Born and raised in Newtown, Pennsylvania, Martin Hennessy began studying piano at the age of eight and soon accompanied the church choir, school chorus and his Uncle Raymond, a tenor/dentist who sang at many church events. Hennessy played everything from Beethoven to Broadway in 1960’s and 70’s. He developed an interest in language and politics and attended the Foreign Service School at Georgetown University but dropped out after two years to grapple with an artistic, homosexual self.
After traveling through Europe and North America for two years, Hennessy returned to Bucks County and resumed piano and language studies, while working in the food industry. During this time, he also commuted to New York to study at Juilliard’s extension division. Eventually moving to New York City, Hennessy garnered a coaching/conducting fellowship at Juilliard’s American Opera Center from 1986-88 and built a career as a recital pianist and vocal coach.
Coming out about an HIV/AIDS diagnosis in the early 90’s, however, triggered a breakdown/awakening and the imperative to compose. Disciplines learned through a ten year association with a New Age center in London as well as acting classes at Stella Adler helped Hennessy find a technique to channel. All the opera and art song scores studied through the years became his teacher. A synesthetic element was at the source of his art. For him poetry and language unleashed music: each word, a fossil of human experience to be weighed, invoked, and learned by heart before composing music. His hunger for words led him to earn a degree in English at Columbia University after which his catalogue exploded with individual art songs, songs cycles and three operas.
Major influences in his musical life have been the pianists, Sam Sanders and Marshall Williamson, singer, Paul Sperry, composers, Ned Rorem, Richard Hundley, and William Bolcom and writers, Arnold Weinstein and Mark Campbell.
Drifts & Shadows: American Song for the New Millennium
(Tom Cipullo, Daron Aric Hagen, Martin Hennessy, Richard Hundley and Lee Hoiby)
(Ned Rorem and Martin Hennessy)