Composers Datebook®

Roger Sessions' "The Kennedy Sonata"

Roger Sessions (1896-1985) Sonata No. 3 "Kennedy Sonata" William Grant Naboré DRC 3002

Composer's Datebook - Nov. 22, 2022


download audio

November 22, 2022


The American composer Roger Sessions is an acquired taste for most classical music fans, and, truth be told, his works don’t show up on concert recital programs all that often.

He was born in the 19th century, 1896, when Grover Cleveland was president, and died in 1985, when Ronald Reagan was in the White House.

Session’s early music, written when he was in his twenties and thirties, was neo-classical in style, but as the 20th century progressed, Sessions’ style did also, moving from harmonically complex tonality to frankly atonal works. His music became increasingly “gnarly,” you might say, but there was always a lot of emotion in his music, whatever technique he employed.

Take, for example, his Piano Sonata No. 3, nicknamed “The Kennedy Sonata.” It was written in reaction to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, which occurred on today’s date in 1963. The last movement of Sessions’ Piano Sonata was written as an elegy for the slain president, and includes a climax of three sharply accented chords. For the American pianist William Grant Naboré, one of just a handful of artists who have recorded this work, those three chords suggest the three sharp rifle shots that shattered the air in Dallas the day Kennedy died.

Music Played in Today's Program

Roger Sessions (1896-1985) Sonata No. 3 "Kennedy Sonata" William Grant Naboré DRC 3002

On This Day


  • 1709 - Baptism of Bohemian composer Frantisek Benda, in Staré Benátky; In 1763 Benda wrote his autobiography, an important source of information on music and musicians of the period;

  • 1710 - German composer Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (eldest son of J. S.), in Weimar;

  • 1780 - German composer Conradin Kreutzer, in Messkirch, Baden;

  • 1899 - American pianist and songwriter Hoagy Carmichael, in Bloomington, Ind.;

  • 1901 - Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo, in Sagunto;

  • 1913 - English composer Benjamin Britten, in Lowestoft, Suffolk;

  • 1925 - American composer, conductor, professional French horn player, and author Gunther Schuller, in New York;

  • 1936 - German composer and conductor Hans Zender, in Wiesbaden;


  • 1900 - English composer Sir Arthur Sullivan, in London, age 58;

  • 1955 - French composer Guy Ropartz, age 91, in Lanloup;


  • 1712 - Handel: opera “Il pastor fido,” at the Queen’s Theater in London (Gregorian date: Dec. 3);

  • 1727 - Handel: opera “Riccardo Primo” in London (see Julian date: Nov. 11);

  • 1739 - Handel: “Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day,” in London at Lincoln’s Inn Field (Gregorian date: Dec. 3);

  • 1740 - Handel: opera “Imeneo” in London at Lincoln’s Inn Fields (Gregorian date: Dec. 3) ; This work was billed as an “operetta”;

  • 1872 - Dvořák: Piano Quintet in A, Op. 5 (original version), at the Konvikt Hall in Prague; Dvořák revised this early chamber work in 1887;

  • 1895 - Rachmaninoff: “Caprice bohémien” (Capriccio on Gypsy Themes) (Gregorian date: Dec. 4);

  • 1907 - Charles Martin Loeffler: "A Pagan Poem," Karl Muck conducting Boston Symphony Orchestra;

  • 1928 - Ravel: ballet "Bolero," danced by Ida Rubinstein, at the Paris Opéra;

  • 1931 - Ferde Grofé: "Grand Canyon" Suite, in Chicago, by the Paul Whiteman Orchestra;