“...there's something wild and very strange about it, something inimitable, compelling, personal, unforgettable; this music doesn't sound like anybody else's, and the musical intelligence – the way the composer's mind works – is likewise distinctive.”
Michael Redmond - critic for The Star-Ledger, Newark, NJ (December 08, 2009)
“Few composers can control the resources found in her works, and even fewer can elicit from them such unusually expressive results. Both the control and the expression indicate an artistic imagination of remarkable power and subtlety.”
Lawrence Sterne: The Argonaut
(September 27, 1957)
“I recall your music as having a poetic sensibility beyond poetry”
Paul Rapoport (former reviewer for American Record Guide)
(September 22, 2010)
A Mid-Western native (WI, MN), Richter earned her Bachelor's and Master's degrees in composition at The Juilliard School where she studied piano with Rosalyn Tureck and majored in composition with William Bergsma and Vincent Persichetti. She has written over 150 works, encompassing virtually every genre. Her orchestral music has been played by over 50 orchestras including concert performances by the Atlanta and Milwaukee Symphonies, the Minnesota Orchestra, the Buffalo Philharmonic, the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, the National Gallery Orchestra, Eastern Philharmonic Orchestra and the Oakland, Oklahoma, Tucson, Oakland, Madison, and Maracaibo Symphonies, and recorded by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Seattle Symphony, the Bournemouth Sinfonietta, the Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Polish Radio National Symphony Orchestra.
In 1951, while she was still a student at Juilliard, Richter's music was presented at a Composers Forum concert at MacMillin Theatre in New York, until then the youngest composer to be so honored. Reviews of the concert cited many of the qualities that were to characterize virtually all of her subsequent works:
New York Herald:
“Her most valuable natural attributes are an original sense of rhythm, a sense of drama in choice of materials and, above all, an ability to make her own forms grow from the very nature of her materials and ideas.”
February 4, 1951
New York Times:
“Miss Richter's works were restless, inventive, dissonant, clean, and her intentions seemed to be well-realized. Her String Quartet ..(was) difficult to comprehend on one hearing, but it gave one the impression he had experienced something real. ...We will hear more from Miss Richter.”
February 4, 1951
Richter's music first came to national attention in the late 1950's through a series of four commissioned recordings by MGM Records for: Menahem Pressler - Sonata for Piano; William Masselos - Concerto for Piano and Violas, Cellos and Basses; Walter Trampler - Aria and Toccata for Viola and Strings; and Lament for Strings. A fifth MGM recording from that period included Transmutation – Eight Songs on Chinese Texts, and Two Chinese Songs, for soprano and piano. (Dorothy Renzi and Maro Ajemian).
Other artists who have performed her music include Jessye Norman, Natalie Hinderas, David Wells, Lenore Engdahl, Vivian Taylor, Leonard Raver, Peter Basquin, and Daniel Heifetz, for whom Richter wrote her Landscapes of the Mind II which he premiered at Alice Tully Hall in New York and included in his prize-winning Tchaikovsky Competition program in Moscow in 1978.
Conductors who have programmed or recorded her music include:
Marin Alsop, Richard Bales, Michael Bartos, Louis Calabro, Arthur Cohn, Ainslee Cox, JoAnn Falletta, Harold Farberman, Julius Hegyi, Margaret Hillis, Kenneth Jean, Roland Johnson, Kenneth Klein, Louis Lane, Seymour Lipkin, Carolann Martin, Gregory Millar, Sheldon Morgenstern, Thomas Nee, Kenneth Schermerhorn, Gerard Schwarz, Jose Serebrier, Calvin Simmons, Stanislaw Skrowaczeski, William Smith, Izler Solomon, Joel Suben, Carlos Surinach and Wolfgang Trommer.
