John LaMontaine, a Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer whose works were performed widely and included the orchestral music for John F. Kennedy's presidential inauguration, died April 29 at his home in Hollywood, Calif. He was 93.
The cause was Alzheimer's disease, said a nephew, Peter Coster.
Mr. LaMontaine's music was lyrical and for the most part traditional, with a neo-Romantic streak reflected in his embrace of poetry, American themes and the natural landscape. His compositions included a symphony inspired by the writings of Henry David Thoreau, an opera set in Colonial America and a piano concerto incorporating bird calls.
He was also noted for a single-minded determination to write music full time, without the long-term teaching commitments many composers typically assume.
Before achieving some renown in the late 1950s, Mr. LaMontaine passed the state licensing exam in New York to become a stockbroker. "I thought, what can I do that would earn me the most money in the least amount of time, so I can stop earning money and just write music?" he recalled in a 2003 interview. Poised to hang a broker's shingle in 1957, though, he received a foundation grant. He would go on to receive two Guggenheim Fellowships, grants from the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations, and many private commissions.
That year he received his first wide acclaim with a work he had written a decade earlier, "Songs of the Rose of Sharon," a song cycle for soprano and orchestra based on the Song of Solomon, which was performed by the National Symphony Orchestra, with the soprano Leontyne Price as soloist. In 1958 he completed his First Piano Concerto, which the Pulitzer jury cited for "true originality" in awarding him the 1959 prize for music.
The music Mr. LaMontaine wrote for the Kennedy inauguration in 1961, "Overture: From Sea to Shining Sea," performed by the National Symphony, was the first commissioned specifically for a presidential inauguration.
John Maynard La Montaine (he later eliminated the space in his surname) was born on March 17, 1920, in Chicago, one of three children of Sidney and Rhoda La Montaine. His father, a draftsman, died when he was an infant; his mother raised her children in Oak Park, Ill., on her salary from clerical and secretarial jobs.
Mr. LaMontaine received scholarships, and help from one of his high school math teachers, to attend the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, graduating in 1942. After four years in the Naval Reserve, he continued his music studies at the Juilliard School in New York City and at a conservatory in France before being hired as the pianist for the NBC Symphony Orchestra, where he served under Arturo Toscanini from 1950 until 1954.
An accomplished concert pianist, Mr. LaMontaine served in the 1940s and '50s as the piano accompanist to several opera stars. He began composing music in his early teens, and worked at his craft in his time off throughout his early working life. He did not tell Toscanini at first. Toscanini did not offer to perform any of his work, but did, he told interviewers, give him memorable advice.