Vercoe, Elizabeth Website1 Website2
of Rockport, Massachusetts

"Elizabeth Vercoe is one of the most inventive composers in America today..." (Washington Post)

Fantasy for piano
10' $8.00 #040083 AP-121
Recording: Capstone 6714 & Navona Records

"A very free contemporary composition exploiting all the color and resources of a modern piano. An imaginative, intense fantasy." (Clavier)

The Fantasy is a dramatic, free-flowing piece for piano in six contrasting sections, written in the fall of 1975. Pianist Evelyn Zuckerman premiered the Fantasy at New England Conservatory where she was a faculty member.    The piece has also been performed at the St. Petersburg Spring Music Festival in Russia, and broadcast on French Radio.  Rosemary Platt has recorded the music on a Capstone CD.

Herstory II: Thirteen Japanese Lyrics
for soprano, piano and percussion
18' $11.00 #040059 AP-338
Recordings: Northeastern 221, Capstone CD 8613, &
Navona Records

"spare, reticent and suggestive" (The Boston Globe)

Gardner Read writes the following jacket notes for the Northeastern Records recording:

"Elizabeth Vercoe is a composer whose music reflects great sensitivity to sound materials. Her works are frequently brief, highly compressed-even aphoristic-expressions, generally with clear rhythmic foundations. It was characteristic of this composer that she sought out an exotic source for her texts, such as these haiku-like aphorisms by nine female poets of ancient Japan. Their musings on love-ecstatic, despairing, questioning, nostalgic-are deftly mirrored in Vercoe's concise and atmospheric settings. Each of the thirteen brief lyrics is treated in a distinctive manner... Piano and percussion together contribute an always apt and sensitive underpinning to the melodic vocal flow, the whole of Herstory II becoming the sum of its diverse but invariably relevant parts."

Herstory III: Jehanne de Lorraine (Joan of Arc)
for soprano and piano
23' $15.00 #040060 AP-339

Recording: Owl Recording CD 35

"The most powerful work I know by a woman on a feminist theme." (Washington Post)

"This extraordinary work would be a wonderful second half for any vocal recital." (The NATS Journal)

Herstory III was commissioned by Austin Peay State University in Tennessee and was premiered there in 1986. The composer writes: "My monodrama on the 19-year-old Joan of Arc is based on writers from Shakespeare and Shaw to Mark Twain and Christine de Pisan. Documents from Joan's trial show her faith and her sharp tongue which emerge as fresh today as in 1429, the year of her trial and death. The piece is intended as a dramatic performance with lighting and costume, and is in twelve sections. There are set pieces, combinations of speech and music, some special effects (gong, finger cymbals, woodblock and use of mallets or fingers directly on the piano strings) and a return to the spare simplicity of the beginning in the concluding prayer."

Irreveries from Sappho
for mezzo or soprano and piano
7' $8.00 #040134 AP-741

Recording: Capstone CD 8714, Leonarda CD 338, & Navona Records


Irreveries from Sappho
SSA and piano
7' $3.00 #040003 AP-503

"hugely funny, elegant" (St. Louis Dispatch)

The titles are: Andromeda Rag, Older Woman Blues, and Boogie for Leda.

Irreveries from Sappho is wickedly satiric and full of musical jokes and parodies. The composer comments: "Although Sappho's poetry is over 2500 years old, it seems remarkably up-to-date. Its wit calls for whatever musical sleight of hand a composer might muster: thus, the use of popular idioms and hidden tunes (Turkey in the Straw, Auld Lang Syne), as well as the more respectable tricks of the trade, such as counterpoint and recitative. Sappho's three women have clearly distinctive voices, but all three bespeak a fierce pride."


God Be in My Head
Women's or mixed chorus, finger cymbals and keyboard
$1.25 #040019 AP-519

This short piece based on the text of the beautiful and familiar prayer from the Sarum Rite is a choral arrangement of the piece concluding the composer's monodrama on Joan of Arc, Herstory III.

Sonaria for Cello Alone
8' $8.00 $040103 AP-713

"skillfully exploits the qualities and possibilities of the instrument" (The Jewish Advocate)

Sonaria (1980) is one of a series of introspective pieces for unaccompanied instruments. Each of these pieces makes some use of special effects on the instrument in order to create the wanted atmosphere. Here, there is a recurrent low plucked pedal tone and a brief, nostalgic theme that recurs ponticello and in harmonics. Since the music was written as commentary on an imagined video, the listener is invited to "screen" those private images sometimes evoked by music instead of hastily suppressing them and trying to "pay attention." The mood of the piece is at times tongue-in-cheek but for the most part is entirely serious.


Balance: Duo for Violin and Cello
19' $9.00 #040102 AP-712

The Duo is in three movements: a fast opening movement with Bartokian string effects, an atmospheric slow movement of theme and variations, and a very fast and largely contrapuntal finale.


Three Studies for piano
(intermediate) 3' $5.00 #040084 AP-122

"It is a pleasure to meet these three arresting pieces."
(The Piano Quarterly)

The Three Studies were written for the composer's most talented piano students in the early 1970's, and received a professional premiere at Boston University in 1975, the year they were published.  Teachers have sometimes used these imaginative pieces in piano classes with different students playing the three different movements. The titles are: Mirrors, Daydream, and Fugue.

score sample (pdf)


A native of Washington, D.C., Elizabeth Vercoe has been a composer at the St. Petersburg Festival in Russia and at the Cite des Arts in Paris and has written music on commission for the Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra, Wellesley College, and various ensembles and soloists. She completed a doctorate at Boston University where she was a student of Gardner Read, and held the Acuff Chair of Excellence at Austin Peay State University in 2003. Recently her music was performed at Tanglewood and was one of five pieces on a concert at Lincoln Center's Bruno Walter Hall celebrating the 75th anniversary of the American Music Center

One of the first composers published by Arsis Press, the catalog includes her Fantasy and Three Studies for piano; Balance for Violin and Cello; Sonaria for cello; Herstory II: Thirteen Japanese Lyrics for soprano, piano and percussion; Herstory III: Jehanne de Lorraine (Joan of Arc) for soprano and piano; Irreveries from Sappho for voice and piano, or SSA and piano; and God Be in My Head for chorus. Two all-Vercoe discs are now available from Parma Recordings that include the Fantasy, Irreveries, and Herstory II among other works. Other music is recorded on Centaur, Owl, Capstone, Parma, and Leonarda compact discs, and additional scores are available from Plucked String Editions, Noteworthy Sheet Music and Certosa Verlag in Germany.

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