Miriam Gideon was the daughter of Abram Gideon, a professor of languages at Colorado State University. Her mother was an elementary school teacher. Neither had a strong interest in music and she was brought up without a phonograph in the house. The only musical training she received was what was offered in the public schools, which included reading music and sight-singing.
Even so, she developed a strong feeling for music. When theRead more family moved to Chicago when she was nine, she had piano lessons with a cousin and when they settled in New York a year later, she entered Yonkers Conservatory of Music. However, her uncle, Henry Gideon, was a musician and the organist and music director in Temple Israel in Boston. She spent summers staying with him and when she was 14, her parents accepted his assessment that she had musical talent that would benefit if she stayed with him and he directed her training. She took a large part in the Temple's musical activities, which became an influence on her music throughout her long life.
She graduated from the College of Liberal Arts in Boston at the age of 19. Deciding to devote herself to composition rather than a career as a pianist, she attended New York University, where her teacher was Marion Bauer. She studied for several years with teachers including Charles Haubiel and Lazare Saminsky. Saminsky referred her to the great American composer Roger Sessions (1896 - 1985). She studied with Sessions for several years.
Deciding to strike out on her own, she made a questionable decision in 1939: To move to Europe. She quickly left when Hitler started World War II by invading Poland in September of that year. In 1944, she obtained a teaching position at Brooklyn College. She also took a master's degree in musicology from Columbia in 1946. At Brooklyn College, she met English professor Frederic Ewen and married him in 1949.
By now, she was gaining attention for her compositions, especially her vocal music. Her Lyric Piece for Strings was premiered by the London Symphony Orchestra in 1944. Admiration for the deftness of her word-settings in particular grew and she wrote in various languages. One composition in particular, Mixco (1957), illustrates this, with the Spanish-language verse of Guatamalan poet Miguel Asturias alternating with its English translations. She began teaching at the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1954 and soon wrote her first Jewish liturgical piece, Adon Olom.
She wrote one opera, Fortunato, and in 1970 was the first woman to be commissioned to write a Sabbath Morning Service, which she followed up three years later by writing a Friday Evening Service. In 1971, she became professor of composition at the City University of New York. She composed steadily, amassing an impressive catalog until her health began to fail in the late '80s. In 1989, her husband of 40 years died.
Her health markedly declined after surgery in 1993 and she died in 1996 in the same Central Park West apartment where she had lived for nearly half a century. Her friend and colleague, composer Louise Talma, who was born just eight days after her, lived in the same building and died eight weeks later.
Miriam Gideon did not compose to a system or do pre-compositional planning. Her style is freely atonal, sometimes relaxing into an extended tonal style, particularly in her specifically Jewish works, which often have elements of traditional Jewish music. She was the second woman to be elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters (1975) and had a number of gender-related "firsts" to her credit, but she objected to being stereotyped as either a "woman composer" or a "Jewish composer." Read less
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