Composers Datebook®

Rorem's 'Book of Hours'

Composers Datebook - Feb. 29, 2024


Happy Leap Year!

Once every four years, we have the opportunity to wish the great Italian opera composer Giacomo Rossini a happy birthday — he was born on Feb. 29 in 1792 — and to note some other musical events that occurred on this unusual but recurring calendar date.

The American Bicentennial Year 1976, for example, also was a leap year, and 12 months were cram-packed with specially commissioned works written on a grand scale to celebrate that major anniversary of our nation. But at Alice Tully Hall on Feb. 29, 1976, a more modest celebration was in progress: an afternoon of new chamber works for flute and harp, including the premiere performance of a piece by American composer Ned Rorem.

This piece was titled Book of Hours, referring to the prayers that the clergy read at various times of the day. In 1976, when avant-garde composer Pierre Boulez was the music director of the New York Philharmonic and dense, complicated music was considered fashionable by the critics, and the reviewer for the New York Times was struck by Rorem’s deceptive simplicity: “Many contemporary composers flaunt their abilities to make music complex,” he wrote, “but Rorem waves an altogether different flag. His Book of Hours seemed determined to be uneventful. Its calculated simplicities and unassertive manner recalled the bare-walls asceticism of Erik Satie, though Mr. Rorem’s phrases and colors are more sensuous and do not quite evoke Satie’s mood of monastic rigor.”

Music Played in Today's Program

Ned Rorem (1923-2022): Book of Hours; Fibonacci Sequence; Naxos 8.559128

On This Day


  • 1792 - Italian opera composer Gioacchino Rossini, in Pesaro

  • 1852 - English composer, conductor and pianist Sir Frederic Hymen Cowen, in Kingston, Jamaica;


  • 1748 - Rameau: ballet "Zaïs," in Paris;

  • 1828 - Auber: opera "Masaniello (La Muette de Portici)," in Paris;

  • 1836 - Meyerbeeer: opera "Les Huguenots," at the Paris Opéra;

  • 1948 - Diamond: Violin Concerto No. 2, in Vancouver, Canada;

  • 1952 - Chavéz: Violin Concerto, in Mexico City;

  • 1968 - Dave Brubeck: oratorio "The Light in the Wilderness," in Cincinnati;

  • 1968 - Hanson: Symphony No. 6, by the New York Philharmonic, with the composer conducting;

  • 1976 - Carlisle Floyd: opera "Bilby's Doll," in Houston, Texas;

  • 1976 - Ned Rorem: "Book of Hours" for flute and harp, at Alice Tully Hall in New York City, by Ingrid Dingelder (flute) and Martine Geliot (harp);

  • 1988 - Ligeti: Piano Concerto (final version), by the Austrian Radio and Television Symphony conducted by Mario di Bonaventura, and with Anthony Bonaventura (the conductor's brother) as the soloist; An earlier version of this concerto had premiered in Graz, Austria, on October 23, 1986, with members of the Vienna Philharmonic and the same conductor and soloist.

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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.

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