The Arty Semite

Are Classical Music Lovers Finally Becoming Cone-Heads?

By Benjamin Ivry

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Photo George Pitcher; Courtesy Princeton Univ.

From January 13 to 16 at different venues in the Garden State, The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra will perform alongside works by Mendelssohn and Smetana, “Dover Beach” a 1941 setting for baritone and orchestra by Edward Toner Cone, a composer and much-loved music professor at Princeton.

Cone, who died in 2004 at age 87 after open-heart surgery, was a nephew of the famed art collectors Etta and Claribel Cone, whose generosity has enriched such institutions as the Baltimore Museum of Art. Etta and Claribel were themselves the subject of 2008’s delightful “The Cone Sisters of Baltimore: Collecting at Full Tilt” from Northwestern University Press, and will be further honored with an exhibit, “Collecting Matisse and Modern Masters: The Cone Sisters of Baltimore” from May 6 to September 25, 2011 at The Jewish Museum.

Young Edward traveled to Europe with his aunts, who amassed hundreds of Matisse’s works during their years of conspicuous art consumption, as Cone told CBS News in 2000:

Aunt Claribel wore quite extraordinary lace decorations and jewelry. Aunt Etta was more conservative. But, as Gertrude Stein says, ‘Anybody could see them.’

In this hot-house atmosphere of art appreciation, Cone developed into a composer of judicious refinement and gracefully lilting wit, as heard on a 1997 CD of his works, reprinted in 2007 by New World Records. Cone’s compositional talent has been hitherto overshadowed by his prose, since he also authored such widely-admired books as 1989’s “Music: A View from Delft. Selected Essays” from The University of Chicago Press; 2009’s “Hearing and Knowing Music: The Unpublished Essays of Edward T. Cone” from Princeton University Press; and 1974’s “The Composer’s Voice, overdue for reprint from the University of California Press.

Theater fans may also be distracted from Cone’s music by books such as 2004’s “Sir John Gielgud: A Life in Letters” from Arcade Publishing, detailing the great British Shakespearian’s long-term love affair with Cone’s life companion, the philosophy professor George Pitcher. This affair was conducted with Cone’s complaisance, and the gentle, highly refined aura surrounding all concerned may be sensed from a brilliant new DVD release from eOne Home Entertainment of Gielgud’s solo show “Ages of Man,” selections from Shakespeare broadcast on CBS-TV in 1966.

Gielgud’s grasp of the meaning, music, and emotion of great poetry must have moved Cone, whose devotion to poetry is expressed in settings of authors from Philip Sidney to Paul Muldoon. In the refined artistic world of the Cone family, any extramarital affair would naturally be carried out with the greatest Hamlet of his generation.

Hear Edward Cone’s “Dover Beach” performed by The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra on January 13 at the Community Theatre in Morristown; and, then, as part of “Best of… Water,” on January 14 at Patriots Theater at the War Memorial, Trenton; on January 15 at Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank; and January 16 at bergenPAC in Englewood.

Watch Edward T. Cone chatting about aspects of the composer’s life in 2003 here and here.


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