Lee Hoiby continued the neo-Romantic tradition of Samuel Barber and Gian Carlo Menotti (under whom he studied), forging an idiom that is both melodic and accessible. He studied piano under Gunnar Johansson and Egon Petri, originally planning to become a pianist, but Menotti invited him to study composition at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. Early on, he recognized Hoiby's potential, manifested by his first opera The Scarf, performed at the opening of the 1957 Spoleto Festival. He followed this in 1959, with Beatrice, writing an oratorio, A Hymn of the Nativity, the next year. His next opera, Natalia Petrovna (revised as A Month in the Country in 1981), commissioned by the New York City Opera, was premiered in 1964. His next opera was Summer and Smoke (1971). In 1974, he wrote another oratorio, Galileo Galilei. In 1982, his children's opera Something New for the Zoo had its world premiere; The Tempest, commissioned by the Des Moines Metro Opera, was performed in 1986. In 1992, he premiered another oratorio, For You O Democracy, to a text by Walt Whitman. He was also a distinguished song composer and arranger folk songs. In 1994, he wrote a song cycle, What Is the Light, on Virginia Woolf texts. His setting of Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech "Free at Last," as well as five Whitman poems, premiered in 1995. He also continued to compose instrumental works with a particular focus on the piano, including two piano concerti, a sonata for cello and piano, and the ballet suite After Eden.