Archive for August, 2008

From 1994, a stunning recording of poet Anthony Hecht (1923-2004, FAAR’52, RAAR’69)

August 24, 2008

Introducing…the first in an occasional series of podcasts, brought to you by the Society of Fellows of the American Academy in Rome.

For this inaugural installment, it’s a stunning live recording of noted poet Anthony Hecht (1923-2004), reading at New York’s Dia Center for the Arts. The date of the reading is 22 November 1994; running time for this mp3 is just over 43 minutes. Click here to listen:


Anthony Hecht (FAAR’52, RAAR’69) was the first Academy Fellow in literature, winning a Rome prize for 1952—the same year as art historian James Ackerman and composer Lukas Foss.

Photograph of Anthony Hecht by Lotte Jacobi, courtesy of the American Academy in Rome

In the Spring 2005 issue of the SOF News, SOF Council member Brian Curran (FAAR’94) offered an appreciation of Hecht’s life and writing, which is the basis for the brief sketch below.

Hecht became interested in poetry during his undergraduate studies at Bard College (BA 1944). After graduating, he served in the US infantry in France, Czechoslovakia and Germany during World War II. He personally witnessed the liberation of the concentration camp at Flossenburg, an experience he later evoked in his work.

After the war he studied poetry and literature in 1946 at Kenyon College with John Crowe Ransom, in 1947 at NYU with Allen Tate, in 1948 at Kenyon with William Empson and F. O. Matthiessen, and in 1949 at Iowa with Austin Warren. Hecht earned a master’s degree from Columbia University in 1950.

During his Fellowship year in Rome, Hecht translated some verses by Rainer Maria Rilke that were set to music by Lukas Foss, FAAR’52, RAAR’78, in the cantata A Parable of Death (1952).

At the Academy, after his Fellowship year Anthony Hecht was also a Resident in 1969, and served as a Trustee of the AAR from 1983 through 1991.

In an introduction to this 1994 reading, you’ll hear critic Harold Bloom discuss many of Hecht’s published works in real detail.

Hecht died in 2004, aged 81. He had taught at Bard, Smith, Rochester, Harvard, Yale, and Georgetown, where he retired in 1993.

He received many awards for his work—fellowships from the Ford, Rockefeller, and Guggenheim foundations, and most of the leading poetry prizes, including the Pulitzer Prize in 1967.

This recording—and several others by Hecht, which also are planned for podcast release—came to the SOF thanks to Helen d’Alessandro Hecht, the poet’s widow. For this, Ms. Hecht very much deserves our warmest thanks. The originals of these recordings reside among the Anthony Hecht Papers in the Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library of Emory University.


Donald Erb RAAR’92 (1927-2008), avant-garde composer, Cleveland Institute of Music professor

August 14, 2008

“Donald Erb, a bold, avant-garde composer who inspired generations of composition students at the Cleveland Institute of Music, died Tuesday [12 August] at his home in Cleveland Heights at age 81”, writes Richard M. Peery in an obituary for the 13 August Cleveland Plain Dealer.

“He conducted and lectured at more than 150 colleges and universities and took pride in the scores of former students who teach on campuses across the country.”

In 1992 Donald Erb was a Resident in Musical Composition at the American Academy in Rome. His Cleveland students include Kathryn Alexander FAAR’89, James C. Mobberly FAAR’90, and William Neil FAAR’83. For The New York Times obituary of Erb, see here.

Peery continues in the Plain Dealer, “Erb was one of the most-performed American-born composers. Major orchestras commissioned and played his work. One of his compositions, ‘The Seventh Trumpet,’ has had more than 200 performances by more than 50 orchestras in the United States and overseas.”

There is a superb short biography of Donald Erb on the website of Theodore Presser, the music publishing company, which includes also a substantial list of works, recordings, and reviews.

“Erb used unusual sounds from unlikely instruments in his compositions,” notes Peery, “ranging from soda bottles to wind chimes to chopsticks. Performers might strike piano strings with mallets or use trumpet mouthpieces without the instruments.”

“He explored electronic music early on. His 1965 work ‘Reconnaissance’ premiered in New York with Robert Moog, inventor of the Moog synthesizer, operating the synthesizer.”

One can add that it was presented also at Expo ’67 in Montreal. Erb’s piece, for violin, string bass, piano, percussion, and electronica, was captured on a live Nonesuch recording that remains highly valued.

The Plain Dealer: “‘Any object can be a sound source; found objects such as pots and pans, leaves and running water or various signals which generate pure electronic sound,’ Erb told an interviewer in 1969.”

“Although his compositions defied categorization, much of his music retained influences from his early days as a jazz trumpeter. One of his fondest musical memories was of having heard jazz giant Charlie Parker.”

Three pieces by Erb that date to the mid-70s—Autumnmusic (1973), Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra (1976), and Quintet (1976)—can be heard via the Art of the State website.