Tim Page remembers Ned Rorem

Tim Page remembers Ned Rorem


norman lebrecht

November 18, 2022

From the Washington Post obituary of a great American composer who died today:

Mr. Rorem first gained fame when he was in his 20s as a composer of “art songs” — taut musical settings of poetry that were intended to be sung by classically trained vocalists, usually including an elaborate part for piano that was less accompaniment than full complement to the melody.

From the beginning, he had a clear understanding of what the human voice could and could not do. His melodies, although strenuous at times and moderately dissonant, were invariably linear, and the words usually came out in a natural, unforced rhythm, almost as enhanced speech, easy for a listener to follow.

By the time Mr. Rorem was 40, he had written more than 400 such songs, as well as three symphonies, several one-act operas and a great deal of chamber music, making him one of America’s most prolific composers. He won the Pulitzer Prize for composition in 1976 for “Air Music,” an orchestral suite.

By this point, however, Mr. Rorem was at least as well known for his diaries as for his music. In 1966, he published “The Paris Diary,” which stirred up considerable controversy, largely because of its frank, first-person account of the author’s sex life, which was both gay and many-partnered at a time when neither proclivity was considered a fit subject for conversation….

Read on here.


  • Helen Kamioner says:

    One of composer Ned Rorem’s most beautiful songs performed by its greatest exponent, soprano Leontyne Price.

    The silver swan, who living had no note, When death approach’d, unlock’d her silent throat; Leaning her breast against the reedy shore, Thus sung her first and last, and sung no more. Farewell, all joys; O Death, come close mine eyes; More geese than swans now live, more fools than wise.



    Thank you, Tim, for your truthful but still touching obit and tribute to Ned. I’m still sorting out my thoughts for something less formal on FB.

    I am and always was crazy about the songs. The operatic setting of Three Sisters Who Aren’t Sisters by Gertrude, to me, is a great work and equals only Virgil’s knack for setting American English to Music and vice versa.

    Now it’s sweet memories of Ned and Morris Golde and Virgil and Maurice Grosser at dinner at the sadly defunct Fedora’s and The Waverly Inn, where friends are dining tonight. For the chicken pot pie, of course. What else??

    Here’s a big toast-even a mocktail to Ned-to all of those guys tonight. ♥️

  • bonfires and vanities says:

    I remember back in the 1970s when Rorem declared at the American Academy of Arts and Letters that George Crumb’s music was “hickey.” He was a kind of catty, musical Mr. Rogers always ready to denounce his colleagues from his prim-and-proper perch, but who despite his prodigious musical and linguistic gifts seldom ranged beyond the confines of his suburban, Nantucket privilege to address what America really is. As Tim Page notes, Rorem joked about how he was always referred to as “Pulitzer Prize winning composer Ned Rorem,” but I doubt people ever say Pulitzer Prize winning composer Kendrick Lamar. What are we to think as we see our advantaged sandcastles in the air slowly dissolving?

  • NSS says:

    A brilliant man and a brilliant composer! RIP Maestro.

  • Ursula Austin says:

    Ned Rorem was a wonderful friend and neighbor. He was always hospitable offering cups of tea with treats and laughing at his sweet tooth. He had a naturalness about him, a sort of grace. Inviting me to his Miss Julie run through, he asked my opinion (a huge compliment for me). His kindness, generosity will always stand out in my memory. RIP Ned.