One of America's musical icons, Roger Sessions had an incalculable influence on the compositional landscape of the twentieth century. A composer of rare accomplishment, deeply passionate, he attained a level of craftsmanship which nearly 75 years of work honed into profound knowledge and skill. In addition, the accomplishments of his numerous students, including such luminaries as Milton Babbitt and David Diamond, mark Sessions as a teacher of no common stature.
Born in Brooklyn during the last years of the nineteenth century, Sessions was an early bloomer. By the age of 14, he had already composed a complete opera, and entered Harvard University, where he studied music with Edward Burlingame Hill. Following graduation from Harvard in 1914, Sessions enrolled for further studies at Yale with Horatio Parker (who also counted Charles Ives among his pupils). Accepting a position at Smith College in Massachusetts, Sessions worked privately with Ernest Bloch in New York, and when Bloch was invited to become director of the newly formed Cleveland Institute of Music, Sessions went along as his assistant, remaining there until 1925.
From 1925 to 1933 Sessions lived and worked in Europe, first in Florence, then later in Rome and Berlin. During these years the musical establishment began to take notice, and Sessions scored a marked success with his Suite from the Black Maskers in 1928, while his First Symphony had been performed to lukewarm response in Boston the previous season. Sessions' earliest music had been written in a lush, chromatic style. By the time of the Black Maskers, however, he had begun to favor a leaner, rather neo-Classical language.
Following his return to the States in 1933 Sessions accepted teaching positions at a number of American institutions including Boston University 1933-1935, Princeton 1935-1945, Berkeley 1945-1951, Princeton again from 1953-1965, and Juilliard from 1967 on. Beginning with the important Violin Concerto of 1935, Sessions' music became increasingly complex, and during the 1950s he adopted serial compositional techniques, though he used them with great flexibility, always suiting the techniques to match his own highly unique compositional voice -- see, for instance, the remarkable Third Symphony of 1957. Sessions was awarded a special Pulitzer citation for lifetime achievement in 1974, and in 1982 received an actual Pulitzer Prize for his magnificent Concerto for Orchestra. No further works appeared after this remarkable musical achievement, and Sessions died in 1985 at the age of 88.