Composers Datebook®

Robert Ward panned and prized

Composer's Datebook - October 26, 2023


For composers of new operas, all too often, after the heady champagne of opening night comes the strong black coffee of “the morning after” — sipped anxiously while reading the first reviews.

Imagine yourself as American composer Robert Ward, whose opera The Crucible was premiered by the New York City Opera on today’s date in 1961. Here’s what he would have read in the New York Times the following morning:

“Last night, the audience heard an opera that, in philosophy and workmanship, could have been composed at the turn of the century, or before. And, judging from the response at the end of the work, the audience loved it.”

Hmm. Not all that bad, so far.

But down a few more lines comes this zinger: “Mr. Ward is an experienced composer whose music fails to bear the impress of a really inventive mind. Melodically, his ideas had little distinction. ... [The opera’s] powerful subject cried out for intensity, for brutality and shock. ... Instead, we had musical platitudes.”


Oh, well, despite the nasty review, Ward’s opera did well at the box office, and, for the record, went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music the following year.

Music Played in Today's Program

Robert Ward (1917-2013) The Crucible - New York City Opera; Emerson Buckley, cond. Albany 25/26

On This Day


  • 1685 - Italian composer and harpsichordist Domenico Scarlatti, in Naples;

  • 1694 - Swedish composer Johan Helmich Roman, in Stockholm;


  • 1874 - German composer Peter Cornelius, age 49, near Copenhagen;


  • 1783 - Mozart: Mass in C minor, K.427, in St. Peter's Church, Salzburg, with the composer conducting and his wife, Constanze, the soprano soloist;

  • 1873 - Bruckner: Symphony No. 2, in Vienna, with the composer conducting;

  • 1896 - Dvorák: symphonic poem "The Golden Spinning Wheel," Op. 109, in London;

  • 1917 - Mussorgsky (arr. Cui): opera "The Fair at Sorochinsky," posthumously, in St. Petersburg (see Julian date: Oct. 13);

  • 1919 - Elgar: Cello Concerto, at London's Queens Hall, with the London Symphony conducted by the composer, and Felix Salmond the soloist;

  • 1930 - Shostakovich: ballet, "The Age of Gold," in Leningrad;

  • 1945 - Bloch: "Suite Symphonique," by the Philadelphia Orchestra, Pierre Monteux conducting;

  • 1956 - William Schuman: "New England Triptych," in Miami, Fla., by the University of Miami Orchestra, André Kostelanetz conducting;

  • 1961 - David Diamond: Symphony No. 8, by the New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein conducting;

  • 1961 - Robert Ward: opera "The Crucible" (after the play by Arthur Miller), in New York City; This work won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1962;

  • 1962 - Gunther Schuller: Piano Concerto, in Cincinnati;

  • 1976 - Piston: Concerto for string quartet, winds, brass and percussion, in Portland, Ore.


  • 1739 - Handel completes in London his Concerto Grosso in g, Op. 6, no. 6 (see Julian date: Oct. 15);

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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.

About Composers Datebook®