Peter Talbot Westergaard was born in 1931 at Urbana, and studied music at Harvard and at Princeton, where he is now a professor of music, teaching composition and theory.
"I could certainly tell you I never had any pressure to be an engineer like everybody else," Peter asserts. "My father, after all, had come from a family where people had done lots of things. His grandfather had been an Indic philologist, one of the first to translate cuneiform. His father was a statistician. We've done different things, although we have all been professors. Perhaps the real family trait is talking. My sense was Mary was not told 'Don't be a scientist, you're a girl.' I, on the other hand, was not told 'You've got to be a scientist because you're a boy.'
"In the long run, in fact, I wasn't so different from everybody else in the family.... I wasn't just a composer -- I was also a theorist, and I guess that was a family bent too. As I looked at some of my father's papers and read some I thought, 'Huh, yeah, he writes like me. I'm a little more conversational, but, oh no, I have reverted to type after all!"'
While still an undergraduate at Harvard, Peter began summer studies in composition at Aspen, Colo., with Darius Milhaud, one of the famous 'French Six' 20th-century composers. After graduating in 1953, Peter went to Paris to continue his studies with Milhaud at the Conservatoire National. "I came back and instead of returning to Harvard, which everybody expected me to do, I went to Princeton, which was the enemy on the other side of town." After receiving a master's in fine arts from Princeton in 1956, Peter won a Fulbright to Germany, where he stayed to be a Fulbright professor at the Staatliche Hochschule fur Musik for a year.
He returned to teach at Columbia for eight years, then taught at Amherst, and "eventually came to Princeton, which is where I've been ever since." On two occasions -- 1974-78 and 1983-86 -- Peter chaired the Music Department at Princeton. He has also held visiting appointments at the University of British Columbia and the University of Bahia, Brazil. "My theoretical interests are pretty much in the family tradition, that is, I have a passion for looking for the abstraction that will fit all cases. My reputation as a theorist is along those lines. As a composer I have been particularly interested in opera. I've also been active as a director of opera and a translator of opera. So the fact that the Krannert Center is sitting where Grandfather's house stood is quite appropriate."
Public performances of Peter's work began in 1953 with the Harvard Music Club's production of Charivari, a chamber opera. In the 1950s and early 1960s Peter composed more than a dozen pieces, mostly instrumental and vocal works, such as Invention for Flute and Piano (1955), Cantata II, "A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London" (1958), Quartet for Violin, Vibraphone, Clarinet, and Violoncello (1960), Trio for Flute, Violoncello, and Piano (1962), and Variations for Six Players (1963). In 1965, he finished Mr s Mrs Discobbolos, a chamber opera after Edward Lear, which was subsequently performed in many cities in the U.S. (including Urbana, 111., in 1977), and abroad. In the early 1970s, he began work on his third opera, The Tempest, a project which was to be his central concern for the next two decades, and which received its premiere at the Opera Festival of New Jersey in July 1994. A compact disc, soon to be released by C.RI., includes Mr & Mrs Discobbolos, Divertimento on Discobbolic Fragments, and Ariel Music (five extracts from The Tempest recast for high soprano and ten instrumentalists). He has also translated into English the vocal parts of several well-known operas: The Magic Flute, Don Giovanni, Der FreischŸtz, Cosi fan tutte, The Marriage of Figaro, and Cinderella.
Phil and Mildred Talbot attended the July 1994 premiere of their cousin Peter's opera, The Tempest, which is based on Shakespeare's last play. "I t was a marvelous production," Phil asserts. "We thoroughly enjoyed it."
Peter has also designed and built sets, including a German forest with 30 ft tall trees for Der Freischutz. "For The Magic Flute, I designed and built a dragon with flapping wings that flew down from the balcony, over the heads of the audience, in pursuit of Tamino," he says. "I guess that was the closest I ever got to being an engineer!"
Commenting on the use of computers in music, Peter says the only way he uses them is to print the final score. "My students use computers to produce sound -- even to decide on which note comes next. I find their methods intriguing, but they're not for me."
Peter has also written a book entitled An Introduction to Tonal Theory (Norton, 1975) and several articles on music theory. "The book was supposed to be our 'country home'," Peter's wife says. "And it does sell, both as a college text and a reference work, but we don't have a country home yet. He grumbles he'll never write another book!"
Peter's wife, Barbara Ann (Jay) Westergaard, is a writer and freelance editor of articles and scholarly books. Her father, Byron Jay, "grew up in Detroit, when Detroit was a small town, before the automobile," Peter relates. "His father was a coal and ice merchant there. As a matter of pride, all his trucks were white -- they had to be washed down every night. But Byron, whom I knew well, almost always worked for the A&P [Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co.] and rose to be president and CEO. A remarkable person."
Barbara studied economics at Vassar (B.A. 1951) and at Harvard (M.S. 1953). "I met her because we both were sent to the Salzburg seminar as American delegates. This is a remarkable outfit, still going -- a series of seminars for European students, professionals, journalists and the like in various American studies. We went there as assistants. We were expected to do what the European students wouldn't do, namely, interrupt the professors. She went in economics and I went in music, and that was the beginning of our acquaintance. We met in Salzburg, in a beautiful 18th century palace."
Barbara assisted Robert Gutman (a sociology professor at Rutgers and also an architecture professor at Princeton) on research projects, and helped him write a book on the sociology of architecture entitled People and Buildings (Basic Books, 1973). "She's also the author, and this is what most folks know about her, of New Jersey: A Guide to the State (Rutgers University Press, 1987). Anybody who ever travels to New Jersey has to read it," Peter claims. Barbara is currently working on the second edition, due to be released in 1997. The best way to check the accuracy of the Guide is to visit the places she writes about. "I put a lot of miles on my car the first time," she says, "and I'll be doing more of that again." She's also contemplating writing on other topics, such as experimental social communities that have been established in New Jersey. One of these is the Japanese community in southern New Jersey, founded by Seabrook Farms after World War II.
Peter and Barbara live in Princeton, N.J. They have two daughters: Elizabeth ("Liz") Westergaard, who is married and has one child, and Margaret ("Maggie") Westergaard.
Liz Westergaard, born in 1961, has a degree in history from Duke (1982). She has also trained as a costume designer. Peter's maternal grandmother's interest in the stage "also comes out in her," Peter says. "Liz has designed costumes for a couple of operas that I produced. She's now working as a designer of children's clothing in New York. She's married and has two sons, Jason Ashe Kilbourne, born in 1993, and Peter Kent, born in July 1994. Her husband, Thomas Kilbourne, has a family firm in Princeton, N.J. They handle all the robes that people use for graduation and pins for community service and hospital service.
Maggie Westergaard, born in 1964, has a degree in English from Kenyon (1986). Maggie is not married. Until recently, she worked for a pharmaceutical company, but became interested in graphic design, and is now earning a second degree in computer graphics at Mercer County Community College.
Mary Talbot Westergaard --
Dorothy Newell Talbot
Table Of Contents