Poster Dominick Argento
Minnesota-based composer Dominick Argento won a Pulitzer for his work.
Choral Stream

Remembering composer Dominick Argento, who has died at 91

Editor's note: Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Dominick Argento died Wednesday at 91 in Minneapolis. Classical MPR director Brian Newhouse looks back fondly on a special moment with Argento and the composer's legacy.

The occasion could've been sad: a composer of exquisitely beautiful music saying "it's time to stop."

Dominick Argento had made the decision that after 60-plus years of writing for musicians of all kinds, he was putting down his pen. Almost like Beethoven, he couldn't hear music anymore — not deafness as such, but an effect he described as "garbled and harsh."

In his mid-80s, there was little pleasure for him anymore in making music that he couldn't really hear. So this was it. The grand operas that had flowed so prolifically from his imagination, the brilliantly orchestrated symphonic pieces, the songs for solo voice and piano that won him a Pulitzer and legions of grateful singers — this is where it would end.

But he had one more piece in him. His friend Pat Solstad wrote a set of four gorgeous poems called Seasons. He'd set these to music, and in summer 2014 he offered it to his longtime friend and collaborator Dale Warland to premiere.

Warland was partway through his remarkable multiyear residency at Winona's Minnesota Beethoven Festival. He'd gather a handpicked choir of 40 voices from across the country for a pair of sold-out concerts. I'd been to every one of them, and can tell you that choral music never sounded more exquisite.

How lucky to sit between these two for a preconcert chat!

Argento at the Minnesota Beethoven Festival
Composer Dominick Argento, right, shares laughs with conductor Dale Warland, left, and Classical MPR director Brian Newhouse at the Minnesota Beethoven Festival in 2014.
Minnesota Beethoven Festival

Argento had written so many works for the Dale Warland Singers — including the now-iconic Walden Pond.

"When you write for Dale," Argento said, "your music will get no finer premiere, and no stronger champion."

Warland responded: "His music has this crystal quality, and it takes on a kind of spiritual depth that's rare."

Yes, it was a love fest, and what might've been a sad farewell was anything but. These two longtime friends, who met monthly for lunch, took us deep inside their artistic partnership during that preconcert talk. And they couldn't resist tossing a little barb at each other. The photographer captured the moment when Dominick let the audience know how much mostaccioli Warland could pack away!

And then the music came. His final piece. Oh my, the music.

LISTEN — Dominick Argento: 'Seasons'


York Daily Record: "World-class composer Argento left a legacy beyond music. He was just Uncle Dominick."

Extra Eclectic: "Dominick Argento turns 90"

Music With Minnesotans: "Singing Dominick Argento's 'Seasons'"

Sing to Inspire: "Tales of Dale and Dominick"

University of Minnesota: "Remembering Dominick Argento"

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