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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

  • 07 APR 2019
    Wentz Concert Hall, Naperville, IL
    Dupage Symphony Orchestra
    Barbara Schubert, conductor
  • 07 APR 2019
    Green Music Center, Rohnert Park, CA
    Santa Rosa Symphony
    Francesco Lecce-Chong, conductor
  • 07 APR 2019
    Koger Center for the Arts, Columbia, SC
    South Carolina Philharmonic Orchestra
    Morihiko Nakahara, conductor
  • 11 APR 2019
    Henderson Pavillion, Henderson, NV
    Henderson Symphony Orchestra
    Alexandra Arrieche, conductor
  • 18 MAY 2019
    Craterian Theater at the Collier Center, Medford, OR
    Rogue Valley Symphony
    Martin Majkut, conductor

    Other Dates:
    22 February - Southern Oregon University Music Recital Hall, Ashland, OR
    23 February - Craterian Theater at the Collier Center, Medford, OR
    24 February - Grants Pass High School Performing Arts Center, Grants Pass, OR

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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