March 4, 1915 - November 12, 1997
born in Barcelona, Spain, composed during the Modern period
Carlos Surinach was a Barcelona-born American composer especially known for his ballets, many of which were staged by the Martha Graham ballet company. Though he lived in the U.S. from 1951 until his death in 1997, he retained a compositional style largely associated with the music of his homeland, often divulging Spanish nationalist and flamenco elements.
His mother, a good amateur pianist, was his first piano teacher and young Carlos soon began to play with great proficiency. From 1929 to 1939, he studied music theory and piano with Josep Caminals and then in 1936, launched concurrent studies at the Barcelona Conservatory in composition with Enrique Morera. In 1939, he left the Conservatory and decided to travel to Germany for further study, convinced he would receive the training necessary there to allow him to use traditional Spanish forms grounded in solid structural and compositional principles. He enrolled at the Dusseldorf Hochschule in 1940, where he took instruction in composition from Hugo Baltzer. He also studied conducting at the Cologne Hochschule in 1941 and composition with Max Trapp at the Berlin Arts Academy in 1941 - 1942. Surinach traveled back to Spain in 1942 and was soon appointed conductor of the Barcelona Philharmonic Orchestra and the Teatro de Liceo. His first important compositions date to around this time and include the Quartet for Piano and Strings (1942) and the Passacaglia Symphony (1945), both of which reflect an influence from his years in Germany. Also in 1945, he composed his first ballet, Monte Carlo, and it would be this genre he would turn to more often and more successfully than any other large form throughout his career. After living in France between 1947 - 1950, he relocated to the United States in 1951, where he found the musical climate receptive to his artistic sensibilities. His first ballet there, Ritmo Jondo (1953) was greeted with mild success, but eventually Surinach attracted the attention of Martha Graham, who premiered his 1958 ballet Embattled Garden in New York. It scored a great success and led to Graham's staging of his next ballet effort, Acrobats of God (1960). Surinach became an American citizen in 1959, a time when his career was nearing its zenith. He even gained the distinction of having one of his ballets presented on national television when CBS broadcast the premiere of David and Bathsheba in 1960. Without a doubt, he scored his greatest successes in the 1960s, perhaps the most impressive of which was the Feast of Ashes, staged by the Joffrey Ballet, which presented over 500 performances of it. Surinach's growing fame, boosted by his many well-crafted orchestral, choral, and vocal works, reached across the ocean to England and he was given a Bax Society Medal in 1966. Surinach taught composition at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh in 1966 - 1967 and later at Queens College (C.U.N.Y.). He wrote ballets for other important dance troupes during this time, including the Paul Taylor Dancers (Agathe's Tale; 1967). In the 1970s, his popularity in the ballet realm waned, but he continued composing in other genres with considerable success, turning out such works as the 1980 violin concerto, the 1990 Concerto for Flute and Double Bass, and the 1993 Symphonic Melismas. ~ Robert Cummings, Rovi