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Piano Music of African American Composers
Natalie Hinderas, piano
CRI 629 (1993)















































A Fool's Gold
Honey Brown
Songfellows, Male Vocal Quartet
MSR Classics (2004)


Home -> Composers -> Cunningham, Arthur

Arthur Cunningham  (1928-1997)

African American Composer & Pianist

A Lifetime of Classical Music & Jazz


Table of Contents

  1 Music Education
  2 Fisk University
  3 Juilliard
  4 Symphonic Debut
  5 Late Period
  6 Kate Davidson
  7 Death
  8 Harlem Suite
  9 Engrams
  10 A Fool's Gold
  11 Interviews

  12 Works



Audio Sample: The Piano Music of Arthur Cunningham; John Ellis, piano
Equilibrium 65 (2004)  Engrams

1 Music Education
John Ellis is a pianist and a Professor of Piano at the University of Michigan, and was a student and a close associate of Arthur Cunningham.   He has recorded  The Piano Music of Arthur Cunningham,  Equilibrium 65 (2004).  He also wrote the liner notes for the CD, on which Cunningham's compositions for piano are accompanied by a 13-minute track entitled  Excerpts from Interviews with Arthur Cunningham.   Prof. Ellis conducted the interviews himself.   The liner notes begin:

Arthur Cunningham was born in Piermont, N.Y. in 1928.  He was an eclectic composer trained from childhood in both jazz and classical music. His early studies were at the Metropolitan Music School in New York City. While there, he studied classical composition with the school's director, Wallingford Riegger and jazz piano with Teddy Wilson and John Mehegan.

2 Fisk University
The liner notes by John Ellis continue with an overview of Cunningham's studies in college and graduate school, beginning with the names of some prominent benefactors who supported his studies at Fisk University:

Upon graduation, he went to Fisk University, an historic all-Black school in Nashville, Tennessee.  His education there was made possible by a fund set up by a group including Kurt Weill, Langston Hughes, Irving Berlin, and Richard Rodgers.  At Fisk, he studied classical piano with the well-known accompanist William Duncan Allen, and theory and composition with John Work.

3 Juilliard
After graduating from Fisk University, Arthur Cunningham studied at the Juilliard School, as the liner notes relate:

He studied further at The Juilliard School with Peter Mennin, Norman Lloyd, and Henry Brant. He earned a Masters Degree from Columbia Teachers College where he received the Distinguished Alumni Award in 1992. 

4 Symphonic Debut
John Ellis explains how a commission for a classical work led to Arthur Cunningham's debut as a symphonic composer:

His work as a composer took flight  in 1968 after a commission from Benjamin Steinberg and the Symphony of the New World.  The piece he produced was the dissonant and rhythmically complex  Concentrics  for orchestra.  It was given its premiere at Philharmonic Hall in Lincoln Center, NYC in February 1969.  His most prolific period followed with works such as  Engrams, Harlem Suite  (including  Lullabye for a Jazz Baby  which was  performed by the Alvin Ailey Dance Company), Night Song, Eclatette  for solo cello or double bass, The Walton Statement  for double bass and orchestra, and many other choral and instrumental pieces.

5 Late Period
Prof. Ellis notes that Arthur Cunningham pursued interests in jazz piano for some time before returning to classical composing:

Following a period in the early 1980's where he focused on jazz piano playing, vocal coaching and teaching, he returned to composing in 1986 with a group of short piano pieces.  A high point of this late period was his revision of  Concentrics  for a performance by the New York Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta in 1989.

6 Kate Davidson
The liner notes explain the role Kate Davidson played in the last several years of Arthur Cunningham's life:

His compositional activities and jazz performing continued until his death.  His work with cabaret artist, Kate Davidson (whom he would later marry) was a central creative activity in the last decade of his life.  Together, they performed throughout the U.S., Canada, and the Netherlands, and served as U.S. representatives at Expo '92 in Seville, Spain. Further evidence of Cunningham's wide-ranging activities was his work as music coordinator and narrator for the 1989 PBS documentary,  The Exiles.

7 Death
Arthur Cunningham died on March 31, 1997.  John Ellis writes that he passed away shortly after being honored at a community college concert:

He died after a long struggle with cancer in 1997, only a month after a concert in his honor produced by the Rockland Community College African-American History Month Committee. For this concert, he provided spoken commentary on his works before they were played.  He then performed, for the final time, with his wife.

