Composers Datebook®

John Duffy's 'Utah' Symphony

Composers Datebook - 20231129


Utah came to the stage of Avery Fisher Hall in New York City, musically speaking, on this date in 1989, when the Orchestra of St. Luke’s premiered Utah Symphony, by American composer John Duffy. His Symphony No. 1 was commissioned by Gibbs Smith, the president of the Utah chapter of the Sierra Club to draw attention to the endangered and pristine wilderness lands of that state.

Duffy knew this region firsthand.

“I began sketching the symphony while hiking through southeastern Utah in the spring of 1988,” he said. “The landscape astounded me: Dramatic contrasts of light and shadow ... violent changes in weather ... expansive vistas. Here in the ancient Indian ruins, canyons, cathedral-like Mesas and fantastical slabs of rock is a spiritual presence and aesthetic wonder of pure, majestic, humbling wilderness.”

Duffy is perhaps best known for writing the score to the 9-hour PBS documentary series Heritage: Civilization and the Jews. He was born in the Bronx and studied with Aaron Copland and Henry Cowell.

In addition to composing over 300 works, in 1974, Duffy founded Meet the Composer, an organization dedicated to the creation, performance and recording of music by American composers.

Music Played in Today's Program

John Duffy (1926-2015) Symphony No. 1 (Utah); Milwaukee Symphony; Zdenek Macal, cond. Koss 1022

On This Day


  • 1632 - Baptism of Italian-French composer Jean-Baptiste Lully, in Florence, Italy;

  • 1797 - Italian composer Gaetano Donizetti, in Bergamo;

  • 1915 - American jazz pianist and composer Billy Strayhorn, in Dayton, Ohio;


  • 1643 - Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi, age 76, in Venice;

  • 1924 - Italian composer Giacomo Puccini, age 65, in Brussels, Belgium;

  • 1957 - Austrian-born composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold, age 60, in Los Angeles;


  • 1862 - Brahms: Piano Quartet No. 2 in A, Op. 26, at the old Gesellschaft for Musikfreunde Vereinsaal in Vienna, by the Hellmesberger Quartet, with the composer at the piano;

  • 1879 - Brahms: Violin Sonata No. 1 in G, in Vienna;

  • 1964 - Cowell: "26 Simultaneous Mosacis" for 5 players, at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, in Buffalo, N.Y., by an ensemble from the Music Department of the State University of New York, Buffalo, directed by Lukas Foss;

  • 1983 - Messiaen: opera "St. Francis of Assisi," at the Paris Opéra, conducted by Seiji Ozawa;

  • 1989 - Lukas Foss: “American Landscapes,” for guitar and orchestra, with guitarist Sharon Isbin and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, the composer conducting; On the same program were the premiere performances of John Duffy: Symphony No. 1 (“Utah”) and Joan Tower: “Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman” No. 2 (dedicated to Joan Briccetti, general manager of the St. Louis Symphony), with Peter Connelly conducting the Duiffy and Tower pieces;

  • 1997 - Anthony Davis: opera "Amistad," by the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Dennis Russell Davies conducting;


  • 1741 - Handel arrives in Dublin for an extended stay (see Julian date: Nov. 18);

  • 1919 - Leo Ornstein performs a recital of his own works in New York City.

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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®