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David Del Tredici (Composer)

Born: March 16, 1937 - Cloverdale, CA, USA

The American outstanding American composer, David (Walter) Del Tredici, is America's foremost exponent of the return to tonality in composition. He studied piano with Bernhard Abramowitsch from 1954 to 1960. He also studied composition with Seymour Shifrin and Elston at the University of California at Berkeley (B.A., 1959). In the summer of 1958, he pursued training in piano at the Aspen (Colorado) Music School, where he also attended Milhaud's' composition seminar. He continued his studies in composition with Earl Kim and Roger Sessions at Princeton University (M.F.A., 1963) and had private piano lessons with Robert Helps in New York. In 1964 he completed his graduate studies at Princeton University, and also attended the Berkshire Music Center in Tanglewood that summer, returning there in 1965. In 1966-1967 he held a Guggenheim fellowship, and during those summers he was composer-in-residence at the Marlboro (Vermount) Festival.

From 1968 to 1972 David Del Tredici taught at Harvard University. In 1973 he taught at the State University of New York at Buffalo, and later that year became a teacher at Boston University. In the summer of 1975 he also was composer-in-residence at Aspen. In 1984 he became a teacher at City College of the City University of New York. He also was composer-in-residence at the American Academy in Rome in 1985. From 1988 to 1990, he served as Composer-in-Residence with the New York Philharmonic. During his tenure, he composed Steps, which received its world premiere in 1990 under the direction of Zubin Mehta and released on New World Records. Tattoo, a commission for the Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam, premiered in the USA by the New York Philharmonic and Leonard Bernstein in 1988. The New York Philharmonic subsequently recorded the work for Deutsche Grammophon. In Fall of 1999 and Fall of 2000 he taught at Yale University. In 1991 he was made a professor at the Manhattan School of Music in New York. In 1992 he was the featured composer at the Pacific Music Festival in Sapporo, Japan. Currently he is Distinguished Professor of Music at the City College of New York. Presently he also sits on the Boards of Directors of Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony and the Aaron Copland Fund for Music.

Among David Del Tredici's first scores to attract notice were those inspired by James Joyce, including I Hear an Army for Soprano and String Quartet (Tanglewood, August 1964), which immediately caught the fancy of the cloistered but influential cognoscenti, literati, and illuminati, and Night Conjure-Verse for Soprano, Mezzo-soprano, and Chamber Ensemble, which Del Tredici conducted in its San Francisco premiere in March 1966. In these and other Joyce-inspired works, he plied a modified dodecaphonic course in a polyrhythmic context, gravid with meaningful pauses without fear of triadic encounters. However, Del Tredici achieved his greatest fame with a series of brilliant tone pictures after Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, in which he projected, in utter defiance of all modernistic conventions, overt tonal proclamations, fanfares, and pretty tunes that were almost embarrassingly attractive, becoming melodiouser and harmoniouser with each consequent tone portrait. His Final Alice for Amplified Soprano, Folk Group, and Orchestra (Chicago, October 1976) secured his international reputation as a composer of truly imaginative gifts, whose embrace of tonality is evinced in scores replete with brilliant harmonies and resplendent colors.

Though David Del Tredici has gone through many stylistic changes, even a quick glance at a list of his works will reveal that one thing has never changed - he is a composer immensely inspired by literature. The majority of his compositions are inspired by Victorian texts and modern poetry, and include the works of James Joyce, Allen Ginsberg, Rumi, Federico García Lorca, Thom Gunn, Paul Monette, Colette Inez, Bram Stoker, and especially Lewis Carroll, whose Alice books inspired the bulk of his output from 1968 to the present. Musically, however, he is best known for is his "radical" return to Romanticism. His music moves stylistically "backward" from the academic serialism of his professional training to the tonal palette historically used prior to Arnold Schoenberg. He is probably the most prominent, and possibly the most adamant, neo-Romantic composer to reject received academic technique in years, and his influences include Aaron Copland, Leon Kirchner, and George Rochberg. But whether written in a style more akin to modernism or embracing tonality, Del Tredici's music is always complex, intelligent, and highly individualistic.

David Del Tredici has made a dramatic shift from his beloved settings of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland to an ardent new embrace of American poetry. In the last few years, he has written more than 50 songs, rooted in diverse and decidedly 20th century poetic inspiration. Victorian sensibility has yielded to the urban contemporary - tormented relationships, personal transformations, and the joys and sorrows of gay life. His recent songs moved one San Francisco critic to comment that they "must surely herald a bright new era for the neglected tradition of song composition."

