Edward T. Cone (1917-2004)

Born May 4, 1917 in Greensboro, North Carolina

Died October 23, 2004 in Princeton, New Jersey

Edward T. Cone was a composer, pianist, author, and teacher.

In 1939 he earned a bachelor’s degree from Princeton, where he was a student of Roger Sessions graduating as Salutatorian. He earned a master of fine arts degree from the university in 1942.

He was appointed an assistant professor of music at Princeton University in 1947 and full professor in 1960. He taught music theory, history and composition. He retired in 1985.

In 2004, Princeton awarded him an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, at which time the University released a statement calling him an “ideal embodiment of composer, performer, teacher and scholar… The knowing beauty of his compositions, the graceful power of his piano playing and the inviting elegance of his critical essays teach us to think well of music’s place in human affairs — his genial voice remains the melody so many of us hear when we ponder music.”

Cone’s numerous compositions include a symphony, works for piano, voice, chorus, orchestra and chamber ensembles. As author and editor he produced Musical Form and Musical Performance (1968),The Composer’s Voice (1974), for which in he was awarded the Deems Taylor Award by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) in 1975 and Music: A View from Delft (1989).

“The range of his writings, I think, reflects the range of his music,” said composer Milton Babbitt, a longtime Princeton colleague. “Not in any sense that it’s a mixture of styles, but rather that it reflects all that he learned and assimilated.” Characterizing Cone’s compositional style Babbitt said “[it] can’t be characterized, because really it cannot be compared with any other music.”

An Overture for the War – Prelude to Victory

Composed in 1942

First Performance: Right now!

Instrumentation: 3 flutes (doubling alto and piccolo), 2 oboes, english horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, bass trombone, tuba, cymbals, bass drum, celesta, timpani, strings

Jeffrey Farrington, Musical Property Executor for the Estate of Edward T. Cone writes “One of two Cone compositions that can be associated with the beginning of the Second World War, An Overture for the War was written in the winter of 1942, just before Cone entered the army and, eventually, the Office of Strategic Services. A Princeton University graduate student working toward his master of fine arts degree in music, Cone composed this piece for a competition that called for “new music composed in response to the country’s entrance into the war. Roy Dickinson Welch, founding chair of the Princeton University Music Department, felt that the piece’s original name was insufficiently optimistic about the outcome of the war and insisted that Cone change it to Prelude to Victory. Cone’s original and preferred title is a better description of the actual piece. This music is a soldier’s contemplation of the battle to come and ends just before the actual battle begins. Exactly what you would expect an overture for a war to do.”

The overture opens with a pair of bassoons playing an open fifth, omitting a third which leaves the question of whether it is D major or minor open.

Example 1. Bassoon opening

The bassoons are joined by the low strings then the rest of the woodwinds leading into a brief tutti climax which fades away quickly ending with the opening bassoon duet. Then over an open fifth (Ab-Eb) pedal point played by the horn, bassoons and timpani, the violins softly introduce a new theme. This theme is immediately developed in a brief fugato where the pitches are the same but the rhythmic values are halved. Throughout the rest of the work this melodic shape and rhythmic motif are developed.

Example 2. Fugato motif

This motif is elongated and varied by several different instruments, with the bass clarinet interjecting the snippets of the original version several times.

The fugato motif returns for an extended visit, this time developing the dotted rhythm that was implicit in the original version.

Example 3. Dotted fugato

After a development, a recapitulation begins with the woodwinds playing the opening theme transposed to D and rhythmically varied.

Example 4. Recapitulation

The coda begins with the first theme presented as an orchestral tutti and ending with sforzando open fifth which then fades as it is sustained.

The work closes with the ‘celli playing a variant of the bassoon opening under a clarinet outlining the pitches a-e – no third – leading to the flutes repeating the rising fifth d-a leading to the horn and strings playing the closing open fifth, thus leaving the question of whether it is D major or minor is thus left unanswered.

Farrington proposes that “This was probably Welch’s problem with the supposed lack of optimism in the Overture. With the open fifth the outcome of the battle is left open. “


Composed in 1953

First Performance: 1954 by the Princeton University Symphony conducted by Nicholas Harsanyi

Instrumentation: 2 flutes (second doubling piccolo), oboe, english horn, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, tuba, timpani, strings

Elegy was commissioned by the Princeton University Symphony Orchestra. It was written about ten years after the Overture in 1953, after the composer had completed nearly 30 pieces including the other project of 1953, his as yet unperformed Symphony. Farrington adds “We do not know if the Elegy was written in memory of any particular person. It may have been. I do suspect that the piece may also have someone in particular in mind. The Elegy has motivic connections not only to the Overture, but also to a short piano piece called “In Memoriam – R.D.W. ” Musically though, the Elegy begins very much where An Overture for the War ends – but, now, the battle and the war are done. In the context of the Overture, the Elegy is for the fallen of the Second World War.”

In Memoriam opens with the same motive as the Overture transposed to e. This time Cone gives Welch his victory – the major third is supplied. The Elegy opens with an elaboration of the same motive, now transposed to g (paired oboe and English horn). The major-minor question is once again open.

Example 5. Oboe and English horn opening. Motif A

This duet introduces the main motif (A) which includes several characteristic intervals. Besides the opening fifth, the fairly dissonant intervals of a major seventh and a minor ninth (each just a step away on either side of an octave) predominate.

Another important motif (B) is introduced and repeated by the ‘celli in the fifth measure which is immediately followed by the violas playing it up a step. A notable feature is the minor ninth leap. Also note that the violas leap is followed by the c – d – e fragment from the opening measure, but backwards.

Example 6. Celli then violas playing motif B

The andante opening gradually builds momentum leading to a variation of the opening motif (A1) now played by the violins. The first part is twice as fast but the second is rhythmically almost identical.

Example 7. Violins playing motif A1

The second half of this variation is a springboard for another motif (C) presented by the violins.

Example 8. Violins playing motif C

The stepwise descending fragment of motif C leads to a motif introduced by the clarinets, then repeated by the violins and oboe, that seems to be an amalgam of B with its leap, C with its descending scale and a final turn that resembles motif A.

Example 9. Clarinets playing motif D

This is followed by a climax with motif A1 played forte then fortissimo by the brass and bassoons. This is the work’s first loud passage.

The clarinets return with D played softly followed by a recapitulation which the oboe and English horn duet reprises motif A very softly (ppp) followed by another climax where the brass present A1 fortissimo. The music dissolves until A1 returns played softly by the trumpets accompanied by the flutes playing the same motif but twice as slowly.

The music then fragments with brief appearances of A, A1 and C until a final pizzicato resolution in the strings.