Frank Wigglesworth (1918-1996) was a composer, conductor, performer and teacher who was a resident of New York's Greenwich Village for more than 40 years. Born in Boston in 1918, Wigglesworth had an interest in music from an early age, playing both the violin and viola and began composing at the age of eleven. He went on to study composition with Otto Luening, Henry Cowell and Ernest White at Columbia University and Converse College in Spartanburg, S.C.
In 1946, he joined the faculty of the Greenwich House Music School, where he was associated with (and later studied with) the avant-garde composer Edgard Varèse. In 1947 he joined the faculty of Columbia University, and in 1954, after spending four years in Europe as a recipient of the Prix de Rome, he began teaching at Queens College and the New School for Social Research.
Wigglesworth was a Composer in Residence at the American Academy of Rome from 1969-1970 and at the Bennington Chamber Music Conference in 1975 and 1985. He served on many boards, including The MacDowell Colony from 1985-1988 and the Youth Orchestra of New York. He was also the founder of the Thursday Evening Concerts at the Greenwich House Music School, organized in 1987. Wigglesworth was President of the American Composers Alliance from 1980-1984.
Frank Wigglesworth, 78, Writer And Performer of New Music
By ALLAN KOZINN
Published in The New York Times, March 20, 1996
Frank Wigglesworth, a composer and teacher whose music was an important part of New York's new-music landscape in the 1950's, died yesterday at St. Clare's Hospital in Manhattan. He was 78.
The cause was cancer, said B. C. Vermeersch, the director of the Greenwich House School of Music, where Mr. Wigglesworth presented a series of new-music concerts.
Mr. Wigglesworth composed prolifically in a style that embraced the extremes of lyricism and atonality, the balance shifting to suit the needs of the work at hand. His "Summer Scenes" (1951) is an easygoing pastoral work for flute, oboe and string orchestra. But his dance work "Ballet for Esther Brooks" (1961), uses percussion and polytonality forcefully, and his opera, "The Willowdale Handcar" (1969), is a rhythmically complex and freely atonal setting of the Edward Gorey book.
Mr. Wigglesworth was born in Boston on March 3, 1918. He was a grand-nephew of the new-music patron Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge on one side of his family, and Oliver Wendell Holmes on the other. He studied the violin and viola as a child, and conducted his high school choir. He went on to study composition with Otto Luening, Henry Cowell and Ernest White at Columbia University and Converse College in Spartanburg, S.C.
From the 1940's on, he combined his composing with a career as a teacher, editor, administrator and performer. He took his first teaching post at Converse College in 1941, and during his two years there, he was also a first violist in the Spartanburg Symphony Orchestra and the chorus master of the Spartanburg Lyric Opera. During World War II, he composed musicals that were performed at Army posts.
He resumed his teaching career in 1946, when he joined the faculty of the Greenwich House Music School, where he was associated with (and later studied with) the avant-garde composer Edgard Varèse. In 1947 he joined the faculty of Columbia University, and in 1954, after spending four years in Europe as a recipient of the Prix de Rome, he began teaching at Queens College and the New School for Social Research. He was appointed chairman of the music department at the New School in 1965.
Mr. Wigglesworth was also the chairman of the editorial board of the New Music Edition and New Music Recordings series, from 1947 to 1951. And he was composer in residence at the American Academy in Rome in 1969, and at the Bennington College Chamber Music Conference and Composer's Forum of the East in 1985.
His large catalogue of orchestral works includes three Symphonies (1953, 1958 and 1960), the dark-hued, harmonically ambiguous "Telesis" (1950), a Concertino (1965) and "Sea Winds" (1984). Mr. Wigglesworth also wrote a great deal of chamber music, several song cycles and a body of sacred choral music that includes two Masses as well as settings of Psalms and other biblical texts. His works also include incidental music for a production of "Hamlet" in 1960, and a ballet, "Young Goodman Brown" (1951).
He is survived by his wife, the artist Anne Parker; a son, Henry, of Portland, Ore.; a daughter, Philio Cushing of Manchester, Mass., and a sister, Constance Holden, of Cambridge, Mass.
This interview was recorded on the telephone on July 18, 1987.
Segments were used (with recordings) on WNIB in March of 1988, 1993 and 1998.
The transcription was made and posted on this website in 2013.
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