Otto Luening (1900-1996)

Composer, Conductor, Flautist, Teacher, Electronic Music Pioneer

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Otto Luening was born in Milwaukee in 1900 and began composing in 1906, moving to Munich with his family in 1912 and later studying at conservatory and university in Zurich. Luening became an accomplished flautist and played in the Tonhalle Orchestra and local opera company there before making his debut as a composer-conductor in 1917. He returned to the United States in 1920 and continued conducting in addition to teaching at various colleges and universities. In the early 1930s he composed both the music and libretto of his opera, "Evangeline", after the poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Luening went on to teach at Columbia University for many years, also serving the American Academy in Rome as a trustee and, occasionally, as composer-in-residence. He was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and received numerous other cultural awards. Already a noted composer of song and instrumental music, Otto Luening was also a pioneer in the field of electronic music. In 1959 he founded the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, along with Vladimir Ussachevsky. After retiring from Columbia in 1970, he taught briefly at the Juilliard School, and in 1980 he wrote a comprehensive autobiography, The Odyssey of an American Composer. He continued to compose until two weeks before his death in 1996.

Second Potawatomie Legends for solo flute is but one of Luening’s many compositions featuring the flute. This particular work highlights the unique longtime connection Luening felt to members of the Native American Potowatomi tribe who were his neighbors growing up on his parent’s farm in Kenosha near Milwaukee. Melodies of the Potowatomi’s songs stayed with him for many decades before some of them eventually found their way in two of his compositions, Potowatomi Legends for orchestra and tonight’s suite of unaccompanied flute pieces. In 1995, Luening was induced as a member of the Potowatomi tribe in a ceremony at his home on Riverside Drive in Manhattan.