8 Harlem Suite
John Ellis begins his recording with a performance of Harlem Suite  (20:02).  He relates the history of the work in his notes:

Harlem Suite  was composed for piano in 1970. Arthur Cunningham had been writing piano pieces since the mid-1960's and there is an early version of Lullabye for a Jazz Baby  in a workbook of piano pieces from this time. 
A neat manuscript copy of the piano version of Harlem Suite  was found after his death and was dedicated to Natalie Hinderas.  Cunningham later was encouraged to recast many of the pieces in choral and orchestral
form.  After doing so, Theodore Presser Co. published the choral and instrumental works that came to make up the Harlem Suite.  More specifically, Lullabye for a Jazz Baby  and Sugar Hill  were brought together, on the advice of conductor André Kostalanetz, to form the orchestral tone poem Lullabye for a Jazz Baby.  This work was recorded on Desto by the Oakland Youth Symphony and featured a young John Faddis playing the jazz trumpet solo.  It eventually received over a thousand performances throughout the 1970's and 1980's.

9 Engrams
Prof. Ellis explains that the next piece, Engrams  (6:13) was commissioned for a recording first released in 1971 and later reissued as CRI 629 (1992), Natalie Hinderas: Piano Music by African American Composers.  Its liner notes were written by Dominique-René de Lerma, then Director of the Center for Black Music Research:

In dramatic contrast to Cunningham's popular-inspired works is his piano piece Engrams(1969) which is freely based on three versions of a tone row.  The title is a biological term (referring to the evidence of a stimulus on a protoplasm) and suggests gentle meditations on the past, despite the scherzo-like middle section.  Cunningham has written:  "I titled this piece Engrams  because the sounds are memory tracings...It progresses from the dark of my mind to the light of reality."

10 A Fool's Gold
Cunningham's piece Honey Brown  is part of an eclectic program of vocal works sung by the Songfellows quartet on the CD A Fools Gold,  MSR Classics (2004).  The company's Web site, www.msrcd.com explains the group's origins:

Songfellows  is a traditional male vocal quartet (two tenors, baritone, bass) that was originally formed in 1992 from the men’s chorus of the Metropolitan Opera. Founded by Ross Crolius as an adjunct to his career at the Met, the group has performed regularly every season throughout the northeast.

11 Interviews
As noted in the opening paragraph, Prof. Ellis included Excerpts from Interviews with Arthur Cunningham  as the final track of his recording.  He gives a rationale for the interviews in general and the excerpts in particular in his liner notes:

While working on my doctoral dissertation on the life and music of Arthur Cunningham, I interviewed the composer from October through December, 1989 at his studio in Nyack, N.Y.  I have selected excerpts from the many hours of taped conversations and placed them together. This offers the listener an introduction to the composer's life history, compositional attitudes relating to his jazz and classical studies, and his feelings about the effect of his African-American heritage on his composing.  I also chose these excerpts because they show some of the charm, humor and creative intensity of the man who was my piano teacher for four years and became my advisor and friend until his passing in 1997.

12 Cunningham's Works
Dominique-René de Lerma, Professor, Lawrence University

Adagio, oboe & string orchestra (1954).

Amen (1962) SATB.

Amen, Amen (1965) SATB.

Ballet (1968) jazz quartet & string quartet.

Basis (1968) 4 double basses. Library: Fisk.

Beginner's piano book (1964) piano. Contents: 28 pieces.

By this dying, flute & violoncello.

Concentrics (1968) chamber orchestra. Bryn Mawr: Theodore Presser. Duration: 28:00. Instrumentation: 1111 p Eh bcl, 3331, perc, solo violin, viola & violoncello. Library: Fisk.

The cossack (1964) SATB. Text: Arthur Cunningham.

Covenant (1972) violoncello & double bass. Nyack NY: Cunningham Music Corporation. Commission: Arthur Davis. Premiere: Arthur Davis.

Dialogues (1966) piano & orchestra. 47p. Duration: 5:00. Instrumentation: solo piano, 2221, 2220, timp, perc, strings.

Dim du mim (1969) oboe & chamber orchestra. Instrumentation: solo oboe, 2011 bcl, 2220, perc, strings. Library: Fisk.

----- English horn & chamber orchestra. Instrumentation: solo English horn, 2011 bcl, 2220, perc, strings. Library: Fisk.

Eclatette (1969) violoncello. The Black perspective in music, v3n2 (May 1975) p226-234. Dedication: William Grant Still.

Engrams' (1969) piano. Bryn Mawr: Theodore Presser. Recorded: Desto DC-7102/3 (Natalie Hinderas, piano).

Fifty stars, SA.

