American Composer Robert Manno's music includes over 30 chamber works, a Concerto for Horn and Orchestra, 2 Song Cycles, pieces for chorus, solo piano pieces, art songs and arrangements. Composer Ned Rorem has described his music as "maximally personal and expressive" and the Atlanta Audio Society has said that "Manno is a composer of serious music of considerable depth and spiritual beauty." He is currently working on a Concerto for Orchestra and, upon it's completion will begin work on a full-length opera based on the life of Dylan Thomas.
Robert Manno was born in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania in 1944. His parents introduced him to music through the study of violin, piano and voice. After graduation from Haverford High School, he attended Temple University, the Granoff School of Music, and the Combs College of Music, and performed intermittently in the Philadelphia area as a jazz pianist,. He first studied composition with Romeo Cascarino in 1964, then moved to New York City in 1965 and began writing music in 1966. He studied jazz piano with John Mehegan and Steve Kuhn, and composition with Vladimir Padwa. During this period he was torn between becoming a lieder singer, a jazz pianist or a composer. He then decided to continue his composition studies at the 28th Annual Composers Conference in Johnson, Vermont with Donald Erb and Mario Davidovsky.
Manno holds an undergraduate degree in voice from the Manhattan School of Music and an M.A. in music composition from New York University. He was a member of the Metropolitan Opera Chorus from 1977 to 2001, and was previously a member of the New York City Opera Chorus. He was also a baritone soloist appearing in recital, chamber music programs, and with companies such as the Westchester Symphony Orchestra and the Alvin Ailey Dance Company.
In 2002 Manno served as a part-time assistant conductor on the music staff of the Metropolitan Opera.
As a composer, he has been awarded the Ernest Bloch Award for This is the Garden for a cappella chorus, First Prize at the Delius Festival for Birdsongs for soprano and violin and many Meet the Composer Grants ASCAP Awards. His music has been performed in New York City, St. Paul, and Los Angeles; as well as in Florida, Vermont, Texas, throughout New York State and in Wales, U.K.
Robert Manno has conducted performances of La Bohéme, Madama Butterfly, Wagner's Siegfried Idyll, Copland's Appalachian Spring and Quiet City, the String Serenades of Elgar, Dvorak Tchaikovsky and Suk, Mahler's Symphony #4 and Adagietto, Debussy's Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, Grieg's Holberg Suite, Gerald Finzi's Eclogue for piano and strings and Romance for Strings, and music by Mozart, Bach, Gustav Holst, Samuel Barber and Romeo Cascarino as well as many of his own compositions. He also appears as a pianist, usually in performances of his own music.
He is the father of Nina Manno Endler of Boulder, Colorado, Thom Manno of New York City; and the grandfather of Anna and Leah Endler of Boulder. He and his wife, violinist Magdalena Golczewski, make their home in the Northern Catskill Mountain town of Windham, New York, where, in 1997, the couple founded the Windham Chamber Music Festival, an annual concert series currently in it's tenth season.
For more information go to www.robertmanno.com and www.windhammusic.com.
FANFARE MAGAZINE (Entire Reprint of Review)
CD: CHAMBER MUSIC BY ROBERT MANNO
MANNO 1.String Sextet 2.Three Poems 3.A Mountain Path 4.Stiller Freund der vielen Fernen 5.Fern Hill. Shirien Taylor, Kathryn Caswell (vn); Kevin Roy, Desirée Elsevier (va) 1; Samuel Magill (vc) 1,5; David Heiss (vc) 1,3; John Churchwell (pn) 2,3,4; Laura Hamilton (vn) 2, Karen Marx (vn) 2, Judith Yanchus (vn) 3,5; Raymond Gniewek (vn) 4,5; Nadine Asin (fl), Sean Osborn (cl), Sharon Meekins (eh), Joseph Anderer (fh) Ira Weller (va), Laurence Glazener (db) 5; Emily Pulley (sop) 4; Robert Maher (bar) 5; Robert Manno (cond) 5.
MUSICIANS SHOWCASE RECORDINGS MSR1029 (69:41)
"Robert Manno's' day job is singing with the Metropolitan Opera Chorus. He trained as a singer, and has always made his livelihood in the field. It should not be surprising, therefore, that his instrumental compositions are shot through with powerful lyrical impulses. Manno's' music, in whatever guise, always sings. This first CD of his music opens with a rhapsodic string sextet,
anxious and spiky at first, but harmoniously resolved, in both a literal and an emotional way, in the dénouement. In structure and dramatic shape, the Sextet resembles Verklärkte Nacht of Arnold Schoenberg, both scored for two violins, two violas, and two cellos. It is a little surprising that Schoenberg is not listed as an influence, given Manno's' apparent predilection for the lush, complex harmonies of the early Schoenberg masterpiece.
