Born: October 31, 1906; Arcachon, France
Died: August 13, 1996; Saratoga Springs, NY
A prolific composer who created more than 40 major works in her lifetime, Louise Talma progressed from a neo-Classical to a more radical serial style and beyond and went from a rigorous traditional education to making significant "firsts" as a female composer.
Raised in New York City, she studied theory and composition at the Institute of Musical Arts between 1922 - 1930 and received her bachelor of music degree from New York UniversityRead more and masters of arts degree from Columbia University. At the American Conservatory in Fontainebleau, France, she studied piano with Isidor Philipp and had rigorous training in composition with Nadia Boulanger every summer from 1926 to 1939. Talma taught at Hunter College of the City University of New York.
Talma's compositions of this time were in her spare neo-Classical style that often employed static harmonies and short, distinct melodies in counterpoint. They varied through devices such as mode, tempo, rhythm, metric, accentuation change, imitation, augmentation, and diminution of rhythmic units; ostinatos and pedal points in such works as Song of the Songless (1928), Three Madrigals (1928) for women's voices and string quartet, Two Dances (1934) for piano, and the sacred work for mixed chorus and organ In principio erat verbum (1939).
The majority of Talma's compositions were written at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, NH, where she met and was influenced by composers of the so-called Boston school (Berger, Foss, Fine, Haieff, Shapero, and Spies). Talma continued to write in her neo-Classical style until 1954 when serial techniques made their appearance in her composition Six Etudes for piano. In her opera The Alcestiad (1955 - 1958) with text by Thornton Wilder, she combined her previous tonality with the new serial procedures. The opera contains widely contrasting moods attained mainly through harmonic coloration. Yet her general approach still remains elegant and restrained in emotion. In her last works, for example -- Full Circle (1985) for orchestra, Spacings (1994) for viola and piano, A Time to Remember (1966 - 1967) for mixed choir and orchestra based on speeches of John F. Kennedy -- she abandoned serialism to achieve a new kind of tonality.
Talma was awarded three honorary doctorates and many grants. She received the Marjorie Peabody Waite Award (1960) and was the first woman to receive two Guggenheims, the first woman elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters (1974), the first American woman to have a full-scale opera performed in Germany, the first American to teach at Fontainebleau, and the first woman to receive the Sibelius Medal for composition from the Harriet Cohen International Awards in London (1963). Read less