|Born||June 11, 1926|
Latta, South Carolina, U.S.
|Died||September 30, 2021 (aged 95)|
Tallahassee, Florida, U.S.
|Notable work||List of compositions|
|Awards||National Medal of Arts|
Carlisle Sessions Floyd (June 11, 1926 – September 30, 2021) was an American composer primarily known for his operas. These stage works, for which he wrote the librettos, typically engage with themes from the American South, particularly the Post-civil war South, the Great Depression and rural life. His best known opera, Susannah, is based on a story from the Biblical Apocrypha, transferred to contemporary rural Tennessee, and written for a Southern dialect. It was premiered at Florida State University in 1955, with Phyllis Curtin in the title role. When it was staged at the New York City Opera the following year, the reception was initially mixed; some considered it a masterpiece, while others degraded it as a 'folk opera'. Subsequent performances led to an increase in Susannah's reputation and the opera quickly became among the most performed of American operas.
In 1976, he became M. D. Anderson professor at the University of Houston. He co-founded the Houston Opera Studio for the training of young singers. Floyd is regarded as the "Father of American opera".
Life and career
Youth and education
Carlisle Sessions Floyd was born in Latta, South Carolina, on June 11, 1926 to Carlisle and Ida (née Fenegan) Floyd. His father was his namesake and a Methodist minister at the local church; on both sides his family was descended from among the first European immigrants to the Carolinas. He had a sister, Ermine, along with a sizable extended family. Being raised in the Southern United States, Floyd would have been well aquatinted with typical Southern ideals of the time, such as Southern hospitality, extra caution to avoid offending others, Protestantism and a general disliking towards the Northerners. Also prominent in his Southern upbringing were revival meetings, the "bigotry" of which later influenced his work.[n 1] Though the family was not familiar with contemporary classical music, Floyd's mother enjoyed music and poetry, often hosting family hymn singing events. She also gave Floyd his first piano lessons. Floyd attended North High School in North Carolina.
Though American involvement in World War II had begun in 1941, Floyd's asthma prevented his conscription. He attended Converse College of Spartanburg, South Carolina in 1944, studying piano with composer Ernst Bacon. In 1945 Bacon left Converse to become director of the music school at Syracuse University, New York, a considerably more multicultural institution. Floyd followed Bacon to Syracuse and received a Bachelor of Music in 1946. The following year, Floyd became part of the piano faculty at Florida State University in Tallahassee. He stayed there for thirty years, eventually becoming Professor of Composition. He received a master's degree at Syracuse in 1949.
Emerging composer and Susannah
While at FSU, Floyd gradually became interested in composition. His first opera was Slow Dusk to his own libretto, and was produced at Syracuse in 1949. His next opera, The Fugitives, was seen at Tallahassee in 1951 but was withdrawn.
Floyd's third opera was his greatest success: Susannah. It was premiered at Florida State at the Ruby Diamond Auditorium in February 1955, with Phyllis Curtin in the title role and Mack Harrell as the Reverend Olin Blitch. The following year, the opera was given at the New York City Opera, winning him international recognition. Erich Leinsdorf conducted, with Curtin and Norman Treigle as Blitch. The opera received the New York Music Critics' Circle Award. It was selected to be America's official operatic entry at the 1958 World's Fair in Brussels, directed by Frank Corsaro, with Curtin, Treigle and Richard Cassilly.
In 1976, he became M. D. Anderson professor at the University of Houston. There, he co-founded the Houston Opera Studio, together with David Gockley, as an institution of the University of Houston and Houston Grand Opera, with students including Michael Ching and Craig Bohmler.
Later in 1958, Floyd's Wuthering Heights (after Emily Brontë) premiered at the Santa Fe Opera, with Curtin as the heroine. In 1960, at Syracuse, his solo cantata on biblical texts, Pilgrimage, was first heard with Treigle as soloist. The Passion of Jonathan Wade, commissioned by the Ford Foundation, was Floyd's most epic opera, set in South Carolina during the Reconstruction era. It was premiered at the New York City Opera on October 11, 1962. Theodor Uppman, Curtin, Treigle and Harry Theyard performed in a large cast, conducted by Julius Rudel and directed by Allen Fletcher. Floyd revised it in 1989 for performances at four major opera houses in the U.S., beginning at Houston Grand Opera.
