Jack Beeson’s Birthday

Today, July 15, 2010, would have been Jack Beeson’s 89th birthday. We celebrate his prolific output and prodigious memory by heartily recommending his autobiography, what he called "The Book," How Operas are Created by Composers and Librettists: The Life of Jack Beeson, American Opera Composer, published by The Edwin Mellen Press in 2008. Jack died suddenly on Sunday, June 6, having recently completed a new piece entitled "Kilroy Was Here," a setting of selections from two Peter Viereck poems for baritone and piano, and having chaired a meeting of the Alice M. Ditson Fund two days before.

"The Book" is full of personal observations and stories of the people that he knew, being, in short, everybody. He was one of perhaps two people to have taken composition lessons from Bela Bartók, accompanied Claudio Arrau on out-of-the-way antiqueing excursions in Rome, and was directly responsible for Columbia’s launching of a doctor of musical arts degree in composition.

On teaching music appreciation, the now required Music Humanities course, part of Columbia’s celebrated Core Curriculum, he writes in How Operas are Created: "More than once during the [years teaching these courses] … I had occasion to remember and re-read the ten pages Virgil Thomson devoted to the subject of the "appreciation racket" in his 1940 book, The State of Music. … Virgil, in a fine fury, argued that those teaching (or as he also said, "preaching") the subject using as examples the fifty masterpieces … were but cogs in the publicity machines of record and radio corporations and symphony orchestras … That we succeeded in introducing at least some students to what they had so far missed, had come to enjoy, and thereafter taken much pleasure in, is certainly the case: time after time, in New York and more often elsewhere a seeming stranger approaches, introduces himself as one of my former Humanities students, and says so fervently."

Jennifer B. Lee

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