Today’s date marks the birthday of the American composer and pianist Lee Hoiby, who was born in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1926.
Hoiby was just six when he made his debut as a composer in the parlor of his Madison home for his grandmother’s Daughters of Norway Club. He played a piano piece he wrote himself entitled “The Storm,” and insisted, before playing it, that all the lights in the parlor be turned off to set a proper mood for the music.
With that early sense of dramatic staging in mind, it’s not surprising that Hoiby eventually would write successful operas, ranging from “Bon Appetit!,” a monolog based on cook books of Julia Child, to a full-blown, three-act setting of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” His best-known known opera is a 1971 setting of the Tennessee Williams play “Summer and Smoke,” which premiered at the St. Paul Opera in Minnesota.
Hoiby studied with two virtuoso pianists, Gunnar Johansen and Egon Petri, both famous interpreters of the modern Romantic composer Feruccio Busoni, and Hoiby’s own music seems rooted in the later Romantic/early Modern tradition.
“For me, composing music bears some likeness to archeology,” said Hoiby. “It requires patient digging, searching for the treasure; the ability to distinguish between a treasure and the rock next to it—and recognizing when you're digging in the wrong place.”
Hoiby died on March 28, 2011, aged 85, in New York City.
Music Played in Today's Program
Lee Hoiby (1926 - 2011)Act II intro, fr Summer and SmokeManhattan School of Music Opera Theatre; Steve Osgood, cond.Albany TROY-122
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