December 28, 1896: Roger Huntington Sessions is born at 417 Washington Avenue in Brooklyn, New York, USA, second of four children (three surviving) born to Archibald Lowery Sessions, a lawyer, and Ruth Gregson Huntington, the daughter of an Episcopal bishop. (The name on the birth certificate is Roger Pitkin Sessions but was changed at the baptism. It will not be until 1924 that Sessions learns his legal name.)
June 24, 1915: Roger Sessions (18) graduates from Harvard University, although he will not finish his requirements for a Bachelor of Arts until next year.
January 15, 1917: Roger Sessions (20) begins matriculating at Yale University for a Bachelor of Music degree.
January 18, 1917: The students of Yale University vote 1,102-286 in favor of compulsory military training. Student Roger Sessions (20) votes with the minority.
April 9, 1917: Roger Sessions (20) writes “I expect to be exempt (from conscription), but if I can’t get out of it, I shall probably seek work in the Medical Corps, and try with all my might to get it; and if I fail, I will simply have to take the consequences—prison or even death…I am willing to risk my life for any principle of ultimate good, but I am not willing to do what seems to me to be harm in so doing, or, if possible, to help take the lives of others who may be—and many of whom undoubtedly are—in my position.” (Olmstead, 99)
May 24, 1917: Symphonic Prelude by Roger Sessions (20) is performed for the first time, in Woolsey Hall of Yale University. During the concert, announcement is made that Sessions has won the Steinert Prize of $100.
December 17, 1918: Roger Sessions (21) becomes engaged to Barbara Foster, an art history student at Smith College, where he is currently teaching. She is two years his junior.
June 5, 1920: Roger Sessions (23), a member of the Smith College faculty, marries Barbara Foster, a recent Smith graduate and the daughter of a bank cashier, in her parents’ home on West Pleasant Street in Claremont, New Hampshire. Engaged for 18 months, her parents insisted that the wedding be put off until after her graduation.
September 15, 1921: Roger Sessions (24) departs Smith College in Massachusetts for Cleveland where he has been hired to teach at the Cleveland Institute of Music.
June 14, 1923: Incidental music to Andreyeff’s play The Black Maskers by Roger Sessions (26) is performed for the first time, in the Academy of Music, Northampton, Massachusetts conducted by the composer.
June 14, 1924: Roger Sessions (27) departs from New York for Europe aboard SS Olympic. It is his first trip to Europe and will last three months.
February 13, 1925: Nadia Boulanger (37) gives a lecture at the Cleveland Institute of Music on “Modern Music and its Evolution.” Afterwards, she dines with Roger Sessions (28), whom she met last summer in France. They attend a concert by Igor Stravinsky (42) and afterwards, Boulanger introduces Sessions to Stravinsky.
May 8, 1925: Incidental music to Vollmüller’s play Turandot by Roger Sessions (28) is performed for the first time, in Cleveland, the composer conducting.
April 22, 1928: The first of the Copland-Sessions concerts of Contemporary Music takes place at the Edyth Totten Theatre, New York, featuring premieres of works by Carlos Chávez (28) and Virgil Thomson (31) including Piano Sonata no.3, Sonatina for violin and piano, Sonatina for cello and piano, and the Piano Sonatina by Chávez, the composer at the keyboard, and Thomson’s Five Phrases from the Song of Solomon for soprano and percussion (first public performance). In Thomson’s work, Aaron Copland (27) plays percussion. Thomson is presently in Paris. Roger Sessions (31) is in Northampton, Massachusetts finishing the Piano Sonata that was intended for this concert. See 2 July 1926.
May 6, 1928: In the second Copland-Sessions concert, Lento molto for string quartet by Aaron Copland (27) and two movements of the Piano Sonata no.1 by Roger Sessions (31) are performed for the first time, at the Edyth Totten Theatre, New York. Also premiered are four piano preludes by Ruth Crawford (26), and Three Paeans for piano by Dane Rudhyar (33). See 14 December 1928 and 3 March 1930.
