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100th Anniversaries of Composers Robert Ward and Richard Yardumian

On Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection, Saturday January 7th, 5 to 6 pm... Two American composers were born one hundred years ago, and while neither have household names now, ask yourself if winning a Pulitzer or being a 13-year composer-in-residence for a major orchestra counts as a sign of career success.

Robert Ward won the 1962 Pulitzer Prize in Music for his opera on Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible. He was a respected and busy composer before then, with symphonies, operas, band, and other works, but the esteem from that award prompted years of commissions. Ward composed the Prairie Overture on western-style themes originally for band in 1957 (this is the version we’ll hear), but the orchestra version had its premiere the year after his Pulitzer, in 1963, in the decidedly non-prairie environs of the Kinhaven Music School in Vermont.

American men born in 1917 went to the Second World War, and Robert Ward was awarded the Bronze Star. For Philadelphian Richard Yardumian, the year before he was called up, he composed Desolate City. It caught the ear of Eugene Ormandy, who premiered it with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1945. This was an auspicious beginning for the young man, who once studied harmony with the first curator of the Fleisher Collection, William Happich. Yardumian’s relationship with the Philadelphia Orchestra turned into a residency (he had the title “composer laureate”) from 1949 until 1964. The Philadelphia Orchestra would premiere nine Yardumian works and produce four recordings.

One of these, from 1954, is his most popular orchestral piece, the Armenian Suite. Inspired by his heritage, as much of Yardumian’s music is, this six-movement work includes a song, a lullaby, and two dances.

In addition to three symphonies, the Violin Concerto from 1949 (also on our program), and other orchestral works, Yardumian wrote much religious music. His father, the Rev. Haig Yardumian, was the first pastor of an Armenian Evangelical Church in Havertown, a suburb of Philadelphia. Richard, the youngest of ten children, married a member of the Swedenborgian Church, and from 1939 until his death he was the music director at the Swedenborg headquarters in another Philadelphia suburb, Bryn Athyn. He composed much liturgical music there but was also drawn to early music, the basis of his 1959 Veni Sancte Spiritus, or Come, Creator Spirit.

It’s the centennial year for the birth of two composers who added greatly to the household that is American classical music: Robert Ward and Richard Yardumian.

Robert Ward (1917-2013). Prairie Overture (1957/63)
Richard Yardumian (1917-1985). Armenian Suite (1936-54)
Yardumian. Violin Concerto (1948-9)
Yardumian. Chorale-Prelude on Plainsong Veni Sancte Spiritus (1959)