Judith Martin, aka Miss Manners, wrote in Friday’s Washington Post about a portrait her husband commissioned for her 70th birthday. She also mentions that he commissioned a song cycle from Dominick Argento, based on her own texts, for her 60th birthday; songs from that cycle were performed by Kate Lindsey at Wolf Trap on Friday, in a concert that Charles T. Downey reviewed in Monday’s paper. Mr. Manners is clearly an exemplary gift-giver.
This touches on a topic I dealt with in a piece I wrote some years ago for the New York Times about the different ways and the different reasons people have for commissioning original works of music.
Here’s a party game: name works of music that were written as gestures or gifts for spouses, partners, loved ones. I’ll make it harder by naming some of the obvious choices: Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, first performed for Cosima on the staircase of their home; Stravinsky’s “Dumbarton Oaks,” commissioned by Robert Woods Bliss for his 30th wedding anniversary; Peter Lieberson’s Neruda Songs, written for and sung by his late wife, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. (I have one of my own: my husband, Greg Sandow, surprised me in our living room one year with a string quartet written for my birthday.)
What others can you think of?