May 8, 1928: Roger Sessions (31) learns that he has won a fellowship at the American Academy in Rome.
October 5, 1928: Roger Sessions (31) and his wife arrive in Rome for his fellowship at the American Academy.
March 3, 1930: Piano Sonata no.1 by Roger Sessions (33) is performed completely for the first time, at the Villa Chiaraviglio, Rome. See 6 May 1928.
July 18, 1930: Roger Sessions (33) sails from Europe for home after a two-year fellowship at the American Academy in Rome.
December 5, 1930: A suite from Roger Sessions’ (33) incidental music to The Black Masters (a play by Andreyev) is performed for the first time, in Cincinnati. See 14 June 1923.
March 15, 1931: At the last Copland (30)-Sessions (34) Concert, in the Broadhurst Theatre, New York, three experimental films by Ralph Steiner are shown: H2O, Mechanical Principles, and Surf and Seaweed. The first two feature music by Colin McPhee (30), and music for the last was composed by Marc Blitzstein (26).
September 22, 1936: After staying in the state for six weeks to establish residency, the divorce case of Roger Sessions (39) from his first wife, Barbara is heard in a Nevada court. The divorce will be granted.
December 19, 1937: 48 composers meet in New York to form the American Composers Alliance “to regularize and collect all fees pertaining to the performance of copyrighted music.” A temporary executive committee is appointed, including Wallingford Riegger (52), Virgil Thomson (41), Roger Sessions (40), Roy Harris (39), and Aaron Copland (37).
November 29, 1939: Pages from a Diary for piano by Roger Sessions (42) is performed for the first time, in New York. This concert is a production of the New York City Composers’ Forum of the Federal Music Project.
January 9, 1947: Symphony no.2 by Roger Sessions (50) is performed for the first time, in San Francisco.
February 28, 1948: A farewell concert in honor of Hanns Eisler (49) is presented in Town Hall, New York. Among those sponsoring the event are Walter Piston (54), Roger Sessions (51), Roy Harris (50), Aaron Copland (47), David Diamond (32), Leonard Bernstein (29), and Randall Thompson. Eisler will be deported next month.
March 25, 1949: The Regents of the University of California require that all employees sign a loyalty oath, affirming that they are not a member of the Communist Party. Roger Sessions (52) will sign this summer.
May 28, 1951: String Quartet no.2 by Roger Sessions (54) is performed for the first time, in Madison, Wisconsin.
April 19, 1952: Roger Sessions (55) writes to the President of the University of California, Berkeley that he will resign to take up a position at Princeton in the Fall of 1953.
February 19, 1953: US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles orders the removal from International Information Administration libraries and Voice of America broadcasts, any music by a communist or communist sympathizer. These include works by Aaron Copland (52), George Gershwin (†15), Roger Sessions (56), Virgil Thomson (56), Roy Harris (55), and Leonard Bernstein (34).
January 14, 1956: Idyll of Theocritus for soprano and orchestra by Roger Sessions (59) to words translated by Trevelyan, is performed for the first time, in Louisville.
December 6, 1957: Symphony no.3 by Roger Sessions (60) is performed for the first time, in Symphony Hall, Boston. Public and press are cool.
September 19, 1958: Today marks the first meeting in a cultural exchange between composers in the United States and the USSR. The meeting takes place in the Hall of Composers at the Moscow Composers’ Union. American visitors include Roger Sessions (61), Roy Harris (60), Ulysses Kay (41), and Peter Mennin (35).
October 15, 1958: The high point of a cultural exchange between Soviet and American composers in Moscow takes place in a concert by the Moscow State Radio Orchestra in Tchaikovsky Hall. Works performed include Peter Mennin’s (35) Symphony no.6, the Symphony no.5 by Roy Harris (60), Roger Sessions’ (61) Suite from The Black Maskers, and Of New Horizons by Ulysses Kay (41).
