The music of Daron Aric Hagen is notable for its warm lyricism, but his style defies easy categorization. While his works demonstrate fluency with a range of twentieth century compositional techniques, those procedures are secondary to his exploitation and expansion of the possibilities of tonal harmony, giving his music an immediacy that makes it appealing to a wide spectrum of audiences. His music is broadly eclectic, drawing on a variety of styles as diverse as jazz, Broadway, Latin music, Italian verismo, and soft rock. While Hagen works with consistent success in a number of genres, the foundation of his oeuvre is the art song, a form that highlights his melodic and dramatic talents, exemplified by Dear Youth (based on American Civil War stories) and Songs of Madness and Sorrow. His teacher Ned Rorem famously stated of him, "Daron is music."
Born in Milwaukee in 1961, Hagen began his musical studies at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, continuing his education at the University of Wisconsin, the Curtis Institute of Music, and the Juilliard School. Hagen's teachers include such prominent composers as Ned Rorem, Joseph Schwantner, David Diamond, Witold Lutoslawski, and Leonard Bernstein. Already known for song cycles composed in the 1980s that demonstrated his gift for lyrical and dramatically astute text setting, Hagen turned to opera with Shining Brow (1990-1992), a musical evocation of the life of architect Frank Lloyd Wright, with a libretto by poet Paul Muldoon. Other stage works include Vera of Las Vegas (a "nightmare cabaret opera"), Bandanna (an opera scored for wind ensemble, loosely based on Othello), and he has received a commission from the Seattle Opera for a new work, Amelia. Other commissions include pieces for the New York Philharmonic, the Curtis Institute of Music, the University of Wisconsin, the King's Singers, pianist Gary Graffman, violinist Jaime Laredo, and cellist Sharon Robinson.
In the late '80s and throughout the '90s, Hagen gained a reputation as an enthusiastic mentor, teaching at Princeton University, the Curtis Institute, Bard College, New York University, and the City College of New York. Hagen's numerous honors and awards include the Bearns Prize from Columbia University, the Charles Ives Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Opera America's "Next Stage" Award, a Rockefeller Foundation Grant, and the Barlow International Composition Prize for Chamber Music.