Obituary: American Composer David Del Tredici Passes at 86

By David Salazar
(Photo: Susan Johann)

American composer David Del Tredici passed away on Nov. 18, 2023 due to complications with Parkinson’s disease. He was 86.

Born on March 16, 1937 in Cloverdale, California, Del Tredici studied piano at age 12 and made his solo debut at 17 with the San Francisco Symphony. He originally set out on a career as a solo pianist until he went to the University of California, Berkeley, where following a clash with a member of the piano faculty, he decided to start composing instead.

He then went on to study at Princeton under Earl Kim and Roger Sessions and then moved to New York City where he completed his Master of Fine Arts in 1964.

Throughout his career, he cultivated what he identified as a “Neo-Romantic” style and in 1980 was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Music for “In Memory of a Summer Day” for amplified soprano and orchestra.

As a gay composer, he was also adamant about celebrating his “gayness” in his music, composing such works as “Gay Life,” “My Favorite Penis Poems,” and “Queer Hosanas.”

Per an obituary published by Boosey & Hawkes, Del Tredici stated,” “All the great gay composers of our American past—there has been such a huge number—not one came out. Today, there are as many distinguished composers who are gay. I just think it’s something to be celebrated. I can do it because I choose to do it by setting gay texts. Creating a body of work which revolves around a ‘gayness.’”

His “Paul Revere’s Ride” for chorus and orchestra received a GRAMMY nomination in 2007.

In May 2023, the composer witnessed the world premiere of his final choral work “Herrick’s Oratorio” while his “Ray’s Birthday Suit” premiered in October 2023.

In addition to composition, Del Tredici taught at such institutions as Harvard, the State University of New York at Buffalo, Boston University, The Juilliard School, and the Manhattan School of Music, among others. He was also a composer-in-residence with such organizations as the New York Philharmonic and Aspen Music Festival, among others.