35 American composers of art songs name their favorite tune

35 American composers of art songs name their favorite tune

Goodjohn (Wu), Arlouine (1918-2015). An archive of 50 letters plus related materials received from over 35 American art song composers, 1961-1965. Collected in a “Rido-book” scrapbook album, in its original slipcase; both album and slipcase have been inexpertly repaired with archival tape.

      In the summer of 1961,  Arlouine Goodjohn Wu, a mezzo-soprano who performed under her maiden name, sent the same letter to dozens of American composers of art songs:

Dear ______,

     I am very interested in your songs but it annoys me to be told by the critics which one is your best.

     Would you be so kind as to say which one you prefer? I would appreciate it if you would also note whether it is published or unpublished and by whom. Also if I may hear it on any recording.

     I enclose a return postcard to save you time, and thank you very much for your courtesy in answering this request.

Most sincerely,

Arlouine Goodjohn

     This album collects their response. It includes postcards and letters from William T. Ames, Alice Barnett, Cecil Burleigh (through his wife), Elliot Carter, Paul Creston, Bainbridge Crist, David Diamond, Norman Dello Joio, Celius Dougherty, Clara Edwards, Granville English, Vivian Fine, Grant Fletcher, David Guion, Charles Huerter, Lee Hoiby, Richard Hundley, A. Walter Kramer, Dai-Keong Lee, Norman Lockwood, Otto Luening, Edwin McArthur, Douglas Moore, Ted Newman, Paul Nordoff, John C. Sacco, Gunther Schuller, Clifford Shaw, Elie Siegmeister, Robert Starer, Deems Taylor (through his secretary), Virgil Thompson, Robert Ward, Elinor Remick Warren, Wintter Watts, and Jacques Wolfe.

     The responses vary widely. Some composers declined to name a favorite work. "Would you ask a parent to choose among his children?" asked Virgil Thompson. "I think all my songs are marvelous," said Otto Luening. Rather ruefully, Deems Taylor expressed surprise that critics had voiced any opinions on his songs. But most entered into the spirit of the inquiry, recommending one or two of their works. David Diamond typed out a list of his top fourteen. Clifford Shaw listed over twenty. A few sent her samples of sheet music. Wu received multiple letters from several correspondents, including Shaw, Clara Edwards, and Grant Fletcher. There are five letters and cards from Richard Hundley. Dai-Keong Lee sent his phone number, inviting Wu to call him.

     Among the ephemera included here are a large photographic portrait of Richard Hundley by Carl Van Vechten, a small black and white snapshot of Jascha Heifetz from 1950, and an original cartoon of the opera singer Constance Eberhart, the subject of a monograph Wu published in 1983.


Arlouine Goodjohn in a 1947 Kansas City performance of Arlen & Harburg's musical Bloomer Girl

    Born in Leavenworth, Kansas, Arlouine Goodjohn attended the University of Kansas (B. Music, 1940) and Columbia University (MA, American history, 1958). In 1950 she married King Mau Wu (1911-1981), an international businessman. She performed with the Philadelphia Grand Opera, San Antonio Symphony Orchestra, and elsewhere, but was perhaps most closely associated with the Lake George Opera Festival. In a carbon copy of a letter to one composer preserved here Wu explains that she was working with a promoter to stage a recital of American songs, but we have not located a records of her performance.

     A charming and occasionally revealing archive of some of the leading figures in American art song at midcentury.


Arlouine Goodjohn as the Witch in a 1963 Lake George Opera Festival performance of Humperdinck's opera, Hansel and Gretel.

Selected references

  • “They have featured roles in a big musical,” Kansas City Star, 4 May 1947.
  • International Who's Who in Music and Musicians' Directory, 1988, 1990.
  • Wu, Arlouine Goodjohn. Constance Eberhart: A Musical Career in the Age of Cadman ([Oxford, MS]: National Opera Association, 1983.

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    35 American composers of art songs name their favorite tune