The Ballad of Baby Doe was commissioned by the Koussevitsky Foundation of
the Library of Congress for the 200th anniversary of Columbia
University. Completed in 1956, it has become one of the most popular American
operas of the modern day. The story is a mixture of romance and frontier
rowdiness, a tale of wealth turned into poverty by the change of the silver
standard during the William Jennings Bryan era.
Douglas Moore was educated at the Hotchkiss School and Yale University (BA
1915, BM 1917), where he studied composition with Horatio Parker. He began to
write songs for social events, developing a gift for writing melodies in a
popular style. This skill was reinforced by further songwriting during his World
War I service in the US Navy (from 1917); the resulting collection, Songs My
Mother Never Taught Me (1921), co-authored with folk-singer John Jacob
Niles, brought Moore his first public recognition.
In 1926 Moore was appointed to the faculty of Columbia University, where he
became chair of the music department in 1940, remaining in that post until his
retirement in 1962. He gradually became one of the most influential figures in
American music, both as a teacher and as a director or board member of many
organizations, including ASCAP and the National Institute and American Academy
of Arts and Letters. Moore's papers include his professional and personal
correspondence, original scores and sketches, and production notes, libretti and
data concerning his major works.