will feature a particular composer whose music we think you will
enjoy. There will be a brief description, a sample of his work,
and some links that will help you pursue further information.
You may also search our database for my writings on the composer.
If you have any questions or comments, we’d love to hear from
Featured Composers: Lee Hoiby,
Robert Muczynski, Arnold
Rosner, Daniel Catàn
and Paul Moravec
Our currently featured composer is Robert
Kurka. Kurka was born in Illinois in 1921, a member of the
generation that created the great American symphonic repertoire of the
1950s. However, Kurka’s contribution was cut short by leukemia,
which ended his life in 1957, just as his work was beginning to gain
recognition. Although he is probably best known for his opera, The
Good Soldier Schweik, which he completed shortly before his death,
his orchestral and chamber works reveal distinctive qualities of their
Kurka is one of those composers with such a strongly
individual voice that his music is instantly recognizable as his own.
The most obvious influence on his style is Prokofiev, whose musical
fingerprints are often clearly apparent. However, equally obvious is
Kurka’s fascination with clashing major- and minor-thirds, which
gives his music a distinctly American sound, and has led some commentators
to describe his style as “jazz-influenced.” However, there is an obsessive
quality to Kurka’s attraction to this modal ambiguity that makes
it seem more personal than just a “national” trait. Take these two factors
and distill them into the brash, rhythmically vigorous, exuberantly
optimistic but poignantly nostalgic generic language of American symphonic
music of the 1950s and you have a good idea of “the Kurka sound”—except
for one ineffable element: a characteristic melodic/harmonic synthesis,
startling at first encounter but unforgettable forever after, giving
the music real “personality.” (It's a funny thing, this "personality"
business: some composers go to great lengths to devise their own "style"
with little success, while another can jump right into the language
of a better-known predecessor, yet create a unique identity in spite
The brief excerpt available below offers a representative
example of Kurka’s unique “sound”
Listen to Kurka's
Serenade, Op. 25 (1954): 1st movement: Allegro molto (excerpt)
For a streaming version,