Nancy Van de Vate

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Nancy Van de Vate
Smiling woman in middle age, with short haircut
Van de Vate in the 1990s
Nancy Jean Hayes

(1930-12-30)December 30, 1930
DiedJuly 29, 2023(2023-07-29) (aged 92)
Vienna, Austria
Other names
  • Helen Huntley
  • William Huntley
  • United States
  • Austria
  • Composer
  • violist

Nancy Jean Van de Vate (née Hayes; December 30, 1930 – July 29, 2023) was an American-born Austrian composer, violist and pianist. She also used the pseudonyms Helen Huntley and William Huntley. She is known for operas such as All Quiet on the Western Front, and orchestral music such as Chernobyl and Journeys, including concertos like the Kraków Concerto for percussion and orchestra.

Van de Vate taught at several universities in the United States and led composers' organizations such as the Southeastern Composers League and the International League of Women Composers. In 1985, she moved to Vienna, where she taught and founded a CD company for new orchestral music together with her husband.

Life and career[edit]

Nancy Jean Hayes was born in Plainfield, New Jersey,[1] on December 30, 1930.[2] She studied piano on a scholarship at Eastman School of Music[3][1][4] and music theory at Wellesley College.[4][5] She completed graduate degrees in music composition at the University of Mississippi and Florida State University,[1][6] where she earned a Ph.D.[7] She pursued further studies in electronic music at Dartmouth College and the University of New Hampshire.[4][8] The first professional performance of her work was in 1958 the Adagio for orchestra.[6]

Van de Vate taught at Memphis State University[8] from 1964 to 1966.[9] She also played viola in the Knoxville Symphony, founded a chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) in Tennessee, and directed the Southeastern Composers League.[8] She taught at the University of Tennessee (1967), Knoxville College (1968–1969; 1971–1972) and Maryville College (1973–1974).[9] She moved to Hawaii in 1975 [8][10] where she first taught at the University of Hawaii, and from 1977 to 1980 at the Hawaii Loa College[9] serving there also as Dean of Academic Affairs. She became influenced by Asian music; and moved to Indonesia in 1982 for three years.[8]

In 1975, she founded the League of Women Composers and served as chairperson until 1982;[1] it was renamed the International League of Women Composers in 1979, and was merged into the International Alliance for Women in Music in 1995.[8][11]

She lived permanently in Vienna from 1985.[1][2][9] In 1990 she founded a CD company together with her husband Clyde A. Smith, Vienna Modern Masters, dedicated to new music for orchestra; she directed it after her husband's death.[8][9] She taught composition at the Institute for European Studies in Vienna (IES).[4] In 2010, the IES named her Composer-in-Residence.[12]

Personal life[edit]

In 1952, Van de Vate married Dwight Van de Vate Jr.[13] The couple had three children.[8] They later divorced. She later married Clyde A. Smyth,[9] who died of cancer in 1999.[14]

Van de Vate died on July 29, 2023, at age 92, at home in Vienna.[2][15][16]


Van de Vate composed seven operas, many orchestral works including concertos for one or more instruments, and chamber music.[2][17][18] Her music has been seen as influenced by Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Penderecki, Crumb and Varèse.[9]

Several of her compositions won international awards,[9] and were nominated for the Pulitzer Prize,[2] the orchestral work Chernobyl also for the Koussevitsky International Recording Award.[1][19] Her works have been performed internationally.[2]


Many of Van de Vate's works were recorded by her CD company Vienna Modern Masters (VMM). A CD of orchestral works was produced in 1990, named after Distant Worlds, and played by the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Szymon Kawalla [pl][20] Arnold Whittall reviewed the album for Gramophone; he summarized: "Her orchestral music undoubtedly makes its presence felt, especially by means of densely dissonant climaxes whose weight and seriousness are appropriate to works with such grandly evocative titles", adding that it "lacks that distinctiveness and magnetism".[21]

Her Chernobyl and her Violin Concerto was recorded by the same performers on a 1988 CD of mainly works by Penderecki, titled after Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima.[22] Her Krakow Concerto became the title of a 1991 album by the same performers, including also her Katyn, Schoenberg's A Survivor from Warsaw, and Penderecki's Dies irae.[23]

Her vocal composition Cocaine Lil was recorded by Dietburg Spohr [de] and her ensemble belcanto, as the final track of a 1994 CD named after Hanns Eisler's Woodburry-Liederbüchlein.[24]


  • Hamlet[15] (2009) opera in five acts, after Shakespeare, recorded 2011, premiered by the University of Mississippi's Opera Theatre Group April 18, 2015
  • Where the Cross Is Made (2003) opera in three acts, Libretto based on the play by Eugene O'Neill[15] Premiere: 2005
  • Im Westen nichts Neues (2002) opera in three acts, libretto after the novel by Erich Maria Remarque, premiere: September 28, 2003, Theater Osnabrück,[4] directed by Thomas Münstermann[1]
  • All Quiet on the Western Front (1998)[1] anti-war opera in three acts,[8] premiere 2003, New York City Opera[4]
  • Nemo: Jenseits von Vulkania (1995)[9][1] opera in four acts, libretto: Allen Cortes and Van de Vate recorded by VMM[1]
  • Der Herrscher und das Mädchen (1995)[9] children's opera, premiered in Vienna 1995[1]
  • The Death of the Hired Man (Der Tod des Tagelöhners), (1958; rev. 1998) chamber opera, libretto: after Robert Frost,[17] premiered in German 1999[1]


