Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Better Know a Composer: Wallingford Riegger

Maybe it was because he was a communist, but you don't hear much about Wallingford Riegger anymore. Two years before Riegger went in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1957, Gilbert Chase made a point in his book America's Music of singling out the composer as "the leading native-born American composer who composes with twelve tones."

Granted, that's a pretty small group to be out in front of, but you get the point: Riegger was generally well respected, a composer who had emerged from the hotbed of avant-garde musical activity in 1920s New York City with a style at once daring and grounded in traditional technique. He was flaky, but not too flaky.

Dichotomy (1931-2) is one of his earliest works that typify what Riegger was all about, the first piece of his that showed the maturity he would later exhibit in his third and fourth symphonies.

His earliest success here in the US (he studied in Germany for a few years) was his Study in Sonority.