Floyd's next opera was The Sojourner and Mollie Sinclair, which was a comedy around Scottish settlers of the Carolinas. Patricia Neway and Treigle created the title roles with Rudel conducting. The opera Markheim (after Robert Louis Stevenson) was first shown at the New Orleans Opera Association in 1966, with Treigle (to whom it was dedicated) and Audrey Schuh heading the cast. Floyd himself served as stage director.
The opera Of Mice and Men (after John Steinbeck) was commissioned by the Ford Foundation. After a long gestation period, it was premiered at the Seattle Opera in 1970, directed by Corsaro. A monodrama on the royal subject of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Flower and Hawk, premiered in Jacksonville, Florida, with Curtin directed by Corsaro. The production was also presented at Carnegie Hall.
Bilby's Doll (after Esther Forbes) was commissioned by the Houston Grand Opera where it was premiered in 1976 with Christopher Keene conducting and David Pountney directing. Floyd composed Willie Stark (after Robert Penn Warren) also for Houston, where it was first heard in 1981 in a staging by Harold Prince. After a hiatus of almost twenty years, another Floyd opera premiered in Houston in 2000, Cold Sassy Tree (after Olive Ann Burns). Patrick Summers conducted, Bruce Beresford directed, and Patricia Racette led the cast. It was subsequently produced by several American opera houses.
Retirement and later years
After retirement from the university in Houston in 1996, Floyd lived in Tallahassee again. He had composed a Piano Sonata in the 1950s (1957, two years after Susannah) for Rudolf Firkušný, who played it at a Carnegie Hall recital, but it languished until Daniell Revenaugh recorded it in 2009 at the age of 74. Revenaugh worked with the composer in learning the piece (Floyd himself had never learned it), and their rehearsal sessions and the live recording itself were filmed for posterity. The recording was made on the Alma-Tadema Steinway that graced the White House during the presidencies of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.
The Houston Grand Opera produced a new opera by Floyd on March 5, 2016, Prince of Players, a chamber opera about the 17th-century actor, Edward Kynaston, conducted by Summers. A live recording of the premiere was nominated for a Grammy Award.
Floyd died on September 30, 2021 in Tallahassee, at the age of 95. He had no children, but was survived by four nieces, the daughters of Ermine. His publisher Boosey and Hawkes, announced his death and did not relay the cause.
Legacy and reputation
Floyd is primarily known for his operas, which make up the bulk of his compositional output. Like Wagner and Menotti, Floyd wrote the librettos to his operas. His best-known opera, Susannah, is regarded as his magnum opus. The National Public Radio's Tom Huizenga posits the work as suitable contender to be considered the archetypal "Great American Opera".[n 2] Patricia Racette declared that "If it is not the greatest American opera, it's certainly among the great American operas". According to Opera News, Susannah is the most frequently performed American opera after Gershwin's Porgy and Bess and Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors. The Daily Telegraph, however, claimed it is the most "widely performed" American opera, purportedly outnumbering some works by Mozart, Verdi and Puccini. In addition to Gershwin and Menotti, Floyd stands with Adams, Barber, Bernstein, Glass and Rorem in the pantheon of preeminent 20th-century American opera composers.
