The Disappearance of Lucia Dlugoszewski: A “New York School” Addendum

Composer Lucia Dlugoszewski (1925–2000) was an active participant in the experimental music, theater, and art circles of 1950s New York City. Though she shared concerts with John Cage, Lou Harrison, and Alan Hovhannes, was championed by painter Robert Motherwell and poets John Ashbery and Frank O’Hara, collaborated with the up-and-coming Living Theatre, and designed over one hundred instruments, she is rarely included in historical discussions about the innovations of what later became codified as the “New York School.” Throughout her long, successful, and vibrant career, music critics consistently praised her work, but fellow composers and music historians have remained conspicuously silent on her contributions to the mid-century avant-garde. Unimpressed by what she saw as the aesthetic posturing and petty rivalries of Cage and Varèse, Dlugoszewski forged her own original and creative path while tackling the important musical issues of the time: expanded sonic resources; invented instruments and new ways of playing old instruments; alternative formal structures; interdisciplinary collaboration; the role of silence and “everyday sounds” in performance; and spiritual, psychological, and philosophical influences.

Unjustifiably remembered today solely as the musical director and house composer for the Erick Hawkins Dance Company, Dlugoszewski’s compositions and other creative work deserve a reexamination on their own terms. Drawing on research conducted at the Library of Congress, this paper shares primary source documents that illuminate Dlugoszewski’s creative relationships, performance activities, compositional style, and flair for evocative language, in an attempt to reestablish her deserved place in the history of the American experimental tradition.

 

Pianist and musicologist Amy C. Beal is Professor of Music at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her research specializes in American and contemporary music, and she is the author of three books: New Music, New Allies: American Experimental Music in West Germany from the Zero Hour to Reunification (2006); Carla Bley (2011); and Johanna Beyer (2015). She holds degrees from the University of Kansas and the University of Michigan, and has taught previously at Bates College, Mills College, and Princeton University. Her recent research explores the underrepresentation of women composers in histories of American music.