Roger (Huntington) Sessions

American Born 28 Dec 1896 Died 16 May 1985

Roger Sessions was born on December 28th 1896 into a New England-rooted family, and spent a lot of his childhood years in the ancestral home in Massachusetts.  He had precocious music and intellectual talent (he wrote an opera when he was thirteen), entering Harvard at the age of fourteen and then attending Yale.  The languages he learned at Harvard enabled him to live in Europe for several years, where he saw fascism and Nazism rise.  Fearing nationalistic feeling growing in America, he was never a patriotic composer, and felt a falseness in Americana which may have contributed to his lack of public success there.  After his return from Europe, Sessions began a teaching career which lasted for nearly 50 years.  He died on 16th March 1985.

His first musical success came in 1928, with his Black Maskers Suite.  Over the years, Session's composition became more and more chromatic, until in 1953, while writing his Sonata for Violin, he realised that he was writing twelve-tone music, a style of which he had once been very suspicious.  His cantata When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed is considered by some to be his greatest work.  The words by Walt Whitman are on the theme of freedom, a subject very important to Sessions.

His most prolific period was between the ages of 50 and 75, when he wrote six symphonies, a string quintet, two piano sonatas, and the opera Montezuma (on which he worked for 25 years).  His work has appealed more to musicians than to a public audience, although it posesses great melodic beauty, is elegantly structured and emotionally intense.  Sessions believed that music should be a communication of experience, and that this two-way interaction demands the listener makes an effort to understand what is being said.

Related composers: Adams, Babbitt, Copland, Verdi, Zwilich

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