Kirke Mechem

Biography

Born: August 16, 1925; Wichita, KS  
This American composer has garnered fame in the contemporary choral, instrumental, and opera worlds. Having composed more than 150 works in various genres, Mechem is especially known for his choral works, also receiving considerable attention for his opera Tartuffe (1977 - 1980). His musical style, of no particular compositional school, is characterized by lyricism, tonal clarity, and humor.

Mechem studied at Stanford University until
Read more 1951 under Salgo, Ratner, and Schmidt. He received his M.A. in 1953 from Harvard under Piston, Merritt, and R. Thompson. For three years following, he served as director of music at Menlo College and also as teacher and conductor at Stanford. After an active period in Vienna, Mechem returned to become composer-in-residence at Lone Mountain College (until 1972) and then teacher and conductor at San Francisco State College (until 1966).

His highly acclaimed first opera Tartuffe was premiered on May 27, 1980, by San Francisco Opera's American Opera Project. A comedy with a libretto by the composer after Molière's play, Tartuffe uses traditional operatic forms, has a lighthearted spirit, shows dexterous orchestral writing and text setting, and stands out for its strongly delineated characterization, melodic invention, and wit. In its first decade, it became one of the most frequently performed full-length American operas. Despite his talent for writing in all genres, however, Mechem is primarily a choral composer. Read less