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Meet Edwin Penhorwood, composer of "Too Many Sopranos"

Indiana University Opera Theater will present " Too Many Sopranos " by Jacobs School of Music faculty member Edwin Penhorwood, February 2, 3, 9, and 10 in the Musical Arts Center.

  • Mr. Penhorwood will be interviewed by the Bloomington Herald-Times columnist Peter Jacobi on Sunday, January 28.
  • You can also listen to radio interviews with Mr. Penhorwood on Sunday, January 28, at 4:00 p.m. on WFHB Community Radio ( and through the next week on WFIU Public Radio (

Comments about "Too Many Sopranos" by Edwin Penhorwood

My musical style has been influenced by my being a pianist/organist, my interest in the voice (my wife is soprano Costanza Cuccaro), and by my ability to improvise. I improvised at the keyboard from an early age and continued to do so as a church organist. Other musical influences were the composers Mozart, Bellini, Chopin, Debussy, Richard Strauss, Barber, Britten, and Bernstein, to name a few. I have never felt an attraction for the avant garde but do employ avant garde effects as spice in my compositions.

Usually, I choose the poetry before I compose the song. There have been a few instances where the melody came first (A Lute will Lie is one) and had to wait a number of years to match up with a poem that fit. Three of these songs are set to the poetry of Callum MacColl, a poet, artist, and friend whom I have known since undergraduate days. At times, practicality takes precedence. Wild Nights was composed because my wife requested an "ender" for recitals.

I compose at the piano. After studying the poem, ideas and form come to mind, and I begin to improvise. Once a motive or musical idea comes forward that seems suitable and pleases me, things proceed, usually with a melodic and harmonic sketch. The accompaniment is usually thought out at the beginning of the composition process and written down last.

I would describe myself as a mainstream composer that allows music from the past and present to sift through my own musical personality. My musical intentions are the following: making my music connect and communicate to listeners; being careful not to get too far ahead or too far behind the listener; wanting my music to have tension and release, communicate emotions, and express beauty and drama. The creative process of bringing together the singer's voice, the composition, and the poetry is exciting and mysterious.

About Edwin Penhorwood

Edwin Penhorwood, a native of Toledo, OH, and a graduate of the University of Iowa, is a pianist, composer, organist, and vocal coach. He has taught in the International School of Zurich, Switzerland, at the Church Music Conservatory in Berlin, the University of Missouri, and Indiana University, and has accompanied singers and instrumentalists in North America and in Europe for many years.

Penhorwood's songs have been broadcast by NPR, the Paris and Berlin radio networks and have been featured at Glimmerglass Opera, The Chautauqua Opera, the National NATS Convention, and Marilyn Horne's 70th Birthday Celebration. Penhorwood's compositions are published by Carl Fischer, Abingdon, Hinshaw Music, and T.I.S. Publications.

In 2000, T.I.S., Inc. published his songs and song cycles. T.I.S. also published Penhorwood's comic opera Too Many Sopranos commissioned by the Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre and premiered in June 2000. Too Many Sopranos, now in its fourth printing, has been presented at the NATS Convention and The National Opera Association National Convention in New York City. The opera has received over 30 productions, most recently at The Baltimore Opera and Light Opera Oklahoma.

Penhorwood has edited two volumes of Vincenzo Righini's vocal works for Southern Music. Many of these compositions received their American premières at the 2nd International Congress of Voice Teachers held in Philadelphia.

In 1999, the Indianapolis Symphonic Chorus, through the Lilly Foundation, presented Penhorwood with a commission for a choral work, The Christmas Story.

Penhorwood joined the faculty of Indiana University in 1993. He is the musical director of the Graduate Opera Workshop and has taught Accompanying. He is married to soprano Costanza Cuccaro.