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Nathaniel Stookey

Publisher: AMP

The Composer is Dead (2006)
Text Writer
Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler)
Associated Music Publishers Inc
Soloist(s) and Orchestra
Sub Category
Large Orchestra
Year Composed
30 Minutes
English, French, German, Spanish
Programme Note
Nathaniel Stookey The Composer is Dead (2006)

Composer Note:

Downloadable Image: Acrobat format, 693 KB
Organizations may use this cover art from the HarperCollins Book/CD to promote their performances of The Composer is Dead

Please credit artist Carson Ellis, from THE COMPOSER IS DEAD, © HarperCollins
I hope I’m not giving away too much by saying that The Composer is Dead ends with a funeral march...Classical composers have always had a preoccupation with death, partly because we are human, like you, partly because we grapple with the mysteries of the universe, partly because death sells records and always has...Someday you'll be able to tell your grandchildren that you appreciated a living composer before that living composer became, like all composers, dead.

— Nathaniel Stookey

Librettist's Note:

I have been asked if I might say a word or two about the text of The Composer Is Dead, and the one or two words are "Boo hoo." The story — which, as far as I know, is absolutely true — is so heartbreakingly glum that I cannot imagine that you will be able to listen to it without dabbing at your tears with a nearby handkerchief.

— Lemony Snicket

Inquiries for Nathaniel Stookey* to appear as narrator:
 (212) 254 2100 —
*Mr. Stookey can narrate in English, French, or Spanish

Inquiries for music rental:
  G. Schirmer/AMP Rental & Performance Dept.
  Request a rental fee quote or performance materials

  • 22 FEB 2019
    Southern Oregon University Music Recital Hall, Ashland, OR
    Rogue Valley Symphony
    Martin Majkut, conductor

    Other Dates:
    23 February; 18 May - Craterian Theater at the Collier Center, Medford, OR
    24 February - Grants Pass High School Performing Arts Center, Grants Pass, OR
  • 01 FEB 2019
    Ann Nicole Nelson Hall, Minot, ND
    Minot Symphony Orchestra
    Efrain Amaya, conductor

    Other Dates:
    2 February - Ann Nicole Nelson Hall, Minot, ND
  • 01 DEC 2018
    Performing Arts Center, Concord, MA
    Concord Orchestra
    Joyce Kulhawik ; Richard Pittman, conductor
  • 18 NOV 2018
    Colorado School of Mines Performance Space, Golden, CO
    Colorado School of Mines Symphony Orchestra
    Maggie Greenwood, conductor
  • 18 NOV 2018
    National University of Singapore Alumni Orchestra
  • 18 OCT 2018
    Benjamin and Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center, Dayton, OH
    Dayton Performing Arts Alliance
    Patrick Reynolds, conductor
  • 14 OCT 2018
    Powell Hall, St. Louis, MO
    St. Louis Symphony Orchestra
    Omega D. Jones

    Other Dates:
    16,17 October - Powell Hall, St. Louis, MO
  • 21 SEP 2018
    The Composer is Dead Country Premiere
    Tsuen Wan Town Hall Auditorium, Hong Kong
    Hong Kong Philharmonic
    Eric Monson, narrator; Christian Reif, conductor

    Other Dates:
    22 September - Tsuen Wan Town Hall Auditorium, Hong Kong
  • 20 MAY 2018
    Sandler Center for the Performing Arts, Virginia Beach, VA
    Virginia Symphony Orchestra
    Ben Rous, conductor
  • 13 MAY 2018
    Flint Center, Cupertino, CA
    California Youth Symphony
    Omari Tau, narrator; Leo Eylar, conductor

    Other Dates:
    20 May - San Mateo Performing Arts Center, San Mateo, CA
  • 29 APR 2018
    Hult Center, Eugene, OR
    Eugene Symphony Orchestra
  • 28 APR 2018
    Music Hall, Cincinnati, OH
    Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra
    Keitaro Harada, conductor
  • 03 FEB 2018
    Clinton Township Middle School, Clinton, NJ
    Hunterdon Symphony
    Lawrence Kursar, conductor
  • 22 DEC 2017
    Lesher Center for the Performing Arts, Walnut Creek, CA
    California Symphony
    Manoel Felciano, narrator; Donato Cabrera, conductor

    Other Dates:
    23 December - Lesher Center for the Performing Arts, Walnut Creek, CA
  • 10 DEC 2017
    Boston University Tsai Center, Boston, MA
    New England Philharmonic
  • 28 OCT 2017
    S.E. Belcher Center, Longview, TX
    Longview Symphony Orchestra
    Gene H. Moon, conductor
  • 28 OCT 2017
    Reynolds Auditorium, Winston-Salem, NC
    Winston-Salem Symphony
    Jessica Morel, conductor
  • 22 OCT 2017
    Kenan Rehearsal Hall, Chapel Hill, NC
    Chapel Hill Philharmonia
    Evan Feldman, conductor

