Composers Datebook®

David Ward-Steinman's 'Cinnabar'

Composers Datebook - June 15, 2024


“Listening to inner voices” is a phrase that can mean a lot of things.

For violists, providing those inner voices, musically speaking, is their daily bread and butter. In the modern orchestra, the viola provides the alto voice in the string choir, filling in harmonies and musical lines between the violins on top and the cellos and double basses on the bottom.

But (unfortunately) occasionally violists like to step forward, front and center, as soloists. And some composers have shown a special fondness for the viola’s distinctive dusky color.

According to American composer David Ward-Steinman, that color might well be likened to cinnabar, the ore of mercury, a crystallized reddish-brown mineral with flashes of quicksilver. Asked to write a solo for the 19th Annual Viola Congress held at Ithaca, New York, Ward-Steinman’s Cinnabar for solo viola and piano premiered on today’s date in 1991. 

David Ward-Steinman served as Composer-in-Residence at San Diego State University for many years. His own teachers included Wallingford Riegger, Darius Milhaud, Milton Babbitt, and Nadia Boulanger. Ward-Steinman’s catalog of original works ranges from solo pieces and chamber works like Cinnabar, to large-scale theatrical scores and ballets.

Music Played in Today's Program

David Ward-Steinman (1936-2015): Cinnabar; Karen Elaine, viola; David Ward-Steinman, piano; Fleur de Son 57935

On This Day


  • 1763 - Baptismal date of German composer Franz Danzi, in Mannheim

  • 1843 - Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg, in Bergen

  • 1864 - French composer Guy Ropartz, in Guingamp, Brittany

  • 1894 - American composer and arranged Robert Russell Bennett, in Kansas City, Missouri

  • 1900 - American composer Otto Luening, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin


  • 1772 - French composer and organist Louis-Claude Daquin, 77, in Paris

  • 1893 - Hungarian opera composer Ferenc Erkel, 82, in Budapest


  • 1810 - Beethoven: Egmont Overture and Incidental Music, at the Court Theater in Vienna, as part of a production of Goethe's drama of the same name

  • 1889 - Sousa: Washington Post March, in Washington, D.C., outside the Smithsonian Institution, composer conducting the U.S. Marines Band

  • 1914 - Miaskovsky: Symphony No. 1, in Pavlovsk (Julian date: June 2)

  • 1980 - David Byrne: High Life for Strings, at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, during the New Music America Festival

  • 1989 - Michael Torke: ballet Slate, at the New York State Theater, by the New York City Ballet Orchestra, Hugo Fiorato

  • 1991 - Thomas Oboe Lee: Seven Jazz Pieces for string quartet, at Brandeis University, by the Lydian String Quartet

  • 1991 - David Ward-Steinman: Cinnabar for viola and piano, in Ithaca, New York, at the 19th Annual Viola Congress by violist Karen Elaine with the composer at the piano


  • 1707 - J.S. Bach appointed organist at Blasiuskirche, Muehlhausen

  • 1733 - In London the Opera of the Nobility is established by several noblemen and supported by the Prince of Wales, as a rival opera company to Handel’s company, the Royal Academy; Porpora's opera Arianna in Nasso (Ariadne on Naxos) opens their first season on December 29th that year. The company folded in 1737, with its final opera performance on June 11, 1737, at the King’s Theater in the Haymarket (The original home of Handel's company). These dates are all according to the Julian “Old Style” calendar still in use in England that year.

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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®