Home » Uncategorized » Leo Sowerby and the “Classic Concerto”

Leo Sowerby and the “Classic Concerto”

     Leo Sowerby (May 1, 1895–July 7, 1968) was an American composer, organist, and church musician, who was the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for music in 1946 for his cantata, the Canticle of the Sun, written in 1944.  Born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Sowerby began to compose at the age of ten. Early recognition came when his violin concerto was premiered in 1913 by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. In 1921 he was awarded the Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome, the first composer to receive this.   Sowerby became associate organist at Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago, IL, in 1919, and then in 1927 he became organist-choirmaster at St James’s Episcopal Church, Chicago, which was consecrated as a cathedral in 1955 while he was there.

     In 1962, after his retirement from St James’s, he was called to Washington, DC’s, National Cathedral to become the founding director of the College of Church Musicians, a position he held until his 1968 death in Port Clinton, OH, while at Camp Wa-Li-Ro, in Put-in-Bay, OH, the summer choir camp where he had taught for many years.  His substantial output includes over 500 works in every genre but opera and ballet, including cantatas, anthems, organ solos, pieces for organ with other instruments, five symphonies, several concertos, other works for orchestra with solo instruments, and chamber music.   Sowerby’s notable pupils included Gail Kubik, Norman Luboff, Maylon Merrill (Jack Benny’s longtime music director), Ned Rorem, and David Van Vactor.

      Some of Sowerby’s orchestral works in my collection include the following

Festival Musick for organ, brass and timpani (1953)

Medieval Poem, for organ and orchestra (1926)

Classic Concerto, for organ and string orchestra (1944)

     Also included is the following piece intended for organ solo:

Pageant (1931)


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