Seymour Shifrin (1926-1979, American)

His entry on Wikipedia says that Seymour Shifrin “was described by Time Magazine as ‘one of the most significant composers of his generation’.” Well, I don’t know about that, even limiting myself to American composers of his generation (which excludes Boulez and Berio, then, both born in 1925, Kurtag and Henze 1926, Stockhausen 1928, Nono 1924, Ligeti 1923): Morton Feldman was born in 1926, Gunther Schuller in 1925, Ned Rorem and Peter Mennin in 1923, Lukas Foss in 1922, and, going the other way, Jacob Druckman was born in 1928… and so was Burt Bacharach. I’m not sure Shifrin has left such a deep mark in the memory of 20th century music.

One of his most recognized pieces is his  1964 Satires of Circumstances, on poems by Thomas Hardy. Its recording, made in 1969, received the 1970 Koussevitzky International Recording Award. It happens to be the only recording of Shifrin’s music I’ve reviewed so far. It’s on Spectrum: New American Music. Works of Stefan Wolpe, Seymour Shifrin, George Rochberg, Milton Babbitt, Richard Wernick. The Contemporary Chamber Ensemble, Arthur Weisberg. Elektra Nonesuch 9 79222-2 (1990). It might have been your typical avant-garde piece, with its jagged, thorny, pointillistic, un-melodic instrumental introductions, if it hadn’t been for the great poetry of Hardy (the second poem, on the unpredictable yet inevitable mating of the Titanic and the Iceberg, is a magnificent poem) and the very continuous and lyrical vocal line sung, with consummate style, by Jan deGaetani.

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