A piano child prodigy, Vivian Fine (1913-2000) composed her first piece in 1926 at thirteen while studying harmony with Ruth Crawford. At age 16, her music was performed in Chicago, New York, and Germany. Unlike many prodigies, Fine's early brilliance persisted, and over the course of a 70-year career she became one of America's most highly regarded composers. Fine was a member of Aaron Copland's Young Composers Group and a participant at the first Yaddo Festival in 1932. Henry Cowell was an early supporter who published her scores in New Music. Although perhaps best known for her chamber music, Fine wrote in virtually every genre, including large-scale symphonic and choral works. Her earliest work is highly dissonant, followed by more tonal compositions during her nine years of study with Roger Sessions. After 1946 she returned to a freer mode of expression, which Wallingford Riegger described as "tempered atonality." Despite early recognition of her genius, Fine experienced obstacles as a female composer and often felt alone and isolated from the world of prominent musicians. Finally, at age fifty-six, she was appointed to the faculty at Bennington College.
Her years there, surrounded by a faculty eager to perform her work, were some of the happiest and most productive of her life. In 1980 she was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. In 1983 her Drama for Orchestra was runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize. Renowned musicologist Heidi Von Gunden's concise, lively biography of Fine's life includes an insightful analysis of dozens of musical compositions. Useful resources include a chronology, complete catalog of works, discography, and bibliography. Impeccably researched, The Music of Vivian Fine is essential reading for anyone interested in Fine's music, and a great resource for students of 20th Century American music.