2013-10-20 Notes from the Bench

“I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes” by Leo Sowerby

A commentary on this week’s music by Dr. James T. Gerber, Music Associate

The American composer and church musician, Leo Sowerby (1895-1968) was know as “the Dean of American church music” through the early to mid-twentieth century. His substantial output of compositions include of 500 works in nearly every genre except opera and ballet. Much of Sowerby’s music is composed in a late-romantic style with aspects of twentieth-century harmonies introduced that stretch the boundaries of tonality. The anthem I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes, was composed for mezzo-soprano, chorus, and organ in 1919, and is based on Psalm 121.

Sowerby was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He expressed his interest in music at an early age, beginning to compose at the age of ten and teaching himself to play the organ at fifteen. Sowerby studied composition at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago. He later joined the faculty there and taught theory and composition, and had a number of students who became notable composers in their own right. Among the honors Sowerby received during his lifetime, he was awarded the Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome in 1921, the first composer to receive this honor, and the Pulitzer Prize for music for his cantata, Canticle of the Sun, in 1946.

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