Daniel Pinkham has created his unique "sound" from varieties of energetic, propulsive rhythms, and brilliant polyphony, while preserving a sophisticated, appealing, and modern harmonic sensibility that thoroughly suits his often subtle religious subjects. Pinkham earned his B.A. and M.A. at Harvard University, where he studied composition, conducting, and theory with Tillman Merritt, Walter Piston, Archibald Davison, and Aaron Copland. At Tanglewood, he studied with Arthur Honegger and Samuel Barber, and he took private instruction from Nadia Boulanger. His instrumental training was with Putnam Aldrich and the legendary Wanda Landowska, who taught him harpsichord, and with the equally famous E. Power Biggs, from whom he mastered the organ. His early compositions of this period (before 1950) are all in a neo-Classical style.
He then became a faculty member at Simmons College and Boston University and was a visiting lecturer at Harvard University. Pinkham is also the music director emeritus at Boston's historic King's Chapel, where he actively served for 42 years and, since 1959, has been on the faculty of the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, MA. There he is both a lecturer and the chairman of the department for the performance of early music.
After 1950, Pinkham began to use serial techniques combined with strong, rhythmically driven polyphony. These works, many with religious subjects, combine twelve-tone melodies surrounded by tonality, as in the Wedding Cantata for chorus and orchestra (1956); the Christmas Cantata (1957); the Easter Cantata (1961); the Requiem (1963); the Stabat Mater (1964); St. Mark Passion (1965); Jonah for mezzo soprano, tenor, bass baritone, chorus, and orchestra (1967); The Song of Jephtha's Daughter for soprano and piano (1963); Eight Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins for baritone and viola (1964); the Letters From St. Paul for soprano or tenor and organ (1965); as well as the first two (1961, 1962) of his four symphonies and the Concertante for organ, celeste, and percussion (1963).
His later pieces explore considerably more complex harmonic constructions and progressions, although maintaining the tight overall structures of his previous works; working with Robert Ceely, he also began to include electronics in combination with acoustic instruments. These compositions include the Ascension Cantata for chorus, woodwinds, and percussion (1970); Safe in Their Alabaster Chambers for mezzo-soprano and tape (text by Emily Dickinson, 1972); Concerto for Organ (1970); and Lessons for harpsichord (1971).
Pinkham is a prolific composer who has also created concerti for piano, piccolo, violin, and trumpet; several theater works and chamber operas; many tape and electronic pieces; and scores for approximately 20 television documentaries. He has been awarded Fulbright and Ford Foundation fellowships and is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has received an honorary doctor of literature degree from Wesleyan University, as well as honorary doctor of music degrees from the New England Conservatory, Adrian College, Westminster Choir College, Ithaca College, and the Boston Conservatory.