RICHARD CUMMING

1928-2009

For all his High Modernist training, composer Richard Cumming was at heart a son of that Franco-American tradition that produced Virgil Thomson, Aaron Copland, Ned Rorem, and other composers who clung more or less tenaciously to a French-influenced tonality, lyricism, and wit through much of the dissonant and difficult twentieth century, and who often sought inspiration outside the realm of the concert hall.  He admired  the best of Gershwin, Porter, and Kern as much as Beethoven and Brahms.  His path led him to the theater—as was the case with many composers of his time and ilk—in which milieu he made a considerable part of his life and art, most notably as Composer-in-Residence at the Tony-award-winning Trinity Repertory Company in Providence, Rhode Island for over twenty-five years.

 

Born in Shanghai and raised in the Philippines before settling in San Francisco during World War II, Cumming studied composition with Arnold Schoenberg and Roger Sessions, though no obvious trace of their influence is to be found in his style.  Somewhat more evident is the influence of his third important teacher, Ernest Bloch, the Swiss-American composer whose work continued the rich romantic legacy of the nineteenth century.  Over the years, Cumming garnered numerous awards including the Rubin American Opera Award (for his chamber opera The Picnic) and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ford Foundation, and Meet the Composer.  His two large-scale cycles for solo piano, Twenty-four Preludes and Silhouettes, were written for his close friend and long-time champion, John Browning, who recorded both and performed them regularly around the world.  When it was reissued on CD in 1999, his song-cycle We Happy Few, commissioned by the Ford Foundation for bass-baritone Donald Gramm, was hailed "a modern classic"  by the Washington Post. His music, including over 150 songs, is characterized by a pleasing lyricism, harmonies and rhythms that owe much to jazz and popular music, and an unabashed theatricality.  Rorem, his long-time friend and colleague, wrote of him, "though Richard Cumming is like many others, no one is quite like him; that is all that counts in an artist."

 

Gabe worked closely with Cumming during the last decade of the composer's life and now serves as co-executor of his musical estate. For more information about Cumming's work, including obtaining scores and permissions, contact Gabriel.Alfieri@ProtonMail.com.

 

Listen to Gabe sing one of Cumming's loveliest songs (with Tanya Blaich, piano):

HOME

Billy in the Darbies (Richard Cumming) - Gabe Alfieri
00:00 / 00:00
 

© 2019 by Gabe Alfieri