- Susannah (Studer, Hadley, Ramey; Nagano, 1993–94) Virgin Classics
- Susannah (Curtin, Cassilly, Treigle; Andersson, 1962) [live] VAI
- Wuthering Heights (Jarman, Mentzer, Markgraf; Mechavich, 2015) [live] Reference Recordings
- Pilgrimage: excerpts (Treigle; Torkanowsky, 1971) Orion
- The Sojourner and Mollie Sinclair (Neway, Treigle; Rudel, 1963) VAI
- Markheim (Schuh, Treigle; Andersson, 1966) [live] VAI
- Of Mice and Men (Futral, Griffey, Hawkins; Summers, 2002) [live] Albany Records
- Cold Sassy Tree (Racette; Summers, 2000) [live] Albany Records
- Susannah: Revival Scene (Treigle; Yestadt, Treigle, 1958) [live] Bel Canto Society
- Willie Stark (Jesse; J.Keene, McDonough, 2007) [live] Newport Classic
- Susannah (Spatafora, Webb, Donovan; Sforzini, Unger, 2014) [live] Naxos
List of compositions
Works for stage
|Slow Dusk||1949||Musical play
|Unfinished stage work||–|
|Susanna and the Elders|
3 acts (& prologue)
|Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë|
|The Passion of Jonathan Wade||1962
|The Sojourner and Mollie Sinclair||1963||Comic opera
|"Markheim" by Robert Louis Stevenson|
|Of Mice and Men||1970||Musical drama
|Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck|
|Flower and Hawk||1972||Monodrama
|A Mirror for Witches by Esther Forbes|
|All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren|
|Cold Sassy Tree||2000||Comic opera
|Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns|
|Prince of Players||2016||Opera
|Fictional portrayal of Edward Kynaston's life|
Baritone and orchestra
|Various biblical texts|
|Piano Sonata||1957||Solo piano||–|
|The Mystery||1960||Song cycle
Soprano and orchestra
|Text by Gabriela Mistral|
|Introduction, Aria, and Dance||1967||Orchestral||–|
|Citizen of Paradise||1983||Song cycle
Mezzo-soprano and piano
|Text by Emily Dickinson|
|A Time to Dance||1994||Orchestral
Baritone, chorus and orchestra
|Soul of Heaven||1995||Song cycle
Voice and piano
|Text by various authors|
Awards and honors
- 1956 Guggenheim Fellowship
- 1957 Citation of Merit from the National Association of American Conductors and Composers
- 1959 Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Nation Award from the U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce
- 1964 Distinguished Professor of Florida State University Award
- 1983 Honorary degree from Dickinson College
- 1983 National Opera Institute's Award for Service to American Opera – the highest honor the institute bestows
- 1993 Brock Commission from the American Choral Directors Association.
- 2001 Inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters
- 2004 National Medal of Arts from the White House
- 2005 Honorary Doctorate from Florida State University
- 2008 National Endowment for the Arts Opera Honoree for lifetime work
- 2010 Anton Coppola Excellence in the Arts Award from Opera Tampa
- 2012 Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Man of Music – the highest honor for a member of the American music fraternity.
- Floyd later reflected on these, saying "The thing that horrified me already as a child about revival meetings was mass coercion, people being forced to conform to something against their will without even knowing what they were being asked to confess or receive".
- The idea of the "Great American Opera" originates from an earlier debate concerning the Great American Novel.
- For Floyd's works on the Boosey and Hawkes website see: "Your search for 'Composer: Carlisle Floyd'". Boosey and Hawkes. Retrieved October 4, 2021.
- Only Floyd's major works are listed. Stiller 2003 notes that he wrote other solo piano and pedagogical works.
- "Carlisle Floyd Biography". Boosey & Hawkes. Retrieved August 13, 2008.
- Huizenga, Tom (September 30, 2021). "Carlisle Floyd, a founding father of American opera, has died at age 95". National Public Radio. Retrieved September 30, 2021.
- McFadden, Robert D. (September 30, 2021). "Carlisle Floyd, Whose Operas Spun Fables of the South, Dies at 95". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved September 30, 2021.
- Holliday 2013, p. 1.
- Stiller, Andrew (2003) . "Floyd, Carlisle". Grove Music Online. Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.09881. ISBN 978-1-56159-263-0. (subscription or UK public library membership required)
- Holliday 2013, pp. 2–3.
- Holliday 2013, pp. 5–6.
- Schwarz, K. Robert (November 1, 1998). "A Regional Favorite Gains Prominence". The New York Times. Retrieved October 6, 2021.
- Holliday 2013, p. 2.
- Holliday 2013, p. 6.
- Dobson, Byron (September 30, 2021). "Tallahassee's world-famous opera composer, Carlisle Floyd, dies at 95". Tallahassee Democrat. Retrieved September 30, 2021.
- Holliday 2013, p. 46.
- "Carlisle Floyd, composer of the record-breaking blockbuster opera Susannah – obituary". The Daily Telegraph. October 6, 2021. Archived from the original on October 9, 2021. Retrieved October 12, 2021. (subscription required)
- "Career Guide: Latest Additions & Changes" Archived September 23, 2015, at the Wayback Machine. Central Opera Service Bulletin. Vol. 22, No. 4., Winter/Spring 1981. p. 34.
