Death of an American composer

Death of an American composer


norman lebrecht

December 22, 2015

We regret to report the passing today of John Duffy, composer and new-music activist, at the age of 89.

A student of Copland, Cowell and Dallapiccola, John composed accessible music both for Broadway and the concerthall, much of it inspired by Americana.

Read a full appreciation on NewMusicBox here.

john duffy


  • william osborne says:

    The appreciation by Ed Harsch is a bit too polemical in my view, and very characteristic of NewMusicBox. As an example, Mr. Harsch notes Duffy’s “experience as a composer in a broad range of marketplaces gave him a tactile understanding of creators’ economic value. He was an Emmy-winning composer for TV with deep experience in music for the theater as well as the concert hall.”

    That observation is used to stress that composers in the USA are now to be “entrepreneurs” and enter the “marketplace” – a philosophy that has become an almost fanatic orthodoxy for “New Music USA” and its webzine “NewMusicBox.” The larger political goal is to promote commercialization as a postmodern/neo-liberal riposte to Europe’s systems of public arts funding. In many respects, the stance is fundamentally reactionary.

    Unfortunately, there is little evidence that contemporary classical composers can make a living in the marketplace – and the philosophy’s proponents notably provide none. Nevertheless, the pressures to find a place in the market have resulted in a contemporary classical world that is increasingly isomorphic with the superficial, one-dimensionality of much commercial music. This approach has also resulted in the further suppression of more complex forms of art in the USA.

    There is also an irony in the claim that this entrepreneurial and commercial approach to art music makes the new music community more tolerant. In fact, as with all orthodoxies, the opposite is true. NewMusicBox has become a bully pulpit for this postmodern/neo-liberal philosophy. John Duffy was indeed a tolerant man and artist, which is exactly why his memory should not be exploited to promote the relatively narrow philosophies and neo-liberal political agendas of New Music USA and NewMusicBox.

    • Glenn Hardy says:

      Thank you for pointing out the use of what is, essentially, “newspeak” in this organization’s casual references to entrepreneurial and marketplace activities. It’s all about the buzzwords. I would include phrases like academicspeak’s “emerging composers” in this category, as well. These words and phrases wheedle their way into our vocabularies, and we’re supposed to just act as though it has always been this way.