensemble; Wayne Hankin, cond.) ECM 1491

Composer's Datebook - November 20, 2021


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November 20, 2021


The American composer, singer, dancer, and choreographer Meredith Monk was born in New York City on today’s date in 1942.

Monk attended Sarah Lawrence College, where she studied theatre, dance, and music. On graduation in 1964, she began performing pieces that combined gesture and movement with vocal and visual elements. Around that time, a number of contemporary composers had begun stretching the boundaries of instrumental music, but, as Monk recalls, there really wasn’t much happening regarding extended vocal techniques.

Monk began testing how she could stretch the range, timbre and character of her own singing, inventing a vocabulary based on her particular voice – as she explains it, just as a dancer would develop a vocabulary of movement particular to their body.

Considering her long-standing interest in integrating music with movement and visuals, opera seemed a natural outlet for Monk’s talents, and in 1993 she premiered a full-length opera entitled “Atlas.”

“Atlas” was inspired by the life of Alexandra David-Neel, a scientist who was the first Western woman to travel in Tibet. It seemed a natural choice for Monk, for whom exploration and curiosity are so important. “If I knew what I was looking for,” says Monk “it wouldn’t be that interesting.

Music Played in Today's Program

Meredith Monk (b. 1942) — Atlas (Meredith Monk Ensemble; Wayne Hankin, cond.) ECM 1491

On This Day


  • 1873 - American composer Daniel Gregory Mason, in Brookline, Massachusetts;

  • 1942 - American composer and singer Meredith (Jane) Monk, in Lima, Peru;


  • 1518 - French-Flemish composer Pierre de la Rue, age ca. 66, in Courtrai (Kortrijk);

  • 1758 - Swedish composer Johan Helmich Roman, age, near Kalmar;

  • 1894 - Russian composer Anton Rubinstein, age 64, in age 64; Peterhof (now Petrodvorets), near St. Petersburg (Julian date: Nov. 8);

  • 1927 - Swedish composer Wilhelm Stenhammar, age 56, in Stockholm;

  • 1950 - Italian opera composer Francesco Cilea, age 84, in d'Varazze, near Savona;


  • 1805 - Beethoven: opera "Fidelio" (1st version, with the "Leonore" Overture No. 2), in Vienna at the Theater an der Wien;

  • 1866 - Brahms: String Sextet in G, Op. 36, in Zürich, Swizterland (European premiere); The Brahms biographer and scholar Jan Swafford says the work's world premiere public performance occurred a few days earlier in Boston, at a concert by the Mendelssohn Quintet Club on November 11 that same year;

  • 1889 - Mahler: Symphony No. 1, by the Budapest Philharmonic, with the composer conducting;

  • 1891 - Loeffler: “Les Veilees d l’Ukraine” Suite, by the Boston Symphony, Arthur Nikisch conducting;

  • 1911 - Mahler: "Das Lied von der Erde"(posthumously) in Munich, conductor Bruno Walter;

  • 1925 - Copland: "Music for the Theatre," by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Serge Koussevitzky conducting;

  • 1949 - Vaughan Williams: "An Oxford Elegy," in Dorking;

  • 1952 - Roy Harris: Symphony No. 7 (first version), by the Chicago Symphony, with Rafael Kubelik conducting;

  • 1964 - Shostakovich: String Quartets Nos. 9 and 10, in Moscow, by the Beethoven Quartet;

  • 1986 - Michael Torke: “Green,” by the Milwaukee Symphony, Lukas Foss conducting;

  • 1987 - John Harbison: String Quartet No. 2, at Jordan Hall in Boston, by the Emerson String Quartet;