Today, Sept. 28, 2023, is the 110th birthday of Vivian Fine. This blog was originally published on March 20, 2011, titled Remembering Vivian Fine. Sunday, March 20th (2011), marked the 11th anniversary of the death of Vivian Fine (1913-2000) and the loss of a truly great American composer. Fine was a prolific composer who completed over 140 works in a 70 year career. Ranging in instrumentation and genre, Fine was known for her chamber pieces, but also composed ballets, works for voice and for large orchestras.
Born in Chicago, Fine was a piano prodigy at five, began composing at fourteen, and made her professional debut as a composer at sixteen. She was a student of Ruth Crawford, was a part of Aaron Copland’s young Composers Group. Her talents, recognized far and wide in the list of awards and acclamations she received in her lifetime, were sadly silenced after Fine was in a car accident and died on March 20, 2000.
More information about the life, work and music of Vivian Fine can be found on her official website, which continues to honor her legacy. Also available are two interviews with Fine conducted by Elizabeth Vercoe and originally printed in the Journal for the International Alliance for Women in Music. Fine’s scores are held at the Library of Congress.
Her final large work was a multimedia opera titled “The Memoirs of Uliana Rooney” – a somewhat autobiographical story about a female composer in the 20th century. In an interview with the New York Times in 1989 Fine was quoted as saying;
I hope the term ‘woman composer’ will be dropped soon. I think we are in a better place than we were 20 years ago. Women are accepted in literature, painting and sculpture. We don’t talk of ‘poetesses’ anymore. And women performers as soloists – singer, pianists, violinists – have been accepted for a long time.
Unfortunately, the scarcity of women’s work being heard in concert halls throughout the country continues to reinforce the need to highlight the significance of women creating music. But we are all certainly working towards a time when that distinction can evaporate.
Below is an example of Fine’s orchestral writing, Alcestis, written for Martha Graham: (the interview above mentions Fine working with Graham).
And here is her moving work “Piece for Muted Strings (Elegiac Song)” which she composed in response to the Spanish Civil War.
Both these pieces should be played more frequently! We hope to see them programmed soon.