Norman Cazden, Composer and Musicologist

norman_cazden_picNorman Cazden (1914-1980) was an American composer whose prime creative years were obscured by McCarthy-era political pressures. A graduate of Julliard Conservatory and Harvard University (PhD); a student of Aaron Copland, Walter Piston, and Charles Seeger; a colleague of Mark Blitzstein, Earl Robinson, Sandy Ives, and Herbert Haufrecht, he was shy by nature and uncompromising in principle.  Bio

This website, launched in September 2014 to honor Cazden’s centenary, aims to reawaken interest in his musical compositions, whose mid-20th century energy combines wistful, sometimes folk-based melodies with angular harmonies, vigorous rhythms, and a clearly structured point of view. Dynamic, thoughtful, evocative, and thoroughly American—the music of Norman Cazden deserves a place in today’s concert programs.  Review

Featured Works

Cazden’s compositions are largely out of print, but can be accessed through the libraries shown below.

Opus 47Stony Hollow1946
More works for large ensembles
Opus 43Suite for Violin and Piano: Prelude, Gavotte, Sarabande, Reel
More works for solo instruments with piano
Opus 12Sonata for Piano1941
More works for solo piano
Opus 97Trio for Violin, Violoncello and Piano1969
More works for chamber ensembles

Only two of Cazden’s pieces are available on commercial recordings: the Piano Sonata Opus 53 #3 (Robert Helps, New Music for the Piano); and Three Ballads From the Catskills (Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra). The clips provided on this site are mainly from campus performances at the University of Maine, Orono, where Cazden taught in his final years.

Cazden often wrote for less-utilized instruments, favoring unusual timbres while showing bemused sympathy for the “underdogs” of the orchestra. Sonatas for bassoon, viola, English horn, and tuba stand confidently alongside pieces for solo piano and works for more common string, brass, and wind ensembles. With similar generosity, his instructional materials invite even novice musicians to inhabit modern tonalities.

“Norman was a man of many gifts and unusual achievements. His quiet and modest ways left many of his colleagues unaware of the quantity and diversity of his creative output. He was before all, an eminent composer of national reputation. In addition, he was an outstanding pianist and a musicologist whose significant contributions to the fields of psychoacoustics, aesthetics, music theory, and American folksong scholarship are yet to be fully recognized.”

— Stephen Erdely, Ethnomusicology Journal, September 1981, pp 493-95, “In Memoriam.”

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Scores and some parts are available through one or more of the following collections. Click on each name and search “Norman Cazden”: URSUS; University of Illinois; Oberlin College; Eastman School of Music; Harvard University; New York Public Library.

The administrators of this website do not own copies and cannot respond to requests for specific manuscripts. Please ask a local music librarian for help.

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