Four shadows (1950) piano.

Fragment (1968) brass & percussion. Instrumentation: 3330, timp, perc (5 temple blocks, maracas, claves, tambourine, cymbals, snare drum, bass drum). Library: Fisk.

From where I stand (1964; rev. 1950) SATB. Text: Arthur Cunningham.

Fruitful trees more fruitful are (1965) 3-part chorus (SSA?). Text: George Herbert.

Garden of Phobus. see: Moons of Mars

The ginger man (1964; rev. 1955) TTBB. Text: Arthur Cunningham.

2 Haitian play dances (1951) 2 pianos.

Harlem suite:

----- Harlem is my home; Touch the tree, solo soprano, SATB & piano. Bryn Mawr: Theodore Presser, 1972. 15p. (#321-41002) Commissioned: Dr. Robert Jones for the Laurentian Singers of St. Lawrence University.

----- Hinkty woman, solo tenor, SATB & piano. Bryn Mawr: Theodore Presser, 1972. 24p. (#312-41096) Commissioned: Dr. Robert Jones for the Laurentian Singers of St. Lawrence University. Library: Library of Congess.

----- Lenox, narrator, SATB & piano. Bryn Mawr: Theodore Presser, 1972. 6p. (#312-20982) Commissioned: Dr. Robert Jones for the Laurentian Singers of St. Lawrence University.

----- A little love; a salvation piece, solo soprano, baritone, SATB & piano, with options electric bass & drums. Bryn Mawr: Theodore Presser, 1972. 19p. (#312-40965) Commissioned: Dr. Robert Jones for the Laurentian Singers of St. Lawrence University. Library: Library of Congress.

----- Lullabye for a jazz baby (1969), solo trumpet & orchestra. Bryn Mawr: Theodore Presser, 1975. 29p. Duration: 6:30. Instrumentation: solo trumpet, 2231, 2220, perc, harp, strings. Commission: Andr‚ Kostelanetz. Library: Library of Congress, 76-771090. Recorded: Desto DC-7107 (Oakland Youth Orchestra; Robert Hughes, conductor)

----- Munday man, SATB & piano. Bryn Mawr: Theodore Presser, 1972. 8p. (#312-40983) Commissioned: Dr. Robert Jones for the Laurentian Singers of St. Lawrence University. Library: Library of Congress.

----- Pataditas; Little kicks, solo piano & orchestra. Bryn Mawr: Theodore Presser. Duration: 5:00. Instrumentation: solo piano, 2231, 3330, timp, perc, strings.

----- Sunday in de evenin', SSAA & piano. Bryn Mawr: Theodore Presser, 1972. 6p. (#312-40968) Commissioned: Dr. Robert Jones for the Laurentian Singers of St. Lawrence University. Library: Library of Congress.

----- World goin' down, SATB. Bryn Mawr: Theodore Presser, 1972. 11p. (#312-40967) Commissioned: Dr. Robert Jones for the Laurentian Singers of St. Lawrence University.

He met her at the Dolphin; Holiday (1963), SATB with piano reduction. New York: Remick Music Corporation, 1964. 10p. (Secular choral music, R 3457; #4423-9) Text: Arthur Cunningham. LIBRARY: BRITISH LIBRARY.

His natural grace (1969), one-act opera. Text: Arthur Cunningham.

House by the sea (1966), one-act opera. Library: Fisk (libretto).

Hymn of our Lord at the Last Supper (1962) SATB. Text: Acts of St. John.

I am an American, by Arthur Cunningham and X==== Schuster, SATB. Delaware Water Gap: Shawnee Music Press. (A-438)

In the year seventeen, SATB.

2 Inventions (1952) 2 double basses.

Into my heart (1964) SATB. Text: A. E. Housman.

Jabberwocky (1960) high voice & piano. Text: Lewis Carrol.

Jill Ellen (1975) guitar, violin, viola, and violoncello.

----- (1977) guitar.

Jubilee songs:

----- Honey Brown, TTBB. Byrn Mawr: Theodore Presser, 1972. 8p. (#312-40969) Dedication: Sharron Miller.

----- 2 Prayers: Lord, look down; We gonna make it, SATB. Bryn Mawr: Theodore Presser, 1972. 8p. (#312-40966) Dedication: Fisk Jubilee Singers, on their 100th anniversary.

-----Timber, SATB. Bryn Mawr: Theodore Presser, 1972. 5p. (#312-40970) Text: Arthur Cunningham.

The leaden eyed (1956), high voice & piano. Text: Vachel Lindsay.

