An Introduction to an American Composer: Douglas Townsend

 

On November 5 I had the privilege to attend an intimate recital in the Milbank Memorial Chapel on the campus of Columbia University Teachers’ College. It was called Music of the Americas for Piano and Voices and the first half of the program featured the music of the American composer Douglas Townsend.

The composer was present, and he addressed the small audience before the program began. Unfortunately, he spoke without a microphone and I could not hear a great deal of what he said. I was impressed, however, by his vitality and his intellect. Douglas Townsend was born on November 8, 1921, which makes him 89 years old. He is still composing, still teaching and still doing musicological research, and he is not showing signs of quitting.

The program included Mr. Townsend’s Mass in Miniature, sung by sopranos Felicity Graham and Emilie Storrs, accompanied by pianist Rogerio Tutti. The movements included a Kyrie, a Gloria and an Agnus Dei. Soprano Halley Gilbert sang the Wife’s Aria from the opera Lima Beans. Mr. Tutti ended the first half of the program with Mr. Townsend’s Sonatina No. 2 for Piano. The first movement of the Mass in Miniature, the Kyrie, was a beautiful piece in a minor key. The Gloria was lively and contrapuntal. It is unusual to hear an entire vocal work for two soprano voices, which also makes the Mass in Miniature very interesting.

Unlike many contemporary composers, Mr. Townsend is not afraid to write beautiful music. In the 20th Century the boundaries of harmony, melody, tonality and rhythm were stretched beyond limits, and composers who wanted to be taken seriously were expected to go along with at least some of the avant garde trends. The music of Mr. Townsend is tonal and almost Baroque in texture, including a fugue on the words Gloria in excelsis Deo in the Mass in Miniature.

To hear the first two movements of the Mass in Miniature, go here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QnZY8F6F5PE feature;=related

To hear the Sonatina No. 2 as played by Rogerio Tutti,

Douglas Townsend’s career as a composer began in earnest when he was a17 year old student at the High School of Music and Art in New York City. He won a national contest for student composers with his “Contra Dances,” which were subsequently performed by the CBS Symphony under the baton of conductor Bernard Herrmann. Over the ensuing decades, he has composed a variety of musical works, including orchestral pieces, vocal music, instrumental works and film scores.

Another example of Mr. Townsend’s work is his Fantasies on Christmas Carols for piano four hands: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F4BJmzrfa0M feature;=related

In addition to composing, Mr. Townsend is a respected musicologist and academic. He is currently on the faculty of the Department of Music of the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut.

It was a joy to hear the work of this amazing man.

[1] American Music Center: http://www.amc.net/DouglasTownsend

[2] InstantEncore: http://www.instantencore.com/contributor/bio.aspx?CId=5119793. Know More

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