Ned Rorem Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Ned Rorem (ROH-rehm), best known as a composer of American art song and opera, describes himself as “a musician who happened to write, not an author who happened to compose.” In addition to his prodigious output as a musician, composer, songwriter, and orchestrator, he is the author of a series of diaries and collections of essays that address a wide gamut of subjects.

Born in Richmond, Indiana, on October 23, 1923, Rorem was born to medical economist Clarence Rufus Rorem and his wife, Gladys Miller Rorem. According to Rorem, his parents were financially lower-middle-class and culturally highbrow, liberal, and well-read left-of-center Quaker converts. Although Rorem’s parents were not especially musical, they arranged for him to take piano lessons when he was seven. When Rorem was eight, the family moved to Chicago, where his parents exposed him to music by taking him to concerts and recitals. Insisting that he was born an artist, Rorem denied that his choice of a musical career was influenced by his parents; nevertheless, he acknowledged one particular event as having influenced his choice of a career. When he was ten, his piano teacher introduced him to the music of Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel; thereafter, Rorem was determined to become a composer and to live in Paris.

At seventeen, Rorem began studies at Northwestern University’s School of Music. In 1942 he received a scholarship to attend the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. From the Curtis Institute, Rorem went to the Juilliard School, from which he received his bachelor’s degree in 1946 and his master’s degree in 1948. In 1948 he also won the George Gershwin Memorial Prize for Composition. In 1949, having accomplished his goal of becoming a composer, Rorem fulfilled his other goal by moving to Paris. For the next seven years, he divided his time between Paris and Morocco.

Three years before his move to Paris, Rorem had begun keeping a diary, primarily “as a release from shyness, to investigate on paper what [he] could not say aloud.” The diary soon became a medium for the recording of Rorem’s preoccupations outside musical composition, and in 1966 Rorem, never shy about self-revelation, published the first of what would become a series of diaries. The Paris Diary of Ned Rorem was followed by The New York Diary of Ned Rorem, The Final Diary: 1961-1972, and The Nantucket Diary of Ned Rorem: 1973-1985. These diaries are, in Rorem’s...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Gagne, Cole, Gene Bagnato, and Lona Foote, eds. Soundpieces 2: Interviews with American Composers. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1993. Rorem tells of his experiences in the world of music, of music criticism, and of personal histories with colleagues and others. Also comes with a biographical profile, a listing of compositions and writings, and a discography.

Keller, Johanna. “A Prolific Paradox: Ned Rorem Documents His Adventures in Composing, Writing and Sex, but How Well Do We Really Know Him?” Los Angeles Times, March 2, 2003, p. E45. Rorem talks about his song cycle Evidence of Things Not Seen; the composition Aftermath, a reflection on the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks; and Another Sleep, a memorial for his partner since 1967, James Holmes, also a musician, who died in 1999.

McDonald, Arlys L. Ned Rorem: A Bio-bibliography. New York: Greenwood Press, 1989. Researchers of Rorem’s life and writing would do well to begin with this thorough monograph.

Rorem, Ned. A Ned Rorem Reader. Foreword by J. D. McClatchy. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2001. The ultimate authority on Rorem’s life is Rorem, particularly in the diaries. This collection, which McClatchy calls “astonishing,” distills Rorems memories of the life and people of music and music making.