Let the day begin (1964) SA.

Lights across the Hudson, orchestra.

Litany for the flower children (1972), SATB & orchestra. Nyack: Cunningham Music Corporation. Premiere: 4 August 1972; Stanford CA; Stanford University Summer Session Chorus; members of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra; Arthur Cunningham, conductor.

The loveliest of trees (1964), SATB. Text: A. E. Housman.

Lovey lovey (1968), mini-opera 1 act. Text: Arthur Cunningham. Original title: His natural grace. Library: Fisk (libretto).

Minakesh (1969) violoncello & string orchestra.

----- oboe & piano (1969)

Moons of Mars suite (1968):

----- The garden of Phobos, SATB. Text: "Life sounds." Library: Fisk.

Night lights (1955) orchestra.

Night song (1973) SATB & orchestra. Bryn Mawr: Theodore Presser, 1974. Text: (1) in Swahili; (2) in Gullah; (3) in English. Duration: 60:00. Commission: Cheney State College.

Octet, percussion (1968). Instrumentation: snare drum, 5 temple blocks, 3 timpani, 4 timbales, suspended cymbal, maracas, giro, tambourine, claves, bass drum. Library: Fisk.

Omnus (1968) string orchestra.

Organ prelude and hymn on Lead us still and guide us (1965) SATB. Text: Arthur Cunningham.

Ostrich feathers (1964), a musical play in two acts for children. Bryn Mawr: Theodore Presser. Text: Barbara Brenner. Duration: 60:00. Premiere?: 1974; California State College, Dominguez Hills.

Pale moons rise (1955) SATB. Text: Arthur Cunningham.

Patsy Patch and Susan's dream (1963), musical comedy for very young children. Text: Arthur Cunningham.

Perimeters (1965) flute, clarinet, vibraphone & double bass.

60 Piano pieces (1966) piano

The prince (1971) medium voice & orchestra. Bryn Mawr: Theodore Presser. Duration: 25:00. Instrumentation: 2222, 2221, timp, perc, strings. Premiere (excerpts): 3 April 1973; Detroit Symphony Orchestra; Paul Freeman, conductor.

Prometheus (1967) double bass or piano & orchestra.

Ring out, wild bells (1965) SATB. Text: Alfred Lord Tennyson.

Septet, woodwinds (1968). Instrumentation: piccolo, flute, oboe, English horn, clarinet, bass clarinet, bassoon. Library: Fisk.

Serenade (1955) violoncello & piano.

Sing, children, sing (1964) SATB. Text: Arthur Cunningham.

Song of songs (1951) high voice & piano. Text: Wilfred Owen.

Songs for A midsummer night's dream (1967) high voice & piano. Contents: (1) Purple grapes, green figs, and dewberries; (2) Thisby dying; (3) I do wander everywhere; (4) Loves and madmen. Text: William Shakespeare.

Sugarhill (1969) violoncello, 2 double basses & piano.

Sun bird (1974) low voice, guitar & orchestra. Duration: 15:00. Premiere: March 1975; Newport News.

Sunday stone, SATB & piano or organ. Bryn Mawr: Theodore Presser, 1974. 12p. (Choir loft series; #312-41053) Text: Arthur Cunningham. Duration: 4:00. Dedication: David Liebler. Premiere: St. Lawrence University, Canton NY.

Theatre piece (1966) orchestra. Nyack: June 1966. 56p. Instrumentation: 2222 p Eh (bcl), 3331, timp, perc, harp, strings. Library: Lerma.

Then the cricket sings (1964; rev. 1957) SATB.

This by dying (1968) flute & violoncello.

---- violoncello

Trio, flute, bassoon & viola (1952).

Trio, violin, viola, violoncello (1968).

Trinities (1968) violoncello & 2 double basses.

Turning of the babies in the bed (1951) medium voice & piano. Text: Paul Laurence Dunbar.

Violet and phospher (1964) ==WHAT FOR?. Text: Arthur Cunningham. Library: Library of Congress (holograph).

Violetta (1963), opera.

The Walton statement, op. 7 (1972) double bass & orchestra. Bryn Mawr: Theodore Presser. Duration: 16:00. Contents: (1) Yesterday; (2) Tomorrow; (3) Today. Instrumentation: 2220, 3330, timp, harp, strings. Dedication: Ortiz Walton.

The west wind (1962) SATB. Text: John Masefield.

When I was one and twenty (1963) SATB. Text: A. E. Houseman.

With rue my heart is laden (1964) SATB. Text: A. E. Houseman.

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