Composer Moross known by his work, but not by his name


Jerome Moross may be the most successful 20th century American composer few people have heard of, at least by name.

A contemporary of Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein, who were lionized in the rarified classical, dance, and opera worlds, Moross wrote music beloved by millions of movie-going Americans.

Even if they rarely waited through the credits of The Big Country, The Cardinal, Rachel, Rachel, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to catch his line, audiences streaming outdoors would have hummed or whistled Moross melodies.

On the small screen, every episode of the hit western series Wagon Train opened with his familiar theme music.

Jerome Moross was a Big Apple prodigy born in 1913. He began writing music at age 8 and graduated from New York University at 18, the same year he won a conducting fellowship at the Juilliard School. At 25, Moross became the youngest composer ever commissioned by the Columbia Composers Commission.

Yet Moross, who was actively composing and conducting from 1932 to 1979, didn t limit his musical vision to big and little screens.

He always wrote what he wanted to write, not what was in fashion at a given moment, said his daughter, Susanna Moross Tarjan, who manages the Moross Foundation in Miami, Fla.

He turned out ballet scores, a symphony, an opera, musicals, incidental music, and much chamber music, all revealing great verve, energy, and wonderful orchestration.

He had a lifelong love affair with America and his music reflects that, Tarjan said.

Yet, for all his brilliance and versatility, her father never gained the star quality that was enjoyed by Copland and Bernstein.

My father was a shy person in public and had no idea of how to promote himself. Despite his many successes and the many people who love his music, he did not receive the broad public acclaim he would have liked, Tarjan continued.

But when independent programmers such as Greg Kostraba, founder and president of Chamber Music Toledo, look for new works to bring before the public, Moross is a logical choice.

In the late 1990s, when I was producing the radio program, The Kostraba Conundrum, KOCH International Classics released two compact discs of Jerome Moross orchestral music. I was immediately captivated by what I heard and set out to explore more of the composer s music, said Kostraba, who has been classical-music director at WGTE-FM since 2002.

I discovered an LP from the early 1970s that contained the Sonatinas for Diverse Instruments, and found the Sonatina for Clarinet Choir particularly appealing, he adds.

And so, in his quest to continue innovative programming for the local series, now in its second season, Kostraba has dedicated his next concert to the composer.

Mostly Moross, set for 3 p.m. Sunday in the Maumee Indoor Theatre, will include the composer s Sonatina for Wind Quintet, the Sonatina for Contrabass and Piano, and the Sonata for Piano Duet and String Quartet.

Such interest and exposure delights Tarjan, a former musician who has devoted herself to promoting her father s body of work.

His symphonic music is not played often but the chamber music is performed frequently, internationally as well as in the United States, she said. The Golden Apple [an opera] is performed periodically, the last times being in San Francisco and at Bard College.

Frankie and Johnny, a musical, was performed in Chicago for Ruth Page s 100th birthday anniversary.

To learn more about Moross, go to, adds Tarjan.

Mostly Moross, the second Chamber Music Toledo series concert, is to begin at 3 p.m. Sunday in historic Maumee Indoor Theatre, 601 Conant St., Maumee. Tickets are $1 to $12 at the door.