Born: April 29, 1885 - Albany, Georgia, USA
Died: April 2, 1961 - New York, New York, USA
The outstanding American composer and teacher, Wallingford (Constantin) Riegger, was taken at an early age by his family to Indianapolis (after his father's lumber mill burned down in 1888), where he received his primary musical training at home. His father played violin, and his mother, piano. After his father took the family to New York to pursue his business interests in 1900, Wallingford learned to play the cello. He then began serious study with Percy Goetschius (theory) and Schroeder (cello) at the Institute of Musical Art (now The Juilliard School). After graduating in 1907, he went to Berlin, where he studied cello with Robert Hausmann and Anton Hekking and composition with Max Bruch and Edgar Stillman-Kelley at the Hochschule für Musik (1907-1910).
In 1910 Wallingford Riegger made his debut as a conductor with Berlin's Blüthner Orchestra. After returning to the USA, he married Rose Schramm in 1911 (he had three daughters with her). He then served as a cellist in the St. Paul Symphony Orchestra in Minnesota from 1911 to 1914. Returning to Germany, a formidable musical talent and intelligence led him to worked as a vocal coach and assistant conductor at the operas in Würzburg in 1914-1915 and Königsberg in 1915-1916. Then he was again conductor of Berlin's Blüthner Orchestra (1916-1917), before returning to the USA in 1917 after the joining of America in World War I. He taught theory and cello at Drake University, Des Moines from 1918 to 1922. In 1922, he received the Paderewski Prize for his Piano Trio. In 1924, he was awarded the E.S. Coolidge Prize for his setting of Keats's La Belle Dame sans merei. In 1925, he was given the honorary degree of D.Mus. by the Cincinnati Conservatory. He taught at the lnstitute of Musical Art in New York in 1924-1925 and at the Ithaca Conservatory in 1926-1928. Then he settled in New York, where he became active as a composer and a participant in various modern music societies. He took part in the development of electronic instruments (in association with Theremin), and learned to play an electric cello.
Wallingford Riegger's music is of a highly advanced nature; a master craftsman, he wrote in disparate styles with an equal degree of proficiency; used numerous pseudonyms for certain works (William Richards, Waiter Scotson, Gerald Wilfring Gore, John H. McCurdy, George Northrup, Robert Sedgwick, Leonard Griegg, Edwin Farell, Edgar Long, etc.). His thorough investigation of modern musical resources and possibilities fueled a compositional style that appropriated 12-tone techniques and atonality within more traditional neo-classic structures. An aggressive rhythmic sense and free use of all possible tone combinations produced works like Dichotomy (1931) and Study in Sonority, which, in 1929, represented a significant stylistic break with his rigorous classical upbringing. After a long period of neglect on the part of the public and the critics, Riegger began to receive recognition. Several dance works, cast in more strictly neoromantic idioms, brought popular success as did his 3rd Symphony, which won a Naumburg Foundation Recording Award and was the choice of the New York Music Critics' Circle in 1948. He received further attention in 1957 when he was compelled to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee to explain his self-proclaimed leftist and pro-Communist sympathies. In 1958, Leonard Bernstein honoured him by conducting his Music for Orchestra with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. He died in New York in 1961 when he tripped over the leashes of two fighting dogs, resulting in a fall and a head injury from which he did not recover despite treatment.
Wallingford Riegger was one of the most respected American composers in Europe, his works championed by such conductors as Leopold Stokowski and Hermann Scherchen. In New York he was a leader among a distinguished group of avant-garde modernists including Cowell, Varèse, Charles Ives, and Ruggles. He counted among his many pupils Morton Feldman.