- Ching, Michael. "Carlisle Floyd". Opera and Beyond. September 28, 2011.
- "'Jonathan Wade' Gets New Lease on Life". Los Angeles Times. September 24, 1990. Retrieved January 12, 2020.
- "Floyd, Carlisle / The Passion of Jonathan Wade (1962, rev.1989)". Boosey & Hawkes. Retrieved January 12, 2020.
- "Carlisle Floyd Sojourner and Mollie Sinclair – Opera". Boosey & Hawkes. Retrieved October 4, 2021.
- "Carlisle Floyd Markheim – Opera". Boosey & Hawkes. Retrieved October 4, 2021.
- Ericson, Raymond (May 21, 1972). "FLORIDA PLAYERS REGAIN STABILITY (Published 1972)". New York Times. Retrieved October 4, 2021.
- "Tallahassee Magazine: Events, Food, Culture, Home and Style coverage for the Tallahassee Area". Archived from the original on November 30, 2010. Retrieved December 27, 2015.
- Salazar, Francisco (September 30, 2021). "Obituary: American Opera Composer Carlisle Floyd Dies at 95". Opera Wire. Retrieved September 30, 2021.
- "The View From Up There". The Guardian. November 7, 1999. Retrieved October 4, 2021.
- Information is from Stiller 2003 unless otherwise noted.
- Kaliss, Jeff (July 31, 2020). "Carlisle Floyd Takes on Tangled Issues of Sex and Identity in Prince of Players". San Francisco Classical Voice. Retrieved October 3, 2021.
- Thomas Holliday (2013). Falling Up: The Days and Nights of Carlisle Floyd, The Authorized Biography. Syracuse University Press. p. 179. ISBN 9780815610038.
- "Florida State News and Events". Florida State University. Retrieved October 4, 2021.
- "Carlisle Floyd Receives Honorary Degree | Dickinson College". Dickinson College. Retrieved October 4, 2021.
- "American Choral Directors Association". Archived from the original on March 8, 2016. Retrieved March 27, 2016., Retrieved March 2016
- Libby Fairhurst (October 31, 2005). "Carlisle Floyd's American opera 'Susannah' returns to FSU stage that launched its 1955 debut". fsu.edu. Retrieved October 4, 2021.
- “The Fifteenth Year – Opera Tampa”. Tampa Bay Magazine. September 2009, pg 194. Retrieved February 28, 2013.
- "Man of Music Carlisle Floyd Sounds The Final Chord – Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia". Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity of America. October 1, 2021. Retrieved October 4, 2021.
- Coffman, Teresa S. (March 1999). "Carlisle Floyd's Text Settings in His Works for Chorus". The Choral Journal. American Choral Directors Association. 39 (8): 37–46. JSTOR 23552766.
- Eyer, Ronald (Winter 1956–1957). "Carlisle Floyd's: 'Susannah'". Tempo. Cambridge University Press (2): 7–11. doi:10.1017/S0040298200043709. JSTOR 942914. S2CID 144987051.
- Holliday, Thomas (2013). Falling Up: The Days and Nights of Carlisle Floyd, The Authorized Biography. Foreword by Plácido Domingo. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press. ISBN 978-0-8156-5195-6. JSTOR j.ctt1j1w0pr.
- Jensen-Moulton, Stephanie (Summer 2012). "Intellectual Disability in Carlisle Floyd's Of Mice and Men". American Music. University of Illinois Press. 30 (2): 129–156. doi:10.5406/americanmusic.30.2.0129. JSTOR 10.5406/americanmusic.30.2.0129. S2CID 191463997.
- Sabin, Robert (Autumn 1961). "Carlisle Floyd's 'Wuthering Heights'". Tempo. Cambridge University Press (59): 23–26. doi:10.1017/S0040298200027819. JSTOR 943534. S2CID 145631978.
- Kornick, Rebecca Hodell (1991). Recent American Opera: A Production Guide. New York: Columbia University Press. pp. 102–108. ISBN 978-0-231-06920-5.
- McDevitt, F. J. (1975). The Stage Works of Carlisle Floyd, 1949–72 (DMA). Juilliard School.
- Senter, Mary Lester (1980). The Monodrama 'Flower and Hawk' by Carlisle Floyd (DMA). University of Texas at Austin. OCLC 38878761.
|How to use archival material|