IRVING GIFFORD FINE (1914-1962)

Composer | Conductor | Educator | Impresario

Irving Fine (1914-1962) was an American composer with a remarkable gift for lyricism, whose masterfully crafted scores inevitably "sing." Aaron Copland wrote that his music "wins us over through its keenly conceived sonorities and its fully realized expressive content," praising it for "elegance, style, finish and a convincing continuity." Virgil Thomson cited an "unusual melodic grace."

 

Fine's initial training was in piano and he became a skilled pianist, admired by colleagues for his superior sightreading ability. Composition and theory studies were with Walter Piston and Edward Burlingame Hill at Harvard University, and with Nadia Boulanger in France and at Radcliffe College, Cambridge, Massachusetts. In addition, Fine studied choral conducting with Archibald T. Davison at Harvard and orchestral conducting with Serge Koussevitzky, at Tanglewood. At Harvard, where he became a close associate of Copland, Stravinsky, Koussevitzky and Leonard Bernstein, he taught theory and music history from 1939 to 1950; and at Brandeis University he taught composition and theory from 1950 to 1962. Fine also conducted the Harvard Glee Club, and for nine summers between 1946 and 1957 taught composition at the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood. At Brandeis he was Walter W. Naumburg Professor of Music and chairman of the School of Creative Arts. He suffered a fatal heart attack in Boston on August 23, 1962, leaving incomplete Maggie (based on the Stephen Crane novel), a musical he was writing in collaboration with composer Richard Wernick; he had also begun a violin concerto, commissioned by the Ford Foundation. Among Fine's honors were two Guggenheim Fellowships, a Fulbright Research Fellowship, a National Institute of Arts and Letters award, and a New York Music Critics' Circle award.

 

An examination of Fine's small but estimable output reveals a composer who was a perfectionist on the order of Copland and Stravinsky. His works are carefully calculated and detailed, their ever-increasing emphasis on melody tellingly allied with rhythmic suppleness, clean-sounding textures, and unobtrusive but integral counterpoint.

 

As an artist Fine was eclectic, but in the best sense: assimilative yet individual. The influence of neoclassical Stravinsky and eighteenth-century forms is pervasive in much of his early music, along with what proved to be a lifelong attachment to romantic expression. The 1946 Sonata for Violin and Piano was accurately described by the composer as being in an idiom "essentially tonal, diatonic, moderately dissonant, neoclassic in its formal approach." Fine's neoclassicism, nurtured early on by Nadia Boulanger, is apparent even in the movement-titles of pieces such as the 1947 Music for Piano and the 1948 Partita for Wind Quintet (for instance, "Variations," "Gigue," "Waltz-Gavotte"). However, the ebulliently rhythmic Toccata Concertante for Orchestra of 1947 — which has, wrote the composer, "a certain affinity with the energetic music of the Baroque concertos" — stands as the most full-blown example of neoclassic Fine.

 

Subsequently, romanticism claimed pride of place, and in the elegantly bittersweet Notturno for Strings and Harp (1951), the harmonically diverse song-cycle Mutability (1952), and the austerely elegiac Serious Song: Lament for String Orchestra (1955) the result was a more intense lyricism. With such works he proved himself capable of writing melody which, as he once noted admiringly of another composer, "gives real pleasure to lots of people without being commonplace." It is not surprising that Notturno and Serious Song are the most frequently played of Fine's orchestral compositions. (Also programmed often are his highly idiomatic, unfailingly lyric and varied choral works —Alice in Wonderland, The Hour-Glass, The Choral New Yorker.)

 

The final development in Fine's aesthetic was his utilization of twelve-tone technique, initially in the eloquent, intense String Quartet of 1952, then in the pellucid Fantasia for String Trio of 1956, culminating in what was to be his last work, the dramatic Symphony of 1962. His interest in serialism had been stimulated by the example of Stravinsky and Copland, and like his elder colleagues he was able to use dodecaphonic method freely and subordinate it to his personal musical ideals. Fine's serially inflected scores have tonal centers, and also the formal and textural clarity, the sense of control, and the rhythmic potency of his earlier pieces. Copland described the symphony, the composer's most ambitious work, as being "almost operatic in gesture," and its urgent rhythmic polyphony, declamatory rhetoric and considerable dissonance quotient marked a new plateau in Fine's creative evolution — one that must forever intrigue as both a beginning and an end.

