Peter Lieberson (1946-2011)

Acclaimed American composer dies aged 64


Peter Lieberson, whose works include the exquisitely beautiful and highly acclaimed Neruda Songs, has died at the age of 64.

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The American composer had been receiving medical treatment at a hospital in Tel Aviv, Israel, when complications of lymphoma occurred on Saturday. He had been diagnosed with cancer in 2006 shortly after the death of his wife, mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, for whom he wrote and dedicated some of his most inspired work.

The son of Goddard Lieberson, former president of Columbia records, and Vera Zorina an actress and former ballerina, Lieberson  learnt harmony by listening to live Broadway shows and the likes of composers such as Schoenboerg and Stravinsky from his father’s company’s recordings.

After earning a doctorate at Brandeis University and teaching composition at Harvard University in the 1980’s, the New York-born composer became a well-established artist. His works were performed by soloists such as cellist Yo-Yo Ma and pianist Emanuel Ax and his Piano Concerto No. 1 was premiered by Peter Serkin in 1983 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

The Boston SO went on to commission Neruda Songs and Songs of Love and Sorrow, both of which Lieberson dedicated to his  wife. As a follower of Tibetan Buddhism, his beliefs were made a central theme to his opera Ashoka’s Dream which premiered in 1997 in his hometown of Santa Fe and starred his wife Lorraine as the leading role.

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Lieberson made up part of a generation of composers whose music managed to combine a classical style with added forms of popular, audience-friendly styles such as jazz and Broadway.