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Leo Sowerby (May 1, 1895–July 7, 1968), American composer and church musician, was the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for music in 1946, and was often called the “Dean of American church music” in the early to mid 20th century.
Sowerby was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he began to compose at the age of ten. His interest in the organ began at the age of 15, he was self-taught at the instrument. He studied composition with Arthur Olaf Andersen at the American Conservatory of Music, Chicago (Gleason n.d.). Early recognition came when his violin concerto was premiered in 1913 by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (Stalford & Meckna 2001). He spent time in France during World War I in the role of bandmaster (Gleason n.d.). In 1921 he was awarded the Rome Prize (from the American Academy in Rome), the first composer to receive this. He joined the American Conservatory of Music as faculty in 1924 (Gleason n.d.). In addition he received the 1946 Pulitzer Prize for Music for his cantata, the Canticle of the Sun, written in 1944 (Stalford & Meckna 2001).
In 1927 he became organist-choirmaster at St James’s Episcopal Church, Chicago, which was consecrated as a cathedral while he was there (1955). Previously, Sowerby was associate organist at Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago (1919).
In 1962, after his retirement from St James’s, he was called to Washington National Cathedral to become the founding director of the College of Church Musicians, a position he held until his death in 1968 (Stalford & Meckna 2001). He died in Port Clinton, Ohio, while at Camp Wa-Li-Ro, in Put-in-Bay, Ohio, the summer choir camp where he had taught for many years.
His substantial output includes over 500 works in every genre but opera and ballet (Stalford & Meckna 2001). His later works, done at St James's, Chicago, and Washington Cathedral, are primarily church music for choir and organ. Sowerby's notable pupils included Robert Beadell, Paul Callaway, Miriam Clapp Duncan, John Fenstermacher, William Ferris, Edwin Fissinger, Milan Kaderavek, Gail Kubik, Roland Leich, Darwin Leitz, Norman Luboff, Michael McCabe, Maylon Merrill (Jack Benny's longtime music director), Gerald Near, William Partridge, Florence Price, Ned Rorem, Ronald Stalford, Robert Stewart, David Van Vactor, and Robert Whitney.
- A Liturgy of Hope (selections from the Psalms) (1917)
- The Vision of Sir Launfal (poem of James Russell Lowell (1925)
- Forsaken of Man (Passion setting, adapted from the Gospels by Edward Borgers) (1939)
- The Canticle of the Sun (St Francis of Assisi) (1944)
- Christ Reborn, for voices and organ (1950)
- The Throne of God (Book of Revelation), for voices and orchestra (1956)
- The Ark of the Covenant, for voices and organ (1961)
- "Ad te levavi animam meam"
- "Behold, O God our Defender"
- "Christians, to the Paschal Victim"
- "Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire"
- "I was glad when they said unto me" (Psalm 122)
- "I will lift up mine eyes"
- "Love Came Down at Christmas"
- "Now There Lightens Upon Us"
- "Thy Word is a lantern" (in memory of President John F. Kennedy)
- "Seeing We Also Are Compassed About" (Hebrews 12:1-2, commissioned by the Illinois Wesleyan University Collegiate Choir in the fall of 1957)
- Comes Autumn Time (1916)
- Carillon (1917)
- Requiescat in Pace (1920)
- Symphony in G (1930)
- Pageant (1931)
- Prelude on "The King's Majesty" (1945)
- Canon, Chacony, & Fugue (1948)
- Ten Hymn Preludes (published separately; 1950s)
- Sinfonia Brevis (1965)
- Passacaglia (1967)
Organ with other instruments
- Elevation, for violin and organ (1912)
- Ballade, for English horn and organ (1949)
- Concertpiece for organ and orchestra, (1951)
- Festival Musick for organ, brass and timpani (1953)
- Toccata on 'A.G.O.' (third movement of Festival Musick)
- Fantasy, for trumpet and organ (1962)
- Five symphonies
- No. 1 (1921)
- No. 2 (1927)
- No. 3 (1939–40)
- No. 4 (1944–47)
- No. 5 (1964)
- From the Northland, suite for orchestra (1923)
- Prairie, symphonic poem for orchestra (1929)
- A Set of Four: A Suite of Ironics, published in 1931
- Concert Overture, for orchestra
Orchestra with solo instruments
- Violin Concerto in G major (1913, revised 1924)
- Cello Concerto in A major (1914–16)
- Piano Concerto no. 1 (1916, revised 1919)
- Ballad of King Estmere, for two pianos and orchestra (1922)
- Medieval Poem, for organ and orchestra (1926)
- Cello Concerto [no. 2] in E minor (1929–34)
- Piano Concerto no. 2 (1932)
- Organ Concerto no. 1 (1937)
- Classic Concerto, for organ and string orchestra (1944)
- Concerto in C, for organ and orchestra
- Harp Concerto
- Concert Piece, for organ and orchestra (1951)
- Three Violin Sonatas
- Sonata for Cello and Piano (1920)
- Sonata for Viola and Piano (also playable on clarinet)
- Piano Trio in C-sharp minor
- Serenade for string quartet in G major published 1921
- Wind Quintet (1916, published in 1931)
- Piano Sonata in D Major (1948, rev. 1964)
- Passacaglia for piano
- Sonata for trumpet and piano (1958)
- "Impressions: Music for Piano" (Suites: "Florida" and "From the Northland" Folksong and Country Dance Tunes: "Three Folk-tunes from Somerset", "Money Musk", "Fisherman's Tune", "The Irish Washerwoman: A Country Dance Tune", "L'Amour Di Quei Due (The Two Lovers): A Milanese Popular Song") - Malcolm Halliday, pianist : (Troy 226), Albany: Troy Records, 1997 Records
- My Love Unspoken (21 songs), (Troy 196), Albany: Troy Records, 1996 (with Robert Osborne, bass-baritone, and Malcolm Halliday, pianist; John Yaffé, producer).
- I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes - The Roberts Wesleyan College Chorale & Roberts Wesleyan Brass Ensemble, Robert Shewan, conductor - (Troy 238), Albany NY: Troy Records, 1997
- Leo Sowerby: American Master of Sacred Song - Gloriae Dei Cantores, Elizabeth Patterson, conductor; David Chalmers, James E. Jordan, jr., organists - Orleans MA: Paraclete Press, (GDCD 016), 1994
- Organ Music of Leo Sowerby (Symphony in G, Requiescat in pace, Fantasy for Flute Stops) - Catharine Crozier, organ - Chatsworth CA: Delos International, (D/CD 3075), 1988
- Leo Sowerby: Works for Organ and Orchestra (Classic Concerto, Medieval Poem, Pageant, Festival Music) - David Craighead, David Mulbury, organ; The Fairfield Orchestra, John Welsh, conductor - NAXOS 8.559028
- Amacker, Marianne. 1970. "The Chorale Preludes of Leo Sowerby". The Diapason 61, no. 9 (August): 20–21.
- Gleason, Harold. n.d. "Leo Sowerby". American Organ Music (LP Record). Catharine Crozier, organ. Rochester, New York: Kendall Recording Corporation. KRC-LP 2555.
- Sharp, Timothy W. 1995. "The Choral Music of Leo Sowerby: A Centennial Perspective". The Choral Journal. 35, no. 8 (March): 9–19.
- Stalford, Ronald, and Michael Meckna. 2001. "Sowerby, Leo". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.
- Art of the States: Leo Sowerby
- Stover, Harold. 1995. "Sowerby at 100". The New England Organist (May–June).
- Free scores by Leo Sowerby in the Choral Public Domain Library (ChoralWiki)
- Free scores by Leo Sowerby at the International Music Score Library Project