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Wallingford Riegger Symphony No 4, First Movement Part One

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Published on Sep 28, 2009

Riegger's Fourth Symphony (Op. 63) was completed in 1960. He dedicated it "to the memory of my beloved wife."
Wallingford Constantine Riegger (April 29, 1885 - April 2, 1961) was a prolific American music composer, well known for orchestral and modern dance music, and film scores. He was born in Albany, Georgia, but lived much of his life in New York City. He is noted for his use of Arnold Schoenberg's twelve-tone technique.

Riegger was born in 1885 to Ida Wallingford and Constantine Riegger. After his father's lumber mill burned down in 1888, his family moved to Indianapolis, and later to Louisville, finally settling in New York in 1900. A gifted cellist, he graduated from the first graduating class of the Institute of Musical Art, later known as the Juilliard School, in 1907, after studying under Percy Goetschius. He continued his studies at the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin for three years. After returning in 1910, he married Rose Schramm, with whom he later had three daughters, in 1911. For a time, he returned to Germany and accepted various conducting positions, but this was interrupted by the joining of America in World War I in 1917, after which he moved back to America. From 1918 to 1922, he taught music theory and violoncello at Drake University. During the greater part of the time from 1930 to 1956, he continued publishing music and taught at various universities in New York, notably the Institute of Musical Art and Ithaca College. In 1957, he was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee, which was investigating Communism in the musical world. In 1958, Leonard Bernstein honored him by conducting his Music for Orchestra with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. He died in New York in 1961 when he tripped over the leashes of two fighting dogs, resulting in a fall and a head injury from which he did not recover despite treatment.

His students included Alan Stout and Merton Brown. We have heard that when, toward the end of his life, George Gershwin told his friend (and tennis partner) Arnold Schoenberg that we wanted to study composition seriously, Schoenberg suggested that Gershwin study with Riegger. (We would very much like to confirm this story. The official version is that when Gershwin asked Schoenberg for composition lessons. Schoenberg refused, saying "I would only make you a bad Schoenberg, and you're such a good Gershwin already." Again, what we heard was that Schoenberg then suggested Riegger.)

Riegger was known for his use of Schoenberg's twelve-tone system, but he did not use it in all of his compositions. For example, Dance Rhythms was not written in this style. Aside from Schoenberg, Riegger was also significantly influenced by his friends Henry Cowell and Charles Ives. Along with Cowell, Ives, Carl Ruggles, and John J. Becker, Riegger was a member of the group of American modernist composers known as the "American Five".

Starting in the mid 1930's, Riegger began to write contemporary dance music. Later, as his career progressed, he began to use Schoenberg's twelve-tone technique more and more often, though he did occasionally revert to his earlier styles. From 1941 on, he focused almost solely on instrumental music, and his Symphony No. 3 received the New York Music Critics' Circle Award and a Naumburg Foundation Recording Award.

This performance of Riegger's Fourth Symphony is by the Louisville Orchestra under Robert Whitney. During the 1950s and 1960s, the Louisville Orchestra released numerous LPs on its own "First Edition" label, pressed by Columbia. Perhaps half a dozen of these were reissued by a small company in New Mexico, and disappeared immediately. Today there is no reference whatsoever to the vast recording legacy of the Louisville Orchestra on its website, a legacy which spans the gamut, from Elliot Carter to Lou Harrison.

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