Actually, all of the music on this CD is harmony driven, which is not to say that it lacks momentum; there is a sense of pulse and a narrative quality to all of this material.
But the essential character of the music comes through in the vertical part of the score, more so than the horizontal dimension, and, again, it is easy to imagine the influence of Manno's' choral work in this quality of his writing.
Three Poems is scored for two violins and piano, a combination designed to achieve a conversational quality, especially between the violins. The piece is similar in mood and conception to the trio "A Mountain Path," with the second violin replaced by a cello. In both works, Manno generally uses the piano as a continuo, with a lot of strummed arpeggios, contrasting with the more lyrical and dramatic gestures for the strings. Manno certainly achieves a personal voice in these two works for three instruments, but I am reminded of the fairy-tale allusions to Czech music by Janácek and Martinu, as well as the structural simplicity of the American Minimalists, including Reich and Glass.
Manno's poetry settings are also successful, displaying an expansive, well-rounded sense of architecture and shape, a welcome relief to those contemporary song-composers who allow the verse to meander as if at will. Manno uses two beautiful poems that are vibrantly musical in their own right, "Stiller Freund der vielen Fernen" (Silent Friend of Many Distances), by Rainer Maria Rilke, and "Fern Hill" by Dylan Thomas. The instrumental scores in both works serve as a structural as well as a dramatic foil to the words, and not mere accompaniment.
The performers on this lovely disc are mainly Met colleagues of the composer. All of the instrumentalists are members of the superb Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and the two vocalists are up-and-coming youngsters who have performed on the big Met stage.
The sound they make is luminous and focused, and serves this rich and lyrical music well."
Peter Burwasser, Fanfare Magazine
RECORDS INTERNATIONAL APRIL 2001 www.recordsinternational.com
(Entire reprint of review)
ROBERT MANNO: String Sextet, 3 Poems for 2 Violins and Piano, A Mountain Path for Piano Trio, Stiller Freund der vielen Fernen for Soprano,Violin and Piano, Fern Hill for Baritone and Chamber Ensemble.
"Whatever the medium and whether setting words or not, it is apparent that there is a tendency toward the passionately elegiac in Manno's work. The Rilke setting quotes Schubert and Mahler (without sounding especially like either), and there is something of that romantic melancholy common to these composers, though Manno's music is sparer and tends further in the direction of atonality (without reaching that point, however). All these pieces share a feeling for nature and a sense of the inevitability and beauty of farewells."
AUFBAU February 19, 1999
Excerpted Review of 2/14/99 Merkin Hall Concert
"....Met Associate Concertmaster Laura Hamilton performed in the New York premiere of Three Poems for Two Violins and Piano, and the performance with violinist Karen Marx and pianist John Churchwell was an unalloyed brilliant success, shimmering from white-note modality to Reichian obsessive repetition to an infectious hoe-down. The other two New York premieres, "A Mountain Path" [(1993)] for piano trio and the Sextet for Strings [(1995)], were also impressive in the devotion displayed by Mr. Churchwell, cellist David Heiss (who began and ended the trio with evocative finger-drumming on the wood of his instrument) and five other string players from the Met Orchestra. If these most recent works betrayed an infatuation with impressionism, New Age arpeggiation and harmonics, and the soaring counterpoint of Schoenberg's "Verklaerte Nacht," the expressivity was none the worse for it. The concert opened with a theatrical interpretation by Met chorister Patricia Steiner, accompanied by Chorus Master Raymond Hughes, of some of Manno's first compositions: four E. E. Cummings settings of 1966-69. But the most impressive pieces were those in which Met concertmaster Raymond Gniewek participated: the world premiere of a 1988 expressionist setting of Rainer Maria Rilke's "Stiller Freund der vielen Fernen," sung commandingly by soprano Emily Pulley, and the long, pastoral 1973 setting of Dylan Thomas' "Fern Hill," sung by Met chorister Robert Maher with an ensemble of 9 conducted by the composer.
It was this composition which the Fromm Foundation in 1976 cited as "one of the pieces of the last 40 years deserving of wider recognition." Now, so many years later, with the help of colleagues, Manno seems to have begun receiving just that."
Leonard Lehrmann, Aufbau Magazine