Roger Sessions

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Roger Huntington Sessions (born December 28, 1896 in Brooklyn , New York , † March 16, 1985 in Princeton , New Jersey ) was an American composer .


He spent most of his childhood at his family's ancestral home in Hadley , Massachusetts . His mother, Ruth Huntington Sessions, was a direct descendant of Samuel Huntington , who co-signed the United States' Declaration of Independence . Sessions showed an extraordinary intellectual and musical talent early on. At the age of 14 he entered Harvard University , where he studied with Edward Burlingame Hill. In 1913 he had his first contact with New Music through some of Schönberg's piano pieces and Stravinsky's Petrouchka , which made a deep impression on him. After four years at Harvard, he studied composition at Yale with Horatio Parker, followed by lessons with Ernest Bloch , whose assistant he became in 1921 at the Cleveland Institute of Music . When he was 20, he got his first job teaching at Smith College . "The Black Maskers Suite," one of his more frequently performed works, was composed for a performance at Smith College.

Sessions began their stay in Europe in 1925, which - with interruptions - would last eight years. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Prix ​​de Rome, and in 1931 a Carnegie Foundation grant. With his wife Barbara he lived mainly in Florence and Rome, in 1931 they moved to Berlin. Sessions also traveled extensively across Europe and met some of the luminaries of the time, such as Pierre Monteux , Otto Klemperer and Alban Berg . The works written during this period include the first piano sonata, the first symphony and the three organ chorale preludes. A larger part of the violin concerto was also composed in Europe.

In 1928 he founded the Copland Sessions Concerts with Aaron Copland , in which the New York premieres of works by Carlos Chavez, Walter Piston, Henry Cowell, Marc Blitzstein, Leo Ornstein, George Antheil, Paul Bowles and Virgil Thomson were presented .

Sessions left Europe in 1933, shortly after the Nazis came to power in Germany, and returned to his homeland. A year after his return from Europe, he began teaching at Princeton University, which lasted almost continuously for 50 years. His reputation as a composer began to develop during his years at Princeton, and there were several performances of his works. In addition to the completion of the violin concerto, his compositions from this period include the first string quartet, the piano work From my diary , the duos for violin and piano and a large part of the second symphony. In 1946, Sessions went to the University of California at Berkeley , where he stayed for eight years. In 1965, after his "retirement" from teaching, Sessions took a position as teacher of composition at the Juilliard School of Music in New York, which he held until 1983, albeit increasingly on a part-time basis.


Sessions created two operas , nine symphonies , instrumental concerts as well as chamber music and sacred works. He wrote in the neo-classical style until the 1930s, after 1950 he also turned to twelve-tone music . His second piano sonata from 1946 is completely atonal. He wrote most of his music between the ages of 50 and 75. The list includes six of his nine symphonies, the string quintet, the second and third piano sonatas and his magnum opus, the opera “Montezuma”. Sessions worked on the composition of this opera for 25 years; the premiere in the production by Gustav Rudolf Sellner took place on April 19, 1964 in the Deutsche Oper Berlin.

During his 50-year teaching career, he has taught sessions at Princeton University , the University of California at Berkeley, and the Juilliard School. His students included Milton Babbitt , David Diamond , Leon Kirchner , Ralph Shapey , Eric Salzman , Ellen Taaffe Zwilich , George Tsontakis , Andrew Imbrie, and Hugo Weisgall .


Roger Sessions was one of the leading American composers of the 20th century. His published works span the full spectrum of genres from symphonies, chamber music, operas, and solo piano music. He has commissioned works from many leading orchestras and soloists, and he has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize twice.


Prizes and awards (selection)

Publications Sessions

  • Roger Sessions on Music; Collected essays . Ed. Edward T. Cone. Princeton University Press
  • Questions About Music. Harvard University Press; WW Norton & Co.
  • The Musical Experience of Composer, Performer, Listener . Princeton University Press; Antheneum
  • Harmonic Practice . Published by Harcourt, Brace & World, 1951


  • Andrea Olmstead: Roger Sessions: A Biography. Routledge, New York [et. a.] 2008, ISBN 978-0-4159-7714-2
  • Andrea Olmstead: Roger Sessions and His Music . Publisher: UMI Research Press 1985. ISBN 978-0-8357-1633-8
  • Andrea Olmstead: Conversations with Roger Sessions . Publisher: Northeastern University Press, 1987. ISBN 978-1-5555-3010-5
  • Andrea Olmstead: The Correspondence of Roger Sessions . Publisher: Northeastern University Press, 1992. ISBN 978-1-5555-3122-5
  • Frederik Prausnitz: Roger Sessions: How a “Difficult” Composer Got That Way . Oxford University Press, 2002. ISBN 978-0-1951-0892-7

Individual evidence

  1. Olmstead, Andrea. Roger Sessions: A Biography. New York: Routledge, 2008; P. 7
  2. ^ ISCM Honorary Members

Web links