Composers Datebook®

"Twilight Butterfly" by Thomas

Augusta Read Thomas (b. 1964) –Twilight Butterfly (Yvonne Redman, soprano; Julie Gunn, piano) Nimbus 6306

Composer's Datebook - 20220812


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August 12, 2022


Each summer, music lovers congregate about 25 miles north of downtown Chicago for the annual Ravinia Festival, the oldest outdoor music festival in America, and since 1936 the summer home of the Chicago Symphony.

But on today’s date in 2013, Ravinia was the venue for world-premiere performances of several new art songs, including “Twilight Butterfly,” by the American composer Augusta Read Thomas, a setting of a poetic text written by the composer herself.

“The poetic is always in my music”, explained Thomas. “In writing ‘Twilight Butterfly’ … I began with a mental picture … [of] someone, viewing a butterfly fluttering on a deep summer evening beneath the twilight moon. This imagery became so specific that writing my own lyrics was almost inescapable.”

Now even at their most poetic, composers must keep practical considerations in mind, as Thomas explained:

"Beyond the evocative, impressionist nature of the piece … I sought to provide a comfortable performance environment for the singer. My lyrics integrate words whose open vowel sounds suit the voice ... The piano gives the singer pitches at every entrance … [and] rubato indications allow the singer delicate rhythmic and interpretive flexibility.”

Music Played in Today's Program

Augusta Read Thomas (b. 1964) –Twilight Butterfly (Yvonne Redman, soprano; Julie Gunn, piano) Nimbus 6306

On This Day


  • 1644 - Bohemian composer Heinrich Ignaz Franz Von Biber, in Wartenburg (now Straz pod Ralskem) near Reichenberg (now Liberec);


  • 1612 - Italian composer Giovanni Gabrieli, age c. 55 (his exact birthdate is uncertain), in Venice;

  • 1928 - Czech composer Leos Janácek, age 74, in Ostrava;

  • 1992 - American composer John Cage, age 79, in New York;


  • 1845 - Verdi: opera "Alzira," in Naples at the Teatro San Carlo;

  • 1964 - David Del Tredici: "I Hear an Army" for soprano and string quartet (based on a poem by James Joyce) at Tangelwood Festival in Massachusetts;

  • 1964 - Panufnik: "Sinfonia Sacra," in Monaco, as the prize-winning work in an international competition sponsored by Prince Rainer III

  • 1984 - Berio: opera "Un Re in ascolto" (A King Listening), at the Salzburg Festival, conducted by Lorin Maazel

  • 2001 - Esa-Pekka Salonen: "Foreign Bodies," at the Schlewswig-Holstein Festival in Germany, with the Finnish Radio Symphony conducted by Esa-Pekka Saraste;


  • 1845 - A statute of Beethoven is unveiled in Bonn, Germany, the composer's birthplace; Ludwig Spohr conducts a performance of Beethoven's "Missa Solemnis" at the Bonn cathedral; Liszt had been instrumental in raising funds for the statue, and was present, as was Hector Berlioz, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Great Britain, and the King and Queen of Prussia;

  • 1877 - Frequently listed (and almost certainly incorrect) date on which the American inventor Thomas Alva Edison recorded his own voice reciting, “Mary had a little lamb” on a tin-foil cylinder phonograph of his own design; Edison filed the patent for his new invention on December 24, and it was granted on February 19, 1878; In London in April of 1888, Edison’s phonograph would record excerpts from a live Crystal Palace performance of Handel’s oratorio, “Israel in Egypt”; On December 2, 1889, Theo Wangemann, a representative of Thomas Edison recorded Johannes Brahms playing the piano in Vienna. The latest research suggests the voice introducing this famous recording is probably that of Wangemann, not Brahms himself, as was earlier thought;

  • 1922 - First live broadcast concert of the New York Philharmonic over New York radio station WJZ; The concert was broadcast from Lewisohn Stadium during the orchestra's summer series, and included music by Dvorák, Saint-Saens, Mendelssohn, Rimksy-Korsakov, Brahms, and Gluck. The conductor was Willem van Hoogstraten, the orchestra's regular summer-event director; On October 5, 1930, the New York Philharmonic began its regular weekly series of Sunday afternoon national broadcasts over the Columbia radio network