Theatre music[edit]

Music for strings[edit]

  • String Quartet No. 2 (2005)[17]
  • Piano Trio (1983)[17]
  • String Trio (1974)[17]
  • Viola Sonata (1964)[17]
  • String Quartet No. 1 (1969)[17]

Music for percussion[edit]

  • Suite for Marimba (2000)[17]
  • Teufelstanz (1988) for six percussionists[17]

Music for mixed ensembles[edit]

  • Music for Viola, Percussion and Piano (1976)[10]

Choral music[edit]

Keyboard instruments[edit]

  • Twelve Pieces for Piano "On One to Twelve Notes" (1986)[1] recorded in 2006 by Catherine Nardiello[25]
  • Fantasy for Harpsichord (1982)[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q "Nancy van de Vate". Klassik Heute (in German). July 29, 2023. Retrieved August 2, 2023.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Petrik, Morgana (July 31, 2023). "Nancy van de Vate". Österreichische Gesellschaft für zeitgenössische Musik (in German). Retrieved August 2, 2023.
  3. ^ "Nancy Van de Vate is Composer-in-Residence for Eastman's Fourth Annual Women in Music Festival – Eastman School of Music". Eastman School of Music. January 21, 2008. Retrieved August 4, 2023. She also has ties to Eastman, since she attended the school in the 1948–1949 academic year as a first-year piano major before transferring to Wellesley College
  4. ^ a b c d e f "Nancy van de Vate – Produzentin und Komponistin". ORF (in German). August 4, 2021. Retrieved August 2, 2023.
  5. ^ Neuls-Bates, Carol, ed. (1996). Women in Music : An Anthology of Source Readings from the Middle Ages to the Present (Revised ed.). Boston: Northeastern University Press. pp. 323. ISBN 1-55553-239-X.
  6. ^ a b Fuller, Sophie (2007–2017). "Van de Vate, [née Hayes], Nancy". Grove Music Online. doi:10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.45091. ISBN 978-1-56159-263-0. Retrieved March 14, 2019 – via
  7. ^ a b c d Van de Vate, Nancy, Accessed August 1, 2023.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Case, Nelly (January 31, 2018). "Other Notable Composers" (PDF). Retrieved January 31, 2018.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p "Gale In Context: Biography – Document – Nancy Van de Vate". Retrieved March 4, 2020.
  10. ^ a b c Gann, Kyle. "American Composer: Nancy Van de Vate". Retrieved August 3, 2023.
  11. ^ Edwards, J. Michele; Lassetter, Leslie (2001). Pendle, Karin (ed.). "North America Since 1920". Women & Music: A History (Second ed.). Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press: 328.
  12. ^ "Institute for European Studies". Retrieved February 4, 2020.
  13. ^ "NANCY JEAN HAYES WELLESLEY BRIDE; I Wed in College Chapel After Graduation to Dwight Van de Vate, Jr. Yale Ph.D. Student". The New York Times. June 10, 1952. Retrieved August 1, 2023.
  14. ^ Foulkes-Levy, Laurdella; Levy, Burt J. (2005). Journeys through the life and music of Nancy Van de Vate ( Lanham, Md. : Scarecrow Press. p. vii. ISBN 978-0-8108-5135-1. OL 22621475M. Retrieved August 4, 2023.
  15. ^ a b c d "Komponistin Nancy Van de Vate in Wien gestorben". Vienna (in German). July 31, 2023. Retrieved August 2, 2023.
  16. ^ "Nancy Van de Vate | Biography". American Composers Alliance. January 1994. Retrieved August 4, 2023.
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t "Nancy Van de Vate". Pytheas Center for Contemporary Music. 2023. Retrieved August 2, 2023.
  18. ^ "Nancy van de Vate". Klassika. 2023. Retrieved August 2, 2023.
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Nancy van de Vate". 2023. Retrieved August 3, 2023.
  20. ^ "Distant worlds (1985)". Muziekweb. 2023. Retrieved August 3, 2023.
  21. ^ Whittall, Arnold (October 1987). "Van de Vate: Orchestral Works". Gramophone. Retrieved August 3, 2023.
  22. ^ "Threnody for the victims of Hiroshima". Muziekweb. 2023. Retrieved August 3, 2023.
  23. ^ "Krakow concerto (1988)". Muziekweb. 2023. Retrieved August 3, 2023.
  24. ^ "Distant worlds (1985)". Muziekweb. 2023. Retrieved August 3, 2023.
  25. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Works by Nancy van de Vate". Muziekweb. 2023. Retrieved August 3, 2023.
  26. ^ "A Peacock Southeast Flew (Concerto for Pipa & Orchestra) | Nancy van de Vate – Daniels' Orchestral Music Online".

Further reading[edit]

  • Laurdella Foulkes-Levy and Burt Levy, Journeys Through the Life and Music of Nancy Van de Vate (Scarecrow Press, 2005), OL 22621475M
  • Sophie Fuller, The Pandora Guide to Women Composers, Britain and the United States 1629–Present
  • Julie Anne Sadie and Rhian Samuel (eds.), The New Grove Dictionary of Women Composers
  • International Who's Who In Music and Musicians' Directory (in the Classical and Light Classical Fields), Volume One 1998/99, Sixteenth Edition

External links[edit]