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Leo Sowerby

Leo Sowerby

Leo Sowerby (May 1, 1895 – July 7, 1968), American composer and church musician, was the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for music in 1946, and was often called the “Dean of American church music” in the early to mid 20th century.


  • Biography 1
  • Selected works 2
    • Choral 2.1
    • Solo voice with accompaniment 2.2
    • Organ solo 2.3
    • Organ with other instruments 2.4
    • Orchestra 2.5
    • Orchestra with solo instruments 2.6
    • Chamber music 2.7
  • Discography 3
  • Sources 4
  • External links 5


Sowerby was born in Gleason n.d.). Early recognition came when his violin concerto was premiered in 1913 by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (Stalford & Meckna 2001). He spent time in France during World War I in the role of bandmaster (Gleason n.d.). In 1921 he was awarded the Rome Prize (from the American Academy in Rome), the first composer to receive this. He joined the American Conservatory of Music as faculty in 1924 (Gleason n.d.). In addition he received the 1946 Pulitzer Prize for Music for his cantata, the Canticle of the Sun, written in 1944 (Stalford & Meckna 2001; Anon. n.d.)

In 1927 he became organist-choirmaster at Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago (1919).

In 1962, after his retirement from St James’s, he was called to Washington National Cathedral to become the founding director of the College of Church Musicians, a position he held until his death in 1968 (Stalford & Meckna 2001). He died in Port Clinton, Ohio, while at Camp Wa-Li-Ro, in Put-in-Bay, Ohio, the summer choir camp where he had taught for many years.

His substantial output includes over 500 works in every genre but opera and ballet (Stalford & Meckna 2001). His later works, done at St James's, Chicago, and Washington Cathedral, are primarily church music for List of music students by teacher: R to S#Leo Sowerby.

Selected works


Solo voice with accompaniment

Originally published by H. W. Gray, reprinted by the Leo Sowerby Foundation, Bryn Mawr, Pa., Theodore Presser, sole selling agent, 1996.

  • The Edge of Dreams, song cycle, with piano (Mark Turbyfill), H. 154 (1920)
  1. "The Adventurer"
  2. "After-thought"
  3. "Sorrow"
  4. "Pulse of Spring"
  5. "The Forest of Dead Trees"
  6. "O Love that has Come at All"
  • "I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes", with organ (Psalm 121), H. 147
  • "O God of Light" (Matthew 5:13–16) (1934)
  • "O Jesus, Lord of Mercy" (1934)
  • " Perfect Love" (D. F. Gurney), H. 237 (1939)
  • "Thou Art My Strength", with organ (Psalm 30)
  • Three Psalms for bass and organ, H 189 (1949)
  1. "Hear My Cry, O God" (Psalm 61)
  2. "The Lord Is My Shepherd" (Psalm 23)
  3. "How Long Wilt Thou Forget Me?"
  • Three Psalms for baritone or contralto and organ, H. 228
  1. "Whoso Dwelleth" (Psalm 91)
  2. "O Be Joyful in the Lord" (Psalm 100)
  3. "I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes" (Psalm 121)

Organ solo

  • Comes Autumn Time (1916)
  • Carillon (1917)
  • Requiescat in Pace (1920)
  • Symphony in G (1930)
  • Pageant (1931)
  • Prelude on "The King's Majesty" (1945)
  • Canon, Chacony, & Fugue (1948)
  • Ten Hymn Preludes (published separately; 1950s)
  • Sinfonia Brevis (1965)
  • Passacaglia (1967)

Organ with other instruments

  • Elevation, for violin and organ (1912)
  • Ballade, for English horn and organ (1949)
  • Festival Musick for organ, brass and timpani (1953)
    • Toccata on 'A.G.O.' (third movement of Festival Musick)
  • Fantasy, for trumpet and organ (1962)


  • Five symphonies
    • No. 1 (1921)
    • No. 2 (1927)
    • No. 3 (1939–40)
    • No. 4 (1944–47)
    • No. 5 (1964)
  • Comes Autumn Time, "program overture" (organ version 1916; orchestrated 1917)
  • From the Northland, suite for orchestra (1923)
  • Prairie, symphonic poem for orchestra (1929)
  • A Set of Four: A Suite of Ironics, published in 1931

Orchestra with solo instruments

  • Violin Concerto in G major (1913, revised 1924)
  • Cello Concerto in A major (1914–16)
  • Piano Concerto no. 1 (1916, revised 1919)
  • Ballad of King Estmere, for two pianos and orchestra (1922)
  • Medieval Poem, for organ and orchestra (1926)
  • Cello Concerto [no. 2] in E minor (1929–34)
  • Piano Concerto no. 2 (1932)
  • Organ Concerto no. 1 (1937)
  • Classic Concerto, for organ and string orchestra (1944)
  • Concerto in C, for organ and orchestra
  • Harp Concerto
  • Concert Piece, for organ and orchestra (1951)

Chamber music


  • "Impressions: Music for Piano" (Suites: "Florida" and "From the Northland" Folksong and Country Dance Tunes: "Three Folk-tunes from Somerset", "Money Musk", "Fisherman's Tune", "The Irish Washerwoman: A Country Dance Tune", "L'Amour Di Quei Due (The Two Lovers): A Milanese Popular Song") - Malcolm Halliday, pianist [1]: (Troy 226), Albany: Troy Records, 1997 Records
  • My Love Unspoken (21 songs), (Troy 196), Albany: Troy Records, 1996 (with Robert Osborne, bass-baritone, and Malcolm Halliday, pianist; John Yaffé, producer).
  • I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes - The Roberts Wesleyan College Chorale & Roberts Wesleyan Brass Ensemble, Robert Shewan, conductor - (Troy 238), Albany NY: Troy Records, 1997
  • Leo Sowerby: American Master of Sacred Song - Gloriae Dei Cantores, Elizabeth Patterson, conductor; David Chalmers, James E. Jordan, jr., organists - Orleans MA: Paraclete Press, (GDCD 016), 1994
  • Organ Music of Leo Sowerby (Symphony in G, Requiescat in pace, Fantasy for Flute Stops) - Catharine Crozier, organ - Chatsworth CA: Delos International, (D/CD 3075), 1988
  • Leo Sowerby: Works for Organ and Orchestra (Classic Concerto, Medieval Poem, Pageant, Festival Music) - David Craighead, David Mulbury, organ; The Fairfield Orchestra, John Welsh, conductor - NAXOS 8.559028


  • Amacker, Marianne. 1970. "The Chorale Preludes of Leo Sowerby". The Diapason 61, no. 9 (August): 20–21.
  • Sharp, Timothy W. 1995. "The Choral Music of Leo Sowerby: A Centennial Perspective". The Choral Journal. 35, no. 8 (March): 9–19.
  • Stalford, Ronald, and Michael Meckna. 2001. "Sowerby, Leo". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.

External links

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