In Memory of David Del Tredici


In Memory of David Del Tredici

19 November 2023 /Announcements

Pianist Marc Peloquin was a devoted friend to David Del Tredici and an incomparable performer of his music. I recently heard his program at the Italian Academy, a mere two or three weeks ago.

Mr. Peloquin reported to The Village Trip board:

David died in his bed at 5:30 a.m. yesterday. His aide Alpha called me and we rushed down to the Village. I last saw him Thursday.

This loss is profound I have to admit, seismic for me, honestly. Yesterday was surreal and intense. He is at peace. I am at a loss.

David dared to live and to compose in a way that combined the highest intellect and virtuosity with an openness to reveal the soul of his being. He took risks without considering the reactions and repercussions of his many adventures.

Mr. Peloquin quotes Maestro Del Tredici:

”I remember standing on a corner, sometime before I turned 5. I looked up at the flowers and the sky, and suddenly had this overwhelming sensation of happiness that I would never truly grow up. I want to trap the ecstasy of life within my music; I want to create sounds so beautiful that time will stop.” – David Del Tredici


The Roger Shapiro Fund commissioned one of Del Tredici’s last works, Herrick’s Oratorio. Elizabeth Thomson, one of the founders of The Village Trip, envisioned “A Mass for Greenwich Village” to be premiered at St. John’s in the Village during the festival, after which it would hopefully find a place in the repertoire, like Bernstein’s Mass. Father Graeme, Rector of St. John’s in the Village, knew Del Tredici and broached the project to him.

Anderson & Del Tredici at the premiere of Herrick’s Oratorio

The composer recounted this to me – he told Fr. Graeme that he could not write a mass, but instead he came up with the idea of Herrick’s Oratorio.

Details of the provencance of Herrick’s Oratorio are preserved in an email thread.

Del Tredici expressed the sincere wish that he might be alive for the first performance. Racing against time, RSF collaborated with Mark Shapiro and Cantori NY. We are most grateful to Mark Shapiro and Cantori. We wish the premiere could have been at St. John’s as an offering of The Village Trip. There were concerns that the work would overwhelm that space. At one point Mark Shapiro said that he felt the work could employ a hundred singers.

I find the Oratorio truly one of the most monumental expressions of joy in the face of doubt. The opening movement begins, “I believe”. The music and the repetitions and the musical developments lead us to a subtext, “I have grave doubts”. That movement begins to resemble Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus and the tussle between the eternal nay and the eternal yea.

The ending movments are children’s graces. A child’s grace before a meal or at bedtime is a memento mori, chanted almost mechanically by children unknowing of death. In Herrick’s graces, as set by Del Tredici, they are overflowing with joy and –numinous charm (?) . Del Tredici revels in the our distance from Herrick’s language. We can’t help thinking of the composer’s nearness to death. The quote provided by Marc Peloquin, above, is realized in musical form in all of Del Tredici’s music and in a very special way in Herrick’s Oratorio.


RSF also commissioned David Del Tredici’s treatment of “The Last Rose of Summer”, for Cygnus with baritone Michael Kelly and featuring trombonist Felix Del Tredici, the composer’s nephew. Thanks to Cutting Edge Concerts and Victoria Bond for producing the premiere of “The Last Rose of Summer”. The Last Rose highlights Del Tredici the trickster. It is full of devilry. It is enormously entertaining. Herrick’s Oratorio is noteworthy for putting the trickster in a supporting role as the innocent mystery and mysterious innocence of the children’s graces overwhelms the devilry.

I may be an outlier, but I do not consider David Del Tredici a neo-Romantic. I believe he liked my contrarian view. He was ok with being a neo-Romantic and he was ok with my take that he played at being a neo-Romantic. The magical moments in Herrick’s Oratorio are unthinkable without a deeply assimilated arsenal of modernist tricks. He told me that his early modernism gave him an edge. He knew how to employ those modernisms as needed, but not letting those define him. He put them in their place, but he acknowledged they had a place. I put him beside Robert Helps and Andrew Imbrie in this mastery of modernisms.

David and I became friends. I was walking him back to his apartment after dinner somewhere on Hudson Street when I stumbled and accidentally tripped him. He broke his toe. We joked about it ever after. I was supposed to get him home safely.

I told him he should know Beckford’s Vathek. I bought him a copy. He said it’s far too tame.

David also gave me great compositional advice. He helped me sharpen Ziguezon, a song I wrote for the Bowers Fader Duo. He had some helpful thoughts about my concerto for two guitars.

–William Anderson


Elizabeth Thomson studied musicology. She became a journalist, specializing in publishing, and later in music. She wrote books about Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. She is a frequent contributor to majore periodicals including The Guardian. She founded The Village Trip with Cliff Pearson in 2019.

