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Duet with the Past


Daron Hagen
Foreword by Bernard Jacobson

Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 273
Bibliographic Info: ca. 25 photos, index
Copyright Date: 2019
pISBN: 978-1-4766-7737-8
eISBN: 978-1-4766-3587-3
Imprint: McFarland


Composer, conductor and sometime-librettist Daron Hagen has written five symphonies, a dozen concertos, 13 operas, reams of chamber music and more than 350 art songs. Tracing his transformation from musical prodigy in a troubled family to successful artist in the tradition of Hector Berlioz and Ned Rorem, this memoir chronicles the world of the last generation of composers mentored by America’s great 20th century masters.

Hagen’s intimate narrative describes the teenage trauma of euthanizing his terminally ill mother at her request, and his struggles with depression and alcoholism before finding fulfillment as a father and husband. He offers vivid sketches of his many colleagues, friends and mentors, including Leonard Bernstein, David Del Tredici, David Diamond, JoAnn Falletta, Lukas Foss, Otto Luening, Gian Carlo Menotti, Paul Muldoon, Vincent Persichetti, Ned Rorem, Paul Sperry, Virgil Thomson, Michael Torke, Gore Vidal and Stephen Wadsworth.

Daron’s memoir is available from McFarland and Company. Pre-order here.


Duet with the Past is an unsparing and bleakly beautiful memoir from composer, conductor and operatic polymath Daron Hagen that takes him from his haunted childhood in Wisconsin to the upper echelons of musical life in New York and Europe. It is rich intellectual history, filled with privileged anecdotes about legends and near-legends, but especially valuable for the narrative candor of the author, who has seen much and taken care to remember it all for us, no matter how it may ache.”—Tim Page, Pulitzer Prize-winning music critic, editor, biographer, memoirist, University of Southern California

“It is a rare privilege to experience a glimpse into the inner world of a great artist, and Daron Hagen has opened the door to his life in a memoir of searing honesty and unguarded intimacy. Daron leads us through a journey that begins in a brilliant, talented but dysfunctional family, into the treacherous depths of the ruthless competition and political machinations of the classical music scene, to a search for a happiness that often seems unattainable. Filled with anecdotes of countless musical luminaries, Duet with the Past is irresistible in its revealing candor and charm- an unforgettable journey into the private world of one of our country’s greatest composers.”—JoAnn Falletta, conductor Buffalo Philharmonic

“In an age suffused with memoir, it is rare indeed to read a book that is both ruthlessly honest and beautifully written. Duet with the Past is not only the chronicle of a brilliant young man who survived a family that, for decades, was haunted by death; it is also a cautionary tale that shows, with painful accuracy, the sacrifices needed to maintain a classical-music career in a brutally unforgiving business. Every young American composer should read it.”—Russell Platt, composer and ASCAP Deems Taylor Award-winning music critic, Vanderbilt University

Earlier Event: April 16
Chamber Symphony
Later Event: June 7
Reading / Book Signing