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Irving Fine

Irving Gifford Fine (December 3, 1914 – August 23, 1962) was an American composer. Fine's work assimilated neoclassical, romantic and, later, serial elements. Composer Virgil Thomson described Fine's "unusual melodic grace" while Aaron Copland noted the "elegance, style, finish and...convincing continuity" of Fine's music. [1]

Fine was a member of a close-knit group of Boston composers in the mid-20th century who were sometimes called the "Boston Six" or "Boston School." Other members of the Boston School included Arthur Berger, Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, Lukas Foss, and Harold Shapero.[2]


  • Life 1
  • Music 2
  • Educational legacy 3
  • Honors 4
  • Works 5
    • Orchestra 5.1
    • Chorus 5.2
    • Songs 5.3
    • Chamber and solo instrument 5.4
  • Reading 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


Fine was born in Boston, Massachusetts, where he studied piano, and received both Bachelor's and Master's degrees from Harvard University, where he was a pupil of Walter Piston. Fine was a conducting pupil of Serge Koussevitzky, served as pianist for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and studied composition with Nadia Boulanger at the Fontainebleau School of Music in Paris and at Radcliffe College. From 1939 until 1950, he taught music theory at Harvard and conducted its Glee Club, becoming a close associate of Leonard Bernstein, Igor Stravinsky and Aaron Copland. From 1950, he taught at Brandeis University, where he was Walter S. Naumburg Professor of Music and founded the School of Creative Arts. Between 1946 and 1957, he also taught composition at the Tanglewood Music Festival in the Berkshires.

Irving Fine died in Natick, Massachusetts in August 1962. He was 47 years of age. The cause of death was heart disease.[3]


Among Fine's compositions are a violin sonata; a string quartet; Fantasia for String Trio; Music for Piano; Partita for Wind Quintet; Toccata Concertante for Orchestra; Notturno for Strings and Harp; Serious Song, subtitled a "lament for string orchestra"; Diversions for piano and orchestra; and the Symphony 1962, which premiered at Tanglewood less than two weeks before his untimely death following a heart attack (Fine conducted the premiere when Charles Munch, who was originally to have conducted, fell ill).

Fine's choral works, which are frequently performed, include two sets of choruses from Alice in Wonderland; "Childhood Fables for Grown-ups," settings of various poems about his composer friends, including Leonard Bernstein, Lukas Foss and Harold Shapero; The Choral New Yorker, The Hour-Glass, McCord's Menagerie, and Mutability song cycles; and others. He also created choral arrangements of his colleague and friend Aaron Copland's Old American Songs.

Educational legacy

Notable composition students of Irving Fine include Gustav Ciamaga, Noël Lee, Halim El-Dabh, and Richard Wernick. Towards the end of his life, Fine notably collaborated with Wernick on the musical Maggie, a work based on the Stephen Crane novel of the same name. A Professorship of Music at Brandeis University is named in Fine's honor. The composer Arthur Berger served as Irving G. Fine Professor of Music from 1969 to 1980 (and as Emeritus Professor until his death in 2003). The current Irving G. Fine Professor of Music is Eric Chasalow.

Brandeis University is also home to the Irving Fine Society, founded in 2006 by music director Nicholas Alexander Brown. The society comprises the Irving Fine Singers and the Gifford 5, a woodwind quintet. The mission of the society is to perform "the music of 20th and 21st century composers who have made significant contributions to the longevity of classical music," frequently performing the music of its namesake, Irving Fine.[1]


Fine's honors included two Guggenheim Fellowships, a Fulbright Research Fellowship, and awards from the National Institute of Arts and Letters and the New York Music Critics' Circle, among others, as well as numerous commissions.



  • Toccata concertante, 1947
  • Serious Song: a Lament, strings, 1955
  • Blue Towers, 1959
  • Diversions, 1959–60
  • Symphony, 1962


  • 3 Choruses from Alice in Wonderland, 3–4 voices, piano, 1942; arrangement with orchestra, 1949
  • The Choral New Yorker, S, A, Bar, 3–4 voices, piano, 1944
  • A Short Alleluia, SSA, 1945
  • In gratio jubilo, hymn, small orchestra, 1949
  • The Hour Glass (B. Jonson), song cycle, SATB, 1949
  • Old American Songs (trad.), 2–4 voices, piano, 1952
  • An Old Song (Yehoash, trans. M. Syrkin), SATB, 1953
  • 3 Choruses from Alice in Wonderland (L. Carroll), 2nd ser., SSA, piano, 1953
  • McCord's Menagerie (McCord), TTB, 1957


  • Mutability (I. Orgel), cycle, Mez, piano, 1952
  • Childhood Fables for Grown-ups (G. Norman), Mez/Bar, piano/orchestra, 1954–5

Chamber and solo instrument

  • Sonata, violin, piano, 1946
  • Music for Piano, 1947
  • Partita, wind quintet, 1948
  • Notturno, strings, harp, 1950–51
  • String Quartet, 1952
  • Children's Piano Pieces, 1956
  • Fantasia, string trio, 1956
  • Hommage à Mozart, piano, 1956
  • Romanza, wind quintet, 1958


A biography, Irving Fine: An American Composer in His Time, by author, composer, and pianist Phillip Ramey, was published in 2005 by the Library of Congress and Pendragon Press, and received the 2006 Nicolas Slonimsky Award for Outstanding Musical Biography from ASCAP.


  • Anderson, E. Ruth. Contemporary American composers. A Biographical Dictionary, 2nd edition, G. K. Hall, 1982.
  • Butterworth, Neil. A Dictionary of American Composers, Garland, 1984.
  • Pollack, Howard Joel. Harvard Composers. Walter Piston and his Students, from Elliott Carter to Frederic Rzewski, Scarecrow Press, 1992.
  • Press, Jaques Cattell (Ed.). ASCAP Biographical Dictionary of Composers, Authors and Publishers, 4th edition, R. R. Bowker, 1980.
  • Sadie, Stanley; Hitchcock, H. Wiley (Ed.). The New Grove Dictionary of American Music. Grove's Dictionaries of Music, 1986.
  • Villamil, Victoria Etnier; Hampson, Thomas. A Singer's Guide to the American Art Song 1870–1980, foreword by Thomas Hampson, Scarecrow Press, 1993.
  1. ^ Metro - Brandeis student is doing just ‘Fine’ at the Wayback Machine (archived March 24, 2008)

External links

  • The Irving Fine Collection at the Library of Congress
  • Boosey & Hawkes biography
  • Composer Irving Fine is Subject of New Publication
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