Elinor Remick Warren

On the first Saturday of the month Jack Moore and I host Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection on WRTI 90.1 FM in Philadelphia and on the all-classical webstream at wrti.org. We also broadcast encore presentations of the entire Discoveries series (now eight years and counting!) every Wednesday at 7:00 pm on WRTI HD-2. For a look at all the shows, click here.

Saturday, March 6th, 2010, 5:00-6:00 p.m.

Elinor Remick Warren (1900-1991). Scherzo (1924/38). Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Ronald Corp. Dutton 7235, Tr 2. 2:49

Elinor Remick Warren. Suite for Orchestra (1954). Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Ronald Corp. Dutton 7235, Tr 10-13. 20:33

Elinor Remick Warren. The Legend of King Arthur. Intermezzo and Arthur’s Farewell (1939). Roderick Williams, baritone, BBC Concert Orchestra, Martin Yates. Dutton 7235, Tr 4-5. 10:13

Elinor Remick Warren. Along the Western Shore (1941/54). Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Ronald Corp. Dutton 7235, Tr 6-8. 12:02

She was pianist to the stars and the wife of a Hollywood producer, but Elinor Remick Warren was one of the leading American women composers of the mid-20th century. She is solidly in the American Romantic tradition of Howard Hanson and Samuel Barber, although there’s a streak of French impressionism shining through her music.

In 1900, the same year that saw the birth of Aaron Copland, Kurt Weill, and George Antheil, Warren was born in Los Angeles to musical parents. She was picking out melodies on the piano at age four, and a year later was writing them down. By 10th grade she was a published composer, with “A Song of June” accepted by G. Schirmer. She moved to New York after a year in college, studied composition with the famous organist Clarence Dickinson, and continued to write many songs and choral works. The press began to notice. An excellent pianist, Warren soloed with orchestras and made many contacts as accompanist for Lawrence Tibbett and others. Kirsten Flagstad, Richard Crooks, and Rose Bampton sang and recorded her songs.

She wrote and recorded solo piano works, later orchestrating some of them. Scherzo (originally “Frolic of the Elves”) was performed in the 1930s by a Los Angeles radio orchestra. But a bigger piece was soon to come. Warren remembered Tennyson’s Idylls of the King from a high school English class, and had always wanted to set it to music. For baritone soloist with orchestra, it became The Legend of King Arthur and was premiered by the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1940 and broadcast live across the country. In 1941 Sir John Barbirolli conducted the “Intermezzo” from it at the Hollywood Bowl.

Her reputation was growing. By this time she had given up touring as a concert pianist, was married and raising a family, and was composing constantly. A national magazine came to her house and glowingly wrote of her being a wife, homemaker, and composer (and felt moved to mention how pretty she was). Her husband, Z. Wayne Griffin Jr., was a writer and the producer of Burns and Allen on radio, General Electric Theater on television, and many other shows. They bought property in the hills outside Los Angeles and moved there, the vistas further inspiring Warren’s descriptive music. Along the Western Shore and the Suite for Orchestra are fully in this mode. She kept composing, and even took a few months at age 59 to study in Paris with Nadia Boulanger. They remained friends until Boulanger’s death in 1979.

Warren was widely known and her music was admired as being effortlessly beautiful and emotionally intense. Concerts celebrating the 100th anniversary of her birth included a performance of The Legend of King Arthur with baritone Thomas Hampson. Musicians and music-lovers are still discovering the delights of her music.

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