1941–

Adolphus Hailstork

Adolphus Hailstork is a prolific composer who has written over 250 works in just about every genre imaginable: symphonies, operas, cantatas, concertos, chamber music, choral pieces, songs, and more. A native of upstate New York, he currently resides in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and is professor emeritus of composition at Old Dominion University. 

Hailstork has described his musical style as having a kind of “cultural hybridity,” since it borrows from both European and Black American traditions. Even as mid 20th-century compositional trends shifted toward extreme dissonance and atonality, Hailstork hewed closely to lyricism and tonality, all the while experimenting with different idioms. In a 2021 interview he said, “I once read an essay about the two threads—a modernist thread and populist thread—that entered into the 20th century. You can pick one or the other. I’m more on the populist side: tonal, lyrical. I am interested in a continuation rather than a breaking away from.” His musical style was shaped in part by his early experience as a boy chorister in an Episcopal church: “I came up in a high church, an Episcopal cathedral, traditional Anglican style. I was a boy soprano, did the whole nine yards. … I was strongly influenced by my experience in the cathedral. … The cadences, the melodic inflections, etc. in my music were very strongly influenced by that.”

Hailstork has been writing for solo voice for over sixty years, starting with his first set of songs (Lollipops), written in 1959, and continuing to the present day. Among his most extraordinary songs are the cycles Summer. Life. Song. (nine Emily Dickinson settings for voice and string quartet), Ventriloquist Acts of God (five songs for soprano and voice based on poetry by Ellen Wise), Songs of Love and Justice (four songs that set the words of Martin Luther King Jr.), and Four Romantic Love Songs (settings of poems by Paul Laurence Dunbar). 

Additional Resources

Did you know?

For nine weeks in the summer of 1963, Hailstork studied with famed composer and pedagogue Nadia Boulanger at the American Conservatory at Fontainebleau in France.

Video Recordings

Baritone Kenneth Overton and pianist Howard Watkins perform Hailstork's "My Heart to Thy Heart," from Four Romantic Love Songs (1994). The performance occurred on February 3, 2022, as part of Deep River: Black Currents in Classical Music, a recital organized by Watkins, which delved into the rich repertoire of Black American composers.
Countertenor Darryl Taylor and pianist Brent McMunn perform Hailstork's "Yet Do I Marvel" (2012). The performance occurred on February 10, 2017 at Winifred Smith Hall at the University of California, Irvine, as part of a concert called Concert of Songs by Adolphus C. Hailstork, organized by the African American Art Song Alliance (artsongalliance.org).
Soprano Louise Toppin and pianist William Chapman Nyaho perform Hailstork's "The Song of Mary" (1984). The performance occurred on February 10, 2017 at Winifred Smith Hall at the University of California, Irvine, as part of a concert called Concert of Songs by Adolphus C. Hailstork, organized by the African American Art Song Alliance (artsongalliance.org).
Tenor Roderick George and pianist William Chapman Nyaho perform Hailstork's "My Heart to Thy Heart" and "Invitation to Love," from Four Romantic Songs (1994). The performance occurred on February 10, 2017 at Winifred Smith Hall at the University of California, Irvine, as part of a concert called Concert of Songs by Adolphus C. Hailstork, organized by the African American Art Song Alliance (artsongalliance.org).

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