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Leo Sowerby: Wikis


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Leo Sowerby (May 1, 1895–July 7, 1968), American composer and church musician, was the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for music in 1946, and was often called the “Dean of American church music” in the early to mid 20th century.



Sowerby was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he began to compose at the age of ten. Early recognition came when his violin concerto was premiered in 1913 by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (Stalford & Meckna 2001). In 1921 he was awarded the Rome Prize (from the American Academy in Rome), the first composer to receive this. In addition he received the 1946 Pulitzer Prize for Music for his cantata, the Canticle of the Sun, written in 1944 (Stalford & Meckna 2001).

In 1927 he became organist-choirmaster at St James’s Episcopal Church, Chicago, which was consecrated as a cathedral while he was there (1955). It was during his time there that he did most of his work and gained his international reputation.

In 1962, after his retirement from St James’s, he was called to Washington National Cathedral to become the founding director of the College of Church Musicians, a position he held until his death in 1968 (Stalford & Meckna 2001). He died in Port Clinton, Ohio, while at Camp Wa-Li-Ro, in Put-in-Bay, Ohio, 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 (Stalford & Meckna 2001). His later works, done at St James's, Chicago, and Washington Cathedral, are primarily church music for choir and organ. As a teacher Sowerby's pupils included Robert Beadell, Miriam Clapp Duncan, William Ferris, Edwin Fissinger,Milan Kaderavek, Gail Kubik, Roland Leich, Darwin Leitz, Norman Luboff, Maylon Merrill (Jack Benny's longtime music director), Gerald Near, Florence Price, Ned Rorem, Ronald Stalford, Robert Stewart, and David Van Vactor.

Selected works



    • Cantatas
      • A Liturgy of Hope (selections from the Psalms) (1917)
      • The Vision of Sir Launfal (poem of James Russell Lowell (1925)
      • Forsaken of Man (Passion setting, adapted from the Gospels by Edward Borgers) (1939)
      • The Canticle of the Sun (St Francis of Assisi) (1944)
      • Christ Reborn, for voices and organ (1950)
      • The Throne of God (Book of Revelation), for voices and orchestra (1956)
      • The Ark of the Covenant, for voices and organ (1961)
    • Anthems
      • "Ad te levavi animam meam"
      • "Behold, O God our Defender"
      • "Christians, to the Paschal Victim"
      • "Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire"
      • "I was glad when they said unto me"
      • "I will lift up mine eyes"
      • "Love Came Down at Christmas"
      • "Thy Word is a lantern" (in memory of President John F. Kennedy)

Organ solo

    • Comes Autumn Time (1916)
    • Carillon (1917)
    • Symphony in G (1930)
    • Pageant (1931)
    • Prelude on "The King's Majesty" (1945)
    • Canon, Chacony, & Fugue (1948)
    • Ten Hymn Preludes (published separately; 1950s)
    • Sinfonia Brevis (1965)
    • Passacaglia (1967)

Organ with other instruments

    • Elevation, for violin and organ (1912)
    • Ballade, for English horn and organ (1949)
    • Toccata on 'A.G.O.' for organ, brass and timpani
    • Festival Musick for organ, brass and timpani
    • Concertpiece for organ and orchestra, (1951)
    • Fantasy, for trumpet and organ (1962)


    • From the Northland, suite for orchestra (1923)
    • Prairie, symphonic poem for orchestra (1929)
    • A Set of Four: A Suite of Ironics, published in 1931
    • Five symphonies
      • No. 1 (1921)
      • No. 2 (1927)
      • No. 3 (1939–40)
      • No. 4 (1944–47)
      • No. 5 (1964)
    • Concert Overture, for orchestra

Orchestra with solo instruments

    • Violin Concerto in G major (1913, revised 1924)
    • Cello Concerto in A major (1914–16)
    • Piano Concerto no. 1 (1916, revised 1919)
    • Ballad of King Estmere, for two pianos and orchestra (1922)
    • Medieval Poem, for organ and orchestra (1926)
    • Cello Concerto [no. 2] in E minor (1929–34)
    • Piano Concerto no. 2 (1932)
    • Organ Concerto no. 1 (1937)
    • Classic Concerto, for organ and string orchestra (1944)
    • Concerto in C, for organ and orchestra
    • Harp Concerto
    • Concert Piece, for organ and orchestra (1951)

Chamber music

External links


  • Amacker, Marianne. 1970. "The Chorale Preludes of Leo Sowerby". The Diapason 61, no. 9 (August): 20–21.
  • Sharp, Timothy W. 1995. "The Choral Music of Leo Sowerby: A Centennial Perspective". The Choral Journal. 35, no. 8 (March): 9–19.
  • Stalford, Ronald, and Michael Meckna. 2001. "Sowerby, Leo". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan.


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