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Wallingford Riegger

April 29, 1885 - April 2, 1961
born in Albany, GA, composed during the Modern period
American composer Wallingford Riegger was a proponent of none of the major twentieth century "schools" of composition, and until the very end of his long career he received little more than cursory notice from the American musical establishment. Nevertheless, his 75 completed compositions have proved a source of enrichment to several generations of musicians who are drawn to Riegger's unique brand of modernism.

Riegger was born into a musically rich Georgia family in 1885, and was taught piano and violin from an early age. Riegger added the cello to his musical pursuits when the family decided to form a private string quartet in 1900. After a year at Cornell University (1904), Riegger enrolled at the newly formed Institute of Musical Arts in New York as a student of both cello and composition. After graduating from the Institute in 1907, Riegger traveled to Germany, where he took cello lessons from Robert Haussmann, and studied composition with Max Bruch and Edgar Stillman-Kelley. Riegger found employment as a cellist with the St. Paul Orchestra upon returning to the United States in 1910, but by 1914 he found himself back in Germany, working first as an opera conductor (Stadttheater of Würzburg) and then, during the 1916-1917 season, as conductor of the Blüthner Orchestra in Berlin.

Riegger was lured back to the United States by the prospect of becoming professor of cello at Drake University in Iowa, a position which would offer him enough flexibility to pursue composition in a more serious way. His first published work, the Piano Trio Op.1 from (1920) was awarded the Paderewski Prize and gained Riegger some national attention, but during the next few years he began to question the long-term merits of his conservative musical style. From 1923 to 1926 he retired from active composition to sort out his own personal views on the future of music. By the late '20s, Riegger had aligned himself with progressive composers Charles Ives, Henry Cowell, and Carl Ruggles, adopting a more dissonant but still fiercely independent, compositional language. This new language appears fully developed in the 1932 orchestra work Dichotomy. Unfortunately, this new musical direction failed to bring any recognition and financial reward. After he resigned from Drake University in 1922, Riegger was forced to work as an editor and musical arranger to make ends meet.

During the 1930s, an interest in modern dance led the composer to write almost exclusively for leaders in that field, including Martha Graham and José Limon. By 1941 Riegger had tired of his increasing isolation from other musicians and he recommitted himself to instrumental composition, this time with greater financial and popular success. The premiere of the Symphony No.3 in 1948 provided him national exposure, and he remained in the front rank of American composers until his death in 1961. Later works employ 12-tone techniques in a very free manner. ~ Blair Johnston, Rovi
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