Carlisle Floyd is one of the foremost composers and librettists of opera in the United States today. Born in 1926, Floyd earned B.M. and M.M. degrees in piano and composition Syracuse University. He began his teaching career in 1947 at Florida State University, remaining there until 1976, when he accepted the prestigious M. D. Anderson Professorship in the University of Houston. In addition, he is co-founder with David Gockley of the Houston Opera Studio jointly created by the University of Houston and Houston Grand Opera.
Floyd’s operas are regularly performed in the US and Europe. He first achieved national prominence with the New York premiere of his opera, Susannah (1953–54), by the New York City Opera in 1956 after its world premiere at Florida State University in 1955. In 1957 it won the New York Music Critic’s Circle Award and subsequently was chosen to be America’s official operatic entry at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair. Of Mice and Men (1969) is Floyd’s other most often performed work. In the 1998-99 season alone it was presented by New York City Opera, Utah Opera, San Diego Opera, and Cleveland Opera. Based on the Steinbeck novel, it was commissioned by the Ford Foundation and was given its premiere by the Seattle Opera in 1970.
Floyd’s more recent operas, Bilby’s Doll (1976) and Willie Stark (1981), were both commissioned and produced by the Houston Grand Opera, the latter in association with the Kennedy Center. A televised version of the world premiere production of Willie Stark opened WNET’s Great Performances series on the PBS network in September of 1981. Floyd's latest opera, Cold Sassy Tree (2000) received its premiere at Houston Grand Opera in April 2000. Subsequently, it has been performed by Austin Lyric Opera, Central City Opera, Lyric Opera of Kansas City, Opera Carolina, Opera Omaha, San Diego Opera, and Utah Opera.
The composer has also gained increasing attention for his non-operatic works. 1993 saw the New York premiere of Floyd’s orchestral song cycle, Citizen of Paradise (1984), given by the leading mezzo-soprano of the Metropolitan Opera, Suzanne Mentzer. Floyd also completed a large-scale work for chorus, bass-baritone soloist, and orchestra titled A Time to Dance (1993), commissioned by the American Choral Directors Association.
Floyd has been the recipient of a number of honors and awards: a Guggenheim Fellowship (1956); Citation of Merit from the National Association of American Conductors and Composers (1957); the Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Nation Award from the U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce (1959); the distinguished professor of Florida State University Award (1964); an honorary doctorate from Dickinson College (1983); and the National Opera Institute’s Award for Service to American Opera (1983). He served on the Music Panel of the National Endowment for the Arts from 1974–80 and was the first chairman of the Opera/Musical Theater Panel. Floyd was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2001, and in 2004 was awarded the National Medal of Arts in a ceremony at the White House. In 2008, Floyd was one of four honorees—and the only composer—to be included in the inaugural National Endowment for the Arts Opera Honors. In 2011, he was inducted into the South Carolina Hall of Fame, an honor reserved for the state’s most-accomplished native sons.
Carlisle Floyd is published exclusively by Boosey & Hawkes.
— August 2012
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