Wallingford Riegger

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Wallingford Riegger
Wallingford Riegger New York City 1930s.jpg
Riegger in New York City, c.1930s
Born(1885-04-29)April 29, 1885
DiedFebruary 4, 1961(1961-02-04) (aged 75)
Rose Schramm
(m. 1911)

Wallingford Constantine Riegger ( US: /ˈriɡər/ REE-gur; April 29, 1885 – April 2, 1961) was an American modernist composer and pianist, best known for his orchestral and modern dance music. He was born in Albany, Georgia, but spent most of his career in New York City, helping elevate the status of other American composers such as Charles Ives and Henry Cowell. [1] [2] Riegger is noted for being one of the first American composers to use a form of serialism and the twelve-tone technique.



Riegger was born in 1885 to Constantine Riegger and Ida Riegger (née Wallingford). After his father's lumber mill burned down in 1888, his family moved to Indianapolis, and later to Louisville, finally settling in New York in 1900. A gifted cellist, he was a member of the first graduating class of the Institute of Musical Art, later known as the Juilliard School, in 1907, after studying under Percy Goetschius. [3] He continued his studies at the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin for three years. After returning in 1910, he married Rose Schramm in 1911, with whom he later had three daughters. He returned to Germany and served in various conducting positions until the United States entered World War I in 1917, after which he moved back to America. [2] [3]

From 1918 to 1922, he taught music theory and violoncello at Drake University. [4] During the greater part of the time from 1930 to 1956, he continued to compose and publish while he taught at various colleges in New York State, notably the Institute of Musical Art and Ithaca College. [5] In 1957, he was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee, which was investigating communism in the musical world. In 1958, Leonard Bernstein honored him by conducting his Music for Orchestra with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. He died in New York in 1961 when he tripped over the leashes of two fighting dogs, resulting in a fall and a head injury from which he did not recover despite treatment. [2] Bernstein said of him in his eulogy, "All who knew Wally loved him."[ citation needed ]

His students included Robert Ashley, [6] Louise Spizizen, Alan Stout and Merton Brown. See: List of music students by teacher: R to S#Wallingford Riegger .

Musical style

Wallingford Riegger in Berlin, c. 1908 Wallingford Riegger Berlin 1908.jpg
Wallingford Riegger in Berlin, c.1908

Riegger was known for his use of a twelve-tone system, related to that of Schoenberg. He became familiar with the technique through Schoenberg's American student Adolph Weiss. However, he did not use it in all of his compositions and his usage varied from that of Schoenberg, for example in not always using rows with twelve tones and not using transposed forms of the rows. Riegger's Dance Rhythms, for example, did not use these techniques. Aside from Schoenberg, Riegger was also significantly influenced by his friends Henry Cowell and Charles Ives. [7]

Early period

Early on in his career as a composer, the style of his compositions was markedly different from that of his later work, which mostly used the twelve-tone system. His compositions, following those of Goetschius, were somewhat romanticist. [8]

Later period

Starting in the mid-1930s, Riegger began to write contemporary dance music. Later, as his career progressed, he began to use Schoenberg's twelve-tone technique more and more often, though he did occasionally revert to his earlier styles. [8] From 1941 on, he focused almost solely on instrumental music. His Symphony No. 3 received the New York Music Critics' Circle Award and a Naumburg Foundation Recording Award.

Selected works

Concert band and wind ensemble
Chamber music


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  1. Encyclopædia Britannica, Wallingford Riegger
  2. 1 2 3 New Georgia Encyclopedia
  3. 1 2 "Composer Bio: Wallingford Riegger (1885 - 1961)". Naxos Records.
  4. Iowa Center for the Arts
  5. Art of the States: Wallingford Riegger
  6. Kyle Gann, Robert Ashley (Urbana: University of Illinois, 2012), 16.
  7. John Kennedy; Klaus G. Roy. "Riegger:Variations/Symphony No. 4, FECD-0007". First Edition Music.
  8. 1 2 Morton, Lawrence. The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 44, No. 2 (Apr., 1958), pp. 267-269
  9. Berkshire Festival of Chamber Music 1919-1938
  10. Riegger, Wallingford (1936). Dark Eyes. U.S.A.: Harold Flammer, Inc.

Further reading