In 1964 the Harkness Ballet commissioned Richter to compose the score for the ballet Abyss (Stuart Hodes, choreographer). It was premiered in Cannes, France performed in New York and major cities on five continents, and subsequently entered the repertory of the Joffrey, Boston, Pennsylvania and other ballet companies. The score stands alone as a concert work. A second Harkness commission, Der Turm (Hodes), was premiered in Cologne, Germany, in 1969. The title was later changed to Bird of Yearning.
Beginning in 1968 and continuing throughout the next decade she wrote her Landscapes of the Mind series: I – Concerto for Piano with Orchestra; II for Violin and Piano; III for Piano, Violin and Cello. The concerto was directly inspired by two Georgia O'Keeffe paintings, Sky Above Clouds II and Pelvis 1, and the classical music of India (specifically the raga Marwa). The other two works share thematic material with the concerto and with each other.
Requiem for piano is the other major work from the 1970's.
Significant works from the 1980's include two for orchestra, both supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts:
SpectralChimes/Enshrouded/Hills for Three Orchestral Quintets and Orchestra
Out of Shadows and Solitude
Dusseldorf Concerto for Flute , Viola, Harp , Strings and Percussion
Seacliff Variations for Piano, Violin, Viola and Cello.
Qhanri - Tibetan Variations for Cello and Piano
From the 1990's:
Variations and Interludes on Themes from Monteverdi and Bach
Concerto for Piano, Violin and Cello
Riders to the Sea: One-Act Chamber Opera (John M. Synge)
Beginning in 2000 Richter has concentrated on smaller-scale solo, vocal and chamber music. As of 2013, thirty-four such pieces were added to her catalog.
Except for Landscapes of the Mind I and III all of the works from the 70's-90's are available on commercial CDs.
In answer to the frequently asked questions “Why did you start to write music?” and “What kind of music do you write?” - Richter has responded:
In answer to the first question, there was never a time when I did not think of myself as a musician..first as a pianist and then as a composer. Performing music or creating it was a means of expression for me.
The answer to the second question needs to start with what kind of music I do not write.
Except for one early piece using a 12-tone row (String Quartet #1, 1950), I have never employed any prescribed theory or system or style of composition. Melodic contour and propelling metric and harmonic rhythms, rather than any formula for tonality or serialization, are the fundamental elements in my music. The continuous line from the beginning to the end of a piece is what determines its form. Thematic and rhythmic relationships often occur subconsciously. When I try to develop new sections by manipulating themes, chords and rhythms I often destroy the work. I have to throw out these constructions and go back to allowing the music to come from its own mysterious source.
Composing music is my response to a constant desire to transform my perceptions and emotions into music. Everything that touches me, everything I become aware of as beautiful, or mysterious, or painful, or joyful, or unknowable (a painting, a photograph, a landscape, a skyscape, a poem, other music, other people) may become an immediate or eventual source of inspiration.
Richter's music is published by Carl Fischer, G. Schirmer, Broude Brothers, Theodore Presser, Vivace and Shrewsbury Press*. She has received grants, commissions, awards and fellowships from private individuals and institutions, the National Endowment for the Arts, National Federation of Music Clubs, Martha Baird Rockefeller Fund, Meet The Composer and ASCAP.
In addition to the 2012 full-length biography, Marga Richter by Sharon Mirchandani, Richter is included in:
Women of Influence in Contemporary Music – Nine American Composers
Edited by Michael K. Slayton - Scarecrow Press Inc. - 2011
Marga Richter: A Biographical Sketch and Study of Her Piano Works
with Emphasis on Sonata for Piano
by You Ju Lee – University of Georgia Press - 2002
Major Figures in American Music Oral History Series at Yale University
Women and Music in America Since 1900 – An Encyclopedia
(selected as one of the best reference books of 2003 by Library Journal)
Women Composers, Conductors and Musicians of the Twentieth Century
by Jane Weiner LePage – Scarecrow Press – 1980
Women Composers – The Lost Tradition Found - by Diane Peacock Jezic
The Feminist Press - 1988
Baker's Dictionary of Music
The New Grove Dictionary of Music