David Del Tredici, revered and fearless composer who made his home in Westbeth

The Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Del Tredici who, for some fifty years, made his home in Westbeth, died on Saturday aged 86. He had been stricken by Parkinson’s, becoming increasingly frail, though he made regular appearances at concerts. He made what would turn out to be his final musical outing last month to the Italian Academy where pianist Marc Peloquin and the Manhattan String Quartet gave the world premiere of his string quintet Ray’s Birthday Suit.

Peloquin, a New York City-based distinguished educator and award-winning pianist who is in the process of recording a multi-volume CD set of Del Tredici’s complete piano music, said that while the death was expected it was also very sudden. “This loss is profound, I have to admit, seismic for me honestly. He is at peace. I am at a loss.”

Del Tredici had long credited Peloquin with reiving his interest in the piano, and it was as a pianist that he began his career, enrolling in the University of California, Berkeley as a piano student in 1955, beginning his composition studies in Aspen three years later. Darius Milhaud was encouraging of his first work, Soliloquy. He came east to Princeton from where he sent a tape of early James Joyce settings to Aaron Copland who described him as “that rare find among composers — a creator with a truly original gift. I venture to say that his music is certain to make a lasting impression on the American musical scene. I know of no other composer of his generation who composes music of greater freshness and daring, or with more personality.” It was through Copland that Del Tredici received his first Tanglewood commission and the two men remained friends through Copland’s life. (Copland was one of many composers to make his home at the Chelsea Hotel.)

Much of Del Tredici’s work was inspired by literature – Lewis Carroll’s Alice was a long-time preoccupation (In Memory of a Summer Day, part one of Child Alice won him the Pulitzer), and in later life he embraced contemporary American poetry, much of it overtly gay. His settings of My Favourite Penis poems did not immediately find favor with singers!. In Joyce, a lapsed Catholic. Del Tredici recognised a fellow tortured soul whose inner conflicts found voice in dissonance and atonality. His early works employed modernist techniques that he picked up from his teacher Roger Sessions, but he soon became a proponent of tonality – indeed, he is regarded as the father of neo-romanticism in 20th-century music.

Leonard Bernstein, whose seventieth birthday he marked with a setting of verse by
Joel Conarroe for voice, violin and piano, appointed Del Tredici Composer in Residence at the New York Philharmonic – as it would sadly turn out, the conductor’s last such appointment. Had Bernstein lived, it’s probable that he would have received more high-profile commissions. Nevertheless, Del Tredici composed works for most of the major American and European symphony orchestras, as well as countless chamber and solo works.

His Herrick Oratorio, premiered last May by Cantori New York under the direction of Mark Shapiro, in fact had its roots in a suggestion by me in 2019 of “A Mass for Greenwich Village”. Father Graeme Napier, of St John’s in the Village, put the idea to Del Tredici, whose eyes welled up at the suggestion. Nevertheless, he responded: “There are too many masses!”. Father Graeme recalled: “He already had some Herrick settings done, or at least a bit worked. So the oratorio idea came from wanting to do a substantial work, but using material, or at least ideas, already on the back burner.” A keen musician who makes the arts a centrepiece of his church’s mission, Father Graeme continued: “David loved having his music performed here – because of our wonderful acoustic and intimate space.”

William Anderson, whose Roger Shapiro Fund supported the commission, believes Herrick’s Oratorio is one of the most remarkable large-scale choral works by an American composer. I rate it up there with Andrew Imbrie’s Adam. Imbrie and Del Tredici are both products of Princeton, where they both studied with Roger Sessions. David told me that his early modernism is a resource for him. He’s always employing that body of knowledge, and we feel this clearly in Herrick’s Oratorio.”

Covid, and problems with rehearsing what turned out to be a challenging piece, meant that Herrick Oratorio was sadly not premiered at The Village Trip, but in 2021 we presented a concert of Del Tredici piano music at St John’s, the composer present to hear Marc Peloquin play. And at this September’s Village Trip, he came for the closing “repetitions” of Erik Satie’s 18-hour piano relay Vexations, Peloquin closing the marathon. Del Tredici had played at the 1963 East Village premiere overseen by John Cage.

David Del Tredici believed firmly that the “purpose” of music was pleasure, He recalled: ”I remember standing on a corner, sometime before I turned five. I looked up at the flowers and the sky, and suddenly had this overwhelming sensation of happiness that I would never truly grow up. I want to trap the ecstasy of life within my music; I want to create sounds so beautiful that time will stop.”

Concluded Peloquin: “David dared to live and to compose in a way that combined the highest intellect and virtuosity with an openness to reveal the soul of his being. He took risks without considering the reactions and repercussions of his many adventures.”

David Del Tredici, born March 16, 1937, in Cloverdale, CA; died November 18, 2023, Westbeth, Greenwich Village, NYC

–Elizabeth Thomson

More tributes are encouraged. We’ll add them here.