Otto Luening

Highly influential for founding important organizations for American composers, Otto Luening composed almost 80 songs and set the texts of American poets Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman.

Photo: Otto Luening, Columbia University

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Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to musician parents, Otto Luening began composing at the age of 6. His family moved to Munich in 1912, and while there, Luening began to study music seriously and also made his début as a flutist in 1916. When World War I broke out, he moved to Zürich and studied with Philipp Jarnach and Ferruccio Busoni. He played flute professionally while in Zürich with both concert and opera orchestras and also made his conducting début in 1917.

Luening returned to American in 1920, settling in Chicago before moving to Rochester. He was heavily involved in several opera companies as a flutist and conductor during this time, including the American Grand Opera Company as well as the Rochester Opera Company. After a brief period in Cologne, Luening took a position at Bennington College (Vermont) and would stay in America for the rest of his life.

In 1944, Luening moved to New York and took a position as director of opera productions at Columbia University, which allowed him to begin a graduate seminar in composition as well as conduct several world premieres, including his own opera Evangeline.

Luening was very influential in establishing a community for American composers. He was co-founder of the American Composers Alliance as well as the American Music Center. He founded CRI (Composers Recordings, Inc., now a part of New World Records) and served as a trustee of the American Academy in Rome.

–Christie Finn

Source: New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians

Related Information



Songs by 20th Century American Composers (Vol. I & II)

(Ernst Bacon, Samuel Barber, Paul Bowles, John Alden Carpenter, Theodore Chanler, Aaron Copland, Charles Griffes, Charles Ives, Otto Luening, Edward MacDowell, Virgil Thomson and Ned Rorem)


The Poetess Sings

(Ernst Bacon, Aaron Copland, John Woods Duke, Lee Hoiby, Otto Luening and William Roy)


She Walks in Beauty

(Otto Luening)


Sheet Music

Nine Songs to Poems of Emily Dickinson

Composer(s): Otto Luening

Song(s): 1. Our Share of Night to Bear
2. The Show is Not the Show
3. Hope is the Thing with Feathers
4. If I Can Stop One Heart From Breaking
5. Experiment to Me
6. I Felt a Cleavage in my Mind
7. Few Yet Enough
8. Soul, Wilt Thou Toss Again?
9. When I Hoped, I Feared

Buy via E. C. Schirmer

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