Since 1996, David Del Tredici has been in a remarkably fruitful creative period. The recent New York Philharmonic commission The Spider and the Fly is an elaborate 45-minute setting for soprano and baritone of the well-known Mary Howitt poem ("Will you come into my Parlor?" said the Spider to the Fly). The piece received its world premiere in May 1998 under the direction of Kurt Masur, with soprano Hila Plitmann and baritone Nathan Gunn as the vocal soloists. In October 1998, the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players premiered Chna's Story, a song cycle for soprano and piano to poetry of Chana Bloch. March 1999 saw the Eos Orchestra, as part of a consortium commission, premiere the mono-drama Dracula, based on the poem, "My Neighbor the Distinguished Count" by Alfred Corn. Recently he worked on Four Inez Poems, settings to poetry by Colette Inez, commissioned by Sequitur and the Miller Theatre for performance in April 2000. June of the same year Michael Tilson Thomas conducted the premiere of Gay Life, commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, an orchestral song cycle which incorporates poetry of Allen Ginsberg, Thom Gunn and Paul Monette, among others.

David Del Tredici has displayed a certain iconoclastic bent and quirky individuality since his earliest works. Trained in serial technique, he soon broke away from the language of his teachers to explore the fantasy world of Lewis Carroll, and in so doing, developed a rich musical idiom of color, humor, and sentiment worked out on vast orchestral canvases of tonal sound. His fascination with the Alice in Wonderland books has yielded a surprising diversity of compositions - from the spiky, witty settings of Pop- Pourri and Adventures Underground (which include folk and rock ensembles) to the extravagant, theatrical opera-cantata, Final Alice, and the lush, neo-romantic Child Alice. His music has been commissioned and performed by nearly every major American and European orchestral ensemble. Both Final Alice and In Memory of a Summer Day (part one of Child Alice) generated best-selling recordings; the latter work earned Del Tredici the Pulitzer Prize.

David Del Tredici's music has also caught the attention of the dance and theatre world. Choreographer Glen Tetley created an evocative, hour-long ballet to In Memory of a Summer Day for the National Ballet of Canada, entitled Ali, and Oscar Ariaz has re-choreographed the same music for The Grand Theatre in Geneva. The pioneering Music Theatre Group created a musical piece based on Del Tredici's Haddocks' Eyes, starring Tom Hulce, which had a critically acclaimed run in New York. David Del Tredici has been featured in a 90-minute profile "Video Alice" filmed by Channel Four and broadcast on British Television.

David Del Tredici has received various awards, commissions, and honors. In 1968 he received an award from the American Institute of Arts and Letters. In 1973 and 1974 he held NEA grants. In 1980 he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Music for his In Memory of a Summer Day for Amplified Soprano and Orchestra, one of his many works based upon Alice in Wonderland. His Happy Voices for Orchestra won a Friedheim Award in 1982. In 1984 he was elected a member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. His many compositional honors include also Guggenheim and Woodrow Wilson fellowships, the Brandeis and Friedheim Awards, and grants from the NEA. Throughout his career, Del Tredici has been a frequent and grateful guest at various art colonies, most notably Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.

David Del Tredici has also emerged as an eloquent voice in the gay community, and his most recent work has shifted away from the edged whimsy of Alice, and moved towards twentieth century American poetry, to the "urban contemporary-tormented relationships, personal transformations, and the joys and sorrows of gay life."

Notable Works:

Four Songs on Poems of James Joyce, for voice and piano (1958-1960) A student work for voice and piano (Berkeley, California, 1961)
Two Songs on Poems of James Joyce, for voice and piano (1959; rev. 1978) A student work for voice and piano (Washington, D.C. 1983)
I Hear an Army (1964) For soprano and string quartet, this is an agitated setting of the final poem from Chamber Music.
Night Conjure-Verse (1965), for soprano, mezzo-soprano or countertenor, and chamber ensemble. A pairing of "Simples" and "A Memory of the Players in a Mirror at Midnight"
Syzygy (1966), for soprano, horn, chimes and orchestra. A pairing of "Ecce Puer" and "Nightpiece."
An Alice Symphony (1969)
Final Alice, an opera in concert form for soprano, folk ensemble, and orchestra (1976)
Child Alice ("In Memory of a Summer Day", "Happy Voices", "In the Golden Afternoon", "Quaint Events") for soprano and orchestra (1980-1981)
The Spider and The Fly for high soprano, high baritone, and orchestra (1998)

Source: Kalvos Damian Website; The Modern Word Website; Wikipedia Website; Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of 20th Century Classical Musicians (1997)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (April 2006)

Use of Chorale Melodies in his works


Chorale Melody


On texts by L. Carroll: Pop-Pourri, amp S, chorus, 2 soprano sax, 2 electric guitar, percussionsm orchestra, employs a pre-existing tonal source, Bach's chorale ‘Es ist genug’ from Cantata BWV 60. Del Tredici derives the work's primary 12-note row from the first four pitches of the chorale melody, pitches identical to the first four notes of the whole-tone scale.

Es ist genug

1968, rev. 1973

Links to other Sites

David Del Tredici - Composer Profile (Kalvos Damian)
David Del Tredeci (The Modern Word)
David Del Tredici (Bossey & Hawkes)
David Del Tredici (The Living Composers Project)

David Del Tredici (Wikipedia)
NewMusicBox: David Del Tredici in conversation with Frank J. Oteri, 2003
American Mavericks: An interview with David Del Tredici



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