Composers Datebook®

Rorem's 'Our Town'

Composers Datebook - Feb. 24, 2024


It’s a play both Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein wanted to make into an opera, but the playwright always said, “No.”

We’re talking about Our Town, by Thornton Wilder, a nostalgic but bittersweet look at life, love and death in Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, set in the early 1900s, complete with white picket fences, boy meets girl, and a drugstore soda counter.

It wasn’t until decades after Wilder’s death in 1975 that the executor of the Wilder estate, after a long search for just the right composer for an Our Town opera, settled on Ned Rorem, and a libretto crafted by poet J.D. McClatchy, who also happened to be an authority on Wilder’s works.

Rorem was in his 80s when the opera premiered on today’s date in 2006 at the Opera Theater at the Jacobs School of Music in Bloomington, Indiana.

The New York Times thought the resulting opera was a success, writing, “Our Town opens with a hymn, and Rorem retained and refracted the familiar melody, turning pat modulations slightly bitter, as if the music were heard through a lens of nostalgia that turned it sepia. This nostalgia proved a hallmark of the score.”

Music Played in Today's Program

Ned Rorem (1923-2022): Opening, from Our Town; Monadnock Music; Gil Rose, cond. New World 80790

On This Day


  • 1766 - English composer and organist Samuel Wesley, in Bristol England; He was the nephew of John Wesley (1703-1791), the founder of the Methodist Church;

  • 1842 - Italian opera composer and librettist Arrigo Boito, in Paudua;

  • 1846 - Italian song composer Luigi Denza, in Castellammare; His most famous song is "Funiculi, Finicula."


  • 1704 - French composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier, age 78, in Paris;

  • 1929 - French composer André Messager, age 75, in Paris;


  • 1607 - Monteverdi: opera "Orfeo," at the Palazzo Ducale in Mantua;

  • 1711 - Handel: opera, “Rinaldo, ”in London at the Queen’s Theater in the Haymarket (Gregorian date: Mar. 7); This was the first Handel opera produced in London, and the first Italian opera written specifically composed for the London stage;

  • 1725 - Handel: opera “Rodelinda,” in London (Julian date: Feb. 13);

  • 1730 - Handel: opera “Partenope,” in London at the King’s Theater in the Haymarket (Gregorian date: Mar. 7);

  • 1745 - Rameau: comedy-ballet "La Princesse de Navarre" (to a text by Voltaire, for the wedding of the Dauphin with Maria Teresa of Spain), at Versailles;

  • 1876 - Grieg: incidental music for Ibsen's play "Peer Gynt, "as part of a staged production in Christiania (Oslo), Norway;

  • 1935 - Miaskovsky: Symphony No. 14, in Moscow;

  • 1939 - Roy Harris: Symphony No. 3, by the Boston Symphony, Koussevitzky conducting;

  • 1955 - Carlisle Floyd: opera "Susannah" at Florida State University in Tallahassee; According to Opera America, this is one of the most frequently-produced American operas during the past decade;

  • 1956 - Piston: Symphony No. 5, in New York City;

  • 1976 - Bernstein: musical "1600 Pennsylvania Avenue," in Philadelphia as a trial run at the Forrest Theater, conducted by Roland Gagnon; The show opened in New York City at the Mark Hellinger Theater in New York City on May 4, 1976, also conducted by Gagnon;

  • 1979 - Berg: opera "Lulu" (first staging of complete version as arr. by Friedrich Cerha), at the Paris Opéra, with Pierre Boulez conducting;

  • 1985 - Andrew Lloyd-Webber: "Requiem," in New York City at St. Thomas Episcopal Church; The London premiere occurred on April 21, 1984, in Westminster Abbey; The soloists in both cases were soprano Sarah Brightman and tenor Placido Domingo, with Lorin Maazel conducting;

  • 2000 - Joan Tower: "The Last Dance," at Carnegie Hall, by the Orchestra of St. Luke's;


  • 1727 - Handel applies for British citizenship (Julian date: Feb. 13);

  • 1894 - First documented American performance of Handel's Concerto Grosso in D Minor (op. 6, no.10), by the Boston Symphony, Emil Paur conducting.

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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®