On Air
0:00
0:00
Open In Popup
MPR News

Dominick Argento, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, dead at 91

Share story

Dominick Argento
Dominick Argento says "Evensong: Of Love and Angels" means more to him than anything else he's ever written.
Photo courtesy of VocalEssence

Updated: 5:30 p.m. | Posted: 4:18 p.m.

Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Dominick Argento died Wednesday. He was 91.

Known for his eclectic range of work, he composed operas such as "Casanova's Homecoming", "The Dream of Valentino" and "Miss Havisham's Fire."

A native of Pennsylvania, he studied composition at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore and Eastman School of Music, where he earned his PhD. He then studied and worked in Florence, Italy for a year.

VocalEssence artistic director and founder Philip Brunelle said Argento loved Minnesota.

"He said there was an honesty about the music-making, that really appealed to him. That there were a totally huge number of organizations and people and artists that he wanted to have performed his music and that were interested in his music," Brunelle said.

He moved to Minneapolis in 1958 to teach music theory and composition at the University of Minnesota. He became a favorite composer for local companies, writing works for the Guthrie Theater and the Walker Art Center. He was also a co-founder of the Center Opera Company, which in time became the Minnesota Opera.

He also began working with Philip Brunelle at Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis to create new choral works including an early piece "Jonah and the Whale." That led to choral commissions, including by the Dale Warland Singers, the Buffalo Philharmonic and the Harvard and Yale Glee Clubs.

As his work received critical praise, he began winning commissions from around the country, and began working with several prominent opera singers, writing works to highlight their specific talents.

He also became known for his song cycles and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1975 for "From the Diary of Virginia Woolf."

He continued teaching and composing in recent years. In 2014 his piece "Evensong: Of Love and Angels," written in memory of his wife, was performed at the Washington National Cathedral as part of its centennial celebration.

An Argento family statement revealed details of plans for his estate. It says he gave his manuscripts, books, ledgers, music, tapes, and compact discs to the University of Minnesota Library Archives. He then divided the bulk of his estate between the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester and the National Opera Association to fund two fellowships, one in composition and one in vocal performance. 

The family also said there will be a memorial event celebrating Argento's life in the spring at the University of Minnesota where he spent his entire teaching career.