SOURCE: Library of Congress/Phillip Ramey

THE IRVING FINE SOCIETY

Founded in 2006, The Irving Fine Society (IFS) represents the family of Irving and Verna Fine, and acts as a producing organization for concerts, educational programs and scholarly activities related to the legacy of composer Irving Gifford Fine and the global impact of American culture in the twentieth century. Led by Music Director Nicholas Alexander Brown, IFS has been featured in concerts at Harvard University's Sanders Theater, Brandeis University, Goethe-Institut Boston and other venues around the greater-Boston area. Recent projects include tributes to Benjamin Britten, Aaron Copland, Olivier Messiaen, Erwin Schulhoff, and the U.S. premiere of works by German composer Edwin Geist, whose life was cut short during the Holocaust. IFS serves as the principal coordinator for planning of the 2014 Irving Fine Centennial, assisting with efforts nationally and internationally to advocate for Fine's music and legacy. IFS recently collaborated with Boston Modern Orchestra Project and Brandeis University to present a concert of Fine's orchestral music at Jordan Hall in Boston and to produce a commercial recording of Fine's orchestral works.

 

BOARD OF DIRECTORS

Claudia Fine, Emily Fine, Isaac Hurwitz, Alison Stein, Rosalie Calabrese†, Nicholas A. Brown

 

​NICHOLAS ALEXANDER BROWN

Music Director & Founder

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Nicholas Alexander Brown is a Honduran-American arts producer, conductor, and musicologist based in Washington, DC. He currently serves as the inaugural director of special productions & initiatives at Washington Performing Arts. Previously, Brown served on the Librarian of Congress' strategic programming team (Office of Special Events and Public Programs). He also held the position of music specialist/concert producer for the Library's Music Division from 2012-2017, programming the historic Concerts from the Library of Congress series. Brown co-produced the Library of Congress Bibliodiscotheque series, featuring Gloria Gaynor and Tim Gunn. He was the lead producer for major projects such as the Irving Fine Centennial Festival, the Oliver Knussen Residency, and the DC-debut of Ensemble Intercontemporain.

Brown is currently the president of the District of Columbia Library Association and past-president of the Iota Chapter of the Beta Phi Mu International Honors Society in Library and Information Science. He is also an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Library and Information Science at The Catholic University of America and chair of the American Library Association's GLBTRT Membership Promotion Committee. He previously worked in the Office of the President and Provost at Harvard University, and held internships in the Office of the First Lady at The White House (Obama Administration) and in the Boston Symphony Orchestra Press Office.

 

Brown also has a wide-ranging career as a conductor, French horn player, and vocalist. He is the music director/founder of The Irving Fine Society, and recently concluded tenures as conductor of the Library of Congress Chorale and Washington Sängerbund. Through service in the Army National Guard, Brown was the junior enlisted conductor and principal horn player of the 215th Army Band. As a Baritone chorister, he has appeared with the London Symphony ChorusLondon Philharmonic ChoirBBC Symphony Chorus, and Tanglewood Festival Chorus.He has performed at venues such as Carnegie Hall, Boston's Symphony Hall and Jordan Hall, Tanglewood, Philadelphia's Kimmel Center, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Barbican, Royal Albert Hall, Royal Festival Hall, Cité de la Musique (Paris), Salisbury Cathedral, the Embassies of France, Germany, and Austria (in Washington, DC), DAR Constitution Hall, the University of Klagenfurt (Austria), Mirabell Palace in Salzburg, and Teatro Nacional Manuel Bonilla in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

​​Brown holds a Master of Music in Music (Musicology) from King's College London and a Master of Science in Library and Information Science from The Catholic University of America, where he now serves on the Advisory Board for the Department of Library and Information Science. He graduated Magna Cum Laude from Brandeis University, receiving a B.A. in Music (High Honors) and History, with a minor in Medieval and Renaissance Studies. He is a contributor to the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and the Arts (Oxford University Press, 2015) and Popular Music and Public Diplomacy (Transcript Verlag, 2018) and has blogged for the Library of Congress and HuffPost BlogFor more information, visit nicholasalexanderbrown.com.
 

© 2020 by The Irving Fine Society, Inc.