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Jerome Moross: An Introduction and Annotated Worklist
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Notes 61.3 (2005) 659-727

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Jerome Moross:

An Introduction and Annotated Worklist

Of the considerable number of accomplished American composers of the twentieth century, Jerome Moross (1 August 1913-25 July 1983, fig. 1) is one of the less familiar names, but he left an important legacy of music for stage, screen, and theater, and some of it is finding a new audience. Those who do recognize the composer's name generally know Moross's once notorious ballet Frankie and Johnny (1938), his cabaret standard "Lazy Afternoon" (from The Golden Apple, 1950, with lyrics by John Latouche), or his scores to such films as The Big Country (1958), and TheCardinal (1963).Some listeners familiar with all this music do not realize that it is the work of the same man, and that each piece represents only one aspect of a multifaceted composer. A new assessment of Moross's place in American music is overdue, and what follows is an attempt to place this body of work, which has fallen into relative and undeserved obscurity, in historical perspective, to make details known to potential listeners and performers, and to stimulate further research. The annotations in the worklist relate important biographical details to the relevant music, and this brief introduction attempts only to provide an overview of the career of Jerome Moross and a survey of his musical activities.

The second of three sons born in Brooklyn to Russian-Jewish immigrant parents, Jerome Moross1 studied piano at any early age with his mother. He was a precocious child who graduated from high school several years ahead of schedule and from New York University at the age of eighteen. During the academic year 1931-32 (his final year at NYU), he [End Page 659]

 Jerome Moross, mid-1950s. Reproduced courtesy of Susanna Moross Tarjan and the Jerome Moross Papers, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University
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Figure 1
Jerome Moross, mid-1950s. Reproduced courtesy of Susanna Moross Tarjan and the Jerome Moross Papers, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University
[End Page 660]

also held a fellowship in conducting at Juilliard.2 Initially, Moross wrote in a dissonant, modernistic style (e.g., Paeans for chamber orchestra, 1931), but it was not long before he began to mix a more conservative, tonal approach with jazz, popular, and folk idioms. Moross said of his early influences,

. . . all my life I heard popular music. I heard folk music. It was the kind of thing we sang when I was a child, and even while I was going to Juilliard I was working at jobs in jazz bands. I worked in theater pits. Popular music was all around me and it seemed absolutely right to use it. As a matter of fact, two people encouraged me in it. One was Charles Ives, with whom I was quite friendly in my late teens. . . . Ives was very kind and very helpful. He once told me that he thought it was a good thing that I was mixing up real popular music in my style, which at that time was still quite Schoenbergian/ Webernesque. I was intent upon quarter-tones and all the rest . . . then I suddenly felt it was a dead end, a wall, and I left it. . . . I should have said three people because it was [also] Henry Cowell and Aaron Copland. . . .3

Moross was an active member of Copland's Young Composers' Group,4 and was a frequent performer in concerts of new music given in New York City throughout the 1930s, playing both his own music and that of others. Among the more interesting pieces in his repertoire were the First Piano Sonata of Charles Ives and the Second Piano Sonata("The Airplane") of George Antheil.5 Large-ensemble pieces on these concerts were conducted by Arthur Berger, future lexicographer Nicolas Slonimsky, or Bernard Herrmann, who would become a celebrated composer of film scores.6 In 1936 Aaron Copland expressed both high expectations [End Page 661] and frank criticism of a number of America's most promising young composers in an important article, writing

Moross is probably the most talented of these men [writing collectively of Moross, Elie Siegmeister, Irwin Heilner, and Andrew Cazden...