28 December 1896
Brooklyn, New York, New York, United States
16 March 1985 (aged 88)
Roger Huntington Sessions (28 December 1896 – 16 March 1985) was an American composer, critic and teacher of music.
Born in Brooklyn, New York to a family that could trace its roots back to the American revolution, Sessions studied music at Harvard University from the age of 14. There, he wrote for and subsequently edited the Harvard Musical Review. Graduating at age 18, he went on to study at Yale University under Horatio Parker and Ernest Bloch before teaching at Smith College. His first major compositions were made while travelling Europe in his mid twenties and early thirties with his wife.
Returning to the United States in 1933, he taught first at Princeton University, moved to the University of California, Berkeley, where he taught from 1946 to 1954, and then returned to Princeton until retiring in 1965, although he continued to teach on a part-time basis at the Juilliard School until 1983. His notable students include Milton Babbitt, Larry Thomas Bell, Peter Maxwell Davies, David Del Tredici, John Harbison, Robert Helps, Walter Hekster, Andrew Imbrie, Claire Polin, William Schimmel, George Tsontakis, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, John Veale, and Peter Westergaard.
He died at the age of 88 in Princeton, New Jersey.
His works from the Solo Violin Sonata of 1953 on are almost all serial. Those up to 1930 or so are more or less neoclassical in sound, while those written between 1930 and 1951 are more or less tonal but harmonically complex. The opening minutes of the Second and Third Symphonies, the one nominally in D minor, the other serial though still somewhat tonal, might be contrasted in this connection, the former chaotic and over the map, the latter birdsong influenced, at peace; not quite the relation between tonal and less tonal/serial music that usually prevails. (Then again, the opening movement of the Fourth Symphony, a Burlesque, quotes the aforementioned passage from the Second, in agitation not least, and matters are put to rights.)
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