Born: September 28, 1913; Chicago, IL
Died: March 20, 2000; Bennington, VT
Vivian Fine anchored the first wave of women composers in twentieth-century America. Before Ruth Crawford (1901 - 1953), "arguably history's first major woman composer" in Kyle Gann's view, Amy Marcy Cheney (Mrs. H.H.A.) Beach (1867 - 1944) had written the first documented symphonic work by an American woman -- a Gaelic Symphony in 1896 -- but her largely self-taught style, modeled on eighteenth and nineteenth century European masters, producedRead more conservative, academic, albeit sometimes charming, music. Marion Bauer (1887 - 1955), studied in Paris and Berlin as well as stateside, where she developed a keen ear for texture in a more cosmopolitan style than Beach's, but achieved her greatest distinction as a teacher and author. Louise Talma and Miriam Gideon were both born in 1906, and while acknowledged in their lifetimes, have been virtually forgotten posthumously.
Vivian Fine, like Bauer, excelled as a teacher, but was also a proficient pianist, a born organizer, and a precocious student both of Crawford at the Chicago Musical College, and later on in New York, of Roger Sessions. A five-year-old scholarship student at CMC, she studied piano with Scriabin's pupil Djane Lavoie-Herz, and counterpoint with Adolf Weidig.
In the beginning her compositions -- some 140 altogether -- featured tough-minded, dissonant, linear counterpoint, as if to belie her gender. At the same time they reflected the sternness of Crawford's ethic, the encouragement of maverick Henry Cowell, and seven years of studies with Roger Sessions, America's high priest of twelve-tone composition. For a time Fine seemed to mellow, adopting a dissonant diatonic style much in vogue between World Wars, but returned to an intellectualized form of expressivity that made few friends in the paying seats, but earned the respect of colleagues everywhere, even tough ones like Virgil Thomson.
In 1931 she moved to New York, where Aaron Copland promptly enrolled her as a member of his radical Young Composer's Group. In 1935 she married sculptor Benjamin Karp, and in 1937 - 1939 became composer and keyboard accompanist for the Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman, and Hanya Holm modern dance groups. Later on she composed for Martha Graham's and José Limon's companies, in 1960 and 1965 respectively.
Fine didn't write her first orchestral work, the tonal Concertante for Piano and Orchestra, until 1944, a time when she was studying orchestration with conductor George Szell. In the 1947 Capriccio for Oboe and Strings she reverted to atonalism, and followed it with The Great Wall of China. With Sinfonia and Fugato for piano in 1952, she inaugurated a series of lecture-recitals featuring twentieth-century music, an extension of her second career as a teacher. Fine became an adjunct professor at NYU (1945 - 1948), the Juilliard School (1948), SUNY Teacher's College at Potsdam (1951), and the Connecticut College School of Dance. Subsequently she was music director of the B. de Rothschild Music Foundation (1953 - 1960), and vice president of the American Composers Alliance (1961 - 1965), which she co-founded a decade earlier.
Part-time teaching at Bennington University in Vermont led to a full-time faculty appointment in 1969 until her retirement in 1987. In 1983 the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra honored her with a retrospective "Vivian Fine Week," for which she composed a "massive" Drama for Orchestra, and a year later wrote Poetic Fires for piano and orchestra. In 1989, the Boston Symphony Orchestra honored her with a Week, during which she was given keys to the city. Among her last major works was Memoirs of Uliana Rooney, a quasi-autobiographical opera about twentieth-century events and music.
She died in her 87th year, following an automobile accident near Bennington. Read less