    Other Dates:
    10 December - Moeser Auditorium, Chapel Hill, NC
  • 15 OCT 2017
    Pinecrest Gardens, Pinecrest, FL
    Orchestra Miami
    Elaine Rinaldi, conductor
  • 24 SEP 2017
    Austin ISD Performing Arts Center, Austin, TX
    Austin Civic Orchestra
    Lois Ferrari, conductor
  • 19 JUL 2017
    Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, The Woodlands, TX
    Houston Symphony Orchestra
    Damon Gupton; Jason Seber, conductor
  • 05 MAY 2017
    Capitol Theatre Yakima,WA
    Yakima Symphony Orchestra
    Lawrence Golan, conductor
  • 18 MAR 2017
    Idaho Falls, ID
    Idaho Falls Symphony Orchestra
    Thomas Heuser, conductor
  • 11 MAR 2017
    Music for Families
    Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco, CA
    San Francisco Symphony
    Christian Reif, conductor
  • 10 MAR 2017
    Tuscaloosa, AL
    Tuscaloosa Symphony
    Adam Flatt, conductor
  • 11 JAN 2017
    Perot Theatre, Texarkana, AR
    Texarkana Symphony Orchestra
    Marc Andre Bougie, conductor
  • 29 NOV 2016
    Educational Concerts
    San Francisco, CA
    San Francisco Symphony
    Christian Reif, conductor
  • 29 OCT 2016
    Petoskey, MI
    Great Lakes Chamber Orchestra
    Libor Ondras, conductor
  • 28 OCT 2016
    American Fork, UT
    Timpanogos Symphony Orchestra
    John Bytheway; John Pew, conductor

    Other Dates:
    29 October - American Fork, UT
  • 22 OCT 2016
    Henderson, NV
    Henderson Symphony Orchestra
    Alexandra Arrieche, conductor

The show was a delightful success, which — as Mr. Snicket himself might say — here means “an evening of family-friendly music, and a fun introduction to orchestral music, delivered with Lemony Snicket’s inimitably wry, doleful humour…” In order to help listeners to recognize the diverse, skilfully interwoven musical quotes that would make up the grand finale of the performance, Stookey, with the help of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, introduced us to excerpts from different well known classical pieces. These included Franz Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique Symphony. After hearing all the different bits and fragments, we were ready to hear the actual funeral march from The Composer Is Dead, which juxtaposes the different excerpts we had heard, and many more. It was worth the wait. Having been primed for it by hearing each of the musical references in their original contexts, it was great fun to then see how Stookey had interwoven these quotations, without changing any notes from the original. The funeral march was remarkable in that it wasn’t simply a medley of the different classical pieces — a kind of patchwork with nominal transitions to lead us from one portion into the next. Instead, it actually layered the motifs, fading one out, while sustaining a second theme and bringing a third in on top, all the while blending them together in such a way that the whole thing held together as a credible, enjoyable piece in its own right. A remarkable composition, for all that Stookey hadn’t written any of the notes themselves. The skill lay in the way they were excerpted and interwoven. The second half of the performance began with the lugubrious entrance of Daniel Handler, Lemony Snicket’s “social representative.” What followed, in The Composer Is Dead, was a witty and engaging murder mystery, replete with humorous bathos and clever wordplay. In the tradition of Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, The Composer Is Dead is a fun and engaging introduction to the different components of the orchestra, aimed at a new generation that is more cued in to elements of irony and self-parody.
Susan Deefholts, The Kitchener-Waterloo Record,31/03/2008
Everybody loves Peter and the Wolf,but as a young person's guide to the orchestra, it lacks a certain quotient of murder and mayhem. Combat and danger, certainly, but not even the wolf is actually pushing up daisies as the curtain falls.

Leave it to Lemony Snicket to correct that little oversight.

In The Composer Is Dead, a deliciously morbid entertainment in the vein of his "Series of Unfortunate Events," the San Francisco writer whose real name is Daniel Handler teams up with composer Nathaniel Stookey to lead young audiences on an investigative stroll through the ranks of the orchestral instruments.

…when the piece begins, the composer is already moldering lifelessly — or, as Snicket suggests, "decomposing" — and has presumably been done in by a party or parties unknown. The perpetrator is probably lurking somewhere in the orchestra, and as the unnamed inspector interrogates each group of players in turn, Stookey takes the opportunity to range a musical spotlight across the entire ensemble.

So the violins twirl their way through a vivacious waltz while the cellos and basses provide oom-pah-pah accompaniments and the mournful violas sing their undervalued countermelodies. The flutes do bird imitations, the trombones tango and the tuba, in the piece's sweetest and funniest moment, enjoys a moment of quiet domesticity with his landlady, the harp.

But as the piece progresses, it emerges that not every corpse implies a murder mystery. In fact, just about any place you find an orchestra playing, there's a dead composer somewhere on hand.

Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle,10/07/2006
It's a tale of woe, of course. The composer in the title is, well, quite dead and someone on stage did it — a felonious flute, perhaps, or crazed xylophonist. Or maybe those suspicious-looking foreigners, the French horns. It's up to the narrator, voiced by Snicket with hilarious musical accompaniment from Stookey and the orchestra, to figure out whodunit.

…there's music education woven into the hilarious and frequently insulting instrumental descriptions. Flutes are wimpy, Snicket explains, the concertmaster is a show-off, and the first violins may have "trickier parts to play," but the second violins "are more fun at parties."

It's edgy and tartly funny, particularly when the narrator starts accusing the conductor of malice aforethought.

"Wherever there's a conductor, there's a dead composer," Snicket points out. "Beethoven — dead! Bach — dead! ... Schubert — unfinished, but dead!"

True, the instruments reply, but it's conductors and orchestras who keep their music alive centuries later.

It's a wildly cheering audience that leaps to its feet at the close of Saturday's premiere, and the rest of the world will hear the irreverent work soon. Recording sessions start Monday and the whole "Composer is Dead" package — new Snicket book and San Francisco Symphony CD — will be published by HarperCollins later this year or next.

Jackie Burrell, Contra Costa Times,08/07/2006
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