November 23, 1959: Roger Sessions’ (62) String Quintet is performed completely for the first time, in New York.
January 2, 1960: Symphony no.4 by Roger Sessions (63), commissioned to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the State of Minnesota, is performed for the first time, in Minneapolis.
January 14, 1961: The Gold Medal of the National Institute of Arts and Letters goes to Roger Sessions (64).
November 13, 1961: Pablo Casals gives a recital at the White House before President and Mrs. Kennedy and 200 invited guests. Among those attending are the elite of the musical culture of the United States: Walter Piston (67), Howard Hanson (65), Virgil Thomson (64), Roger Sessions (64), Henry Cowell (64), Roy Harris (63), Aaron Copland (60), Elliott Carter (52), Samuel Barber (51), William Schuman (51), Alan Hovhaness (50), Gian Carlo Menotti (50), Norman Dello Joio (48), Leonard Bernstein (43), Eugene Ormandy, and Leopold Stokowski. The concert is recorded and will be televised. Bernstein will recall “I’ve never seen so many happy artists in my life.”
September 23, 1962: Connotations for orchestra by Aaron Copland (61) is performed for the first time, at the inauguration of Lincoln Center, directed by Leonard Bernstein (44). The concert is televised by the CBS television network. Among the attenders are composers Walter Piston (68), Roger Sessions (65), Henry Cowell (65), Roy Harris (64), Samuel Barber (52) and the Center’s director, William Schuman (52), along with Rudolf Bing, Isaac Stern, Secretary-General of the United Nations U Thant, first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, UN Ambassador Adlai Stevenson, Governor Nelson Rockefeller, and New York Mayor Robert Wagner.
February 7, 1964: Symphony no.5 by Roger Sessions (67) is performed for the first time, in Philadelphia.
April 19, 1964: Montezuma, an opera by Roger Sessions (67) to words of Borgese, is performed for the first time, in West Berlin. The public reaction is mixed. The press is scathing.
June 12, 1964: Harvard University confers an honorary degree on Roger Sessions (67). Considering his performance while a Harvard undergraduate 50 years ago Sessions asks himself, “I wonder if they looked at my academic record.”
January 9, 1965: Divertimento for orchestra by Roger Sessions (68) is performed for the first time, in Honolulu.
February 11, 1966: Psalm 140 for soprano and orchestra by Roger Sessions (69) is performed for the first time, in Symphony Hall, Boston.
November 19, 1966: Symphony no.6 by Roger Sessions (69) is performed for the first time, in Newark, New Jersey.
March 31, 1968: Six Pieces for cello by Roger Sessions (71) is performed for the first time, in New York.
March 18, 1970: Rhapsody for orchestra by Roger Sessions (73) is performed for the first time, in Baltimore.
May 23, 1971: When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d, a cantata for soprano, alto, baritone, chorus, and orchestra by Roger Sessions (74) to words of Whitman, is performed for the first time, in Berkeley, California.
November 5, 1971: Concerto for violin, cello, and orchestra by Roger Sessions (74) is performed for the first time, in New York.
February 8, 1975: Three Choruses on Biblical Texts for chorus and orchestra by Roger Sessions (78) is performed for the first time, in Amherst, Massachusetts.
January 17, 1980: Symphony no.9 by Roger Sessions (83) is performed for the first time, in Syracuse, New York.
October 23, 1981: Concerto for Orchestra by Roger Sessions (84) is performed for the first time, in Symphony Hall, Boston. This work will win the Pulitzer Prize. See 12 April 1982.
March 16, 1985: Roger Sessions dies of a cerebral hemorrhage at Princeton Medical Center in Princeton, New Jersey, USA, aged 88 years, two months, and 16 days. The ashes of his mortal remains will be interred in Hadley Cemetery, Hadley, Massachusetts.