He has received awards from ASCAP, Meet the Composer, the American Music Center and New Dramatists. His Ben Jonson Songs won Grand Prize at the San Francisco Song Festival and he has been honored with Copland House and Millay Colony residencies as well as commissions from the Estate Project for Artists with AIDS, the Five Borough Music Festival and the Sorel Foundation. Notable presenters of his music include: Guggenheim Works and Process, American Opera Projects, Mirror Visions Ensemble, New York Festival of Song, Harvard Ballet Company, Dancers Responding to AIDS, SongFest and New York City Opera’s Vox Series. His opera, A Letter to East 11th Street (with a libretto by Mark Campbell) was the first winner of the Domenic J. Pellicciotti Opera Composition Prize in 2014 and received a full production with the Crane Opera Ensemble at the State University of New York in Potsdam. He also won the 2016 University of Maryland Opera Competition and was commissioned to compose an adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s short story, The Young King, with librettist Tom Rowan for the young artists of the Maryland Opera Studio. 


He is currently working on a book of cabaret songs with composer/ lyricist Rachel J. Peters and a series of chamber operas with librettist, Stephen Kitsakos.  Two of these: An Incident in Sutton Square and The Woman in Penthouse A form part of a trilogy called Single Occupancies: Three Contemporary Opera Theatre Monologues that premiered to critical acclaim in January of 2020 at the Helmerich Theatre in Key West, FL (along with The Other Room by Marisa Michelson and Mark Campbell.)  An Incident in Sutton Square will also be staged in April of 2021 at the University of Tennessee Opera Theatre in Knoxville. Hennessy and Kitsakos are currently workshopping The Pleasing Recollection, a theatrical song cycle which chronicles the adventures of a young gay man in New York City in the early 1980's through the lens of his older self.

Strikingly, Hennessy’s path toward composing music began when he came out about a HIV/AIDS diagnosis in the early 1990’s. He was a core member of Positive Music which presented concerts highlighting HIV positive musicians and composers to bring visibility to the crisis in the classical music community during that period. He is still dedicated to telling the story of AIDS, such as in his chamber opera, A Letter to East 11th Street and in several songs contributed to the AIDS Quilt Song Book.

Other premieres include: Feeling the world as it passes through you/ 5 poems of Naomi Shihab Nye with SongFest 2019 at Zipper Hall, LA with soprano, Tory Browers, baritone, John Tibbetts and pianist, Bronwyn Schuman, The Good Friar (libretto: Mark Campbell) with Center for Contemporary Opera and Urban Arias, After Reading To Kill a Mockingbird/Five Movements for Cello and Piano at Strathmore Hall with cellist Raman Ramakrishnan, Ruminations for baritone, clarinets and piano at Westminster Choir College with baritone, Elem Eley and clarinetist, Bruce Williamson and music for Tom Rowan’s play, The Blue Djinn at Fresh Fruit Festival. Through his concert series, Martin Hennessy is dead!, he self-produced his opera The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle (libretto: Paul Sills and Arnold Weinstein) and Renascence, a half hour song cycle for vocal quartet and piano based on Millay’s long poem.


A keen interest in language and poetry together with his exemplary accompaniments, continue to make Hennessy, a highly prized recital partner. He held a two year conducting/coaching fellowship at Juilliard’s American Opera Center and served on the faculties of the Bel Canto Seminar, the Musicians’ Club of America opera training program and Bennington College. In addition to studies at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and the Juilliard School with Sam Sanders and Marshall Williamson, he earned a degree in English magna cum laude at Columbia University.


Recordings can be found on Newport, Albany, GRP and Affetto. Many of his songs are available through Classical Vocal Reprints. 


Visit Hennessy's link at the Song of America website for a more down to earth and personal story of the composer's life in music.

Martin Hennessy is a prolific composer of art song and chamber opera. Devoted to building a bridge between American music-theater and opera, he approaches text like a method actor, thoroughly memorizing then rehearsing the scene. After many years as a collaborative pianist and vocal coach, he has an intimate understanding of the voice, setting words not only based on prosody and scansion but with an ear for the sweet spot in each singer’s range. Listeners often describe his music as a breath of fresh air.


He eschews the current vogue of extended recitativo and prefers to give legs to a story. He mines and re-invents the structures of song and dance without sacrificing rhythmic complexity or the constant curiosity of his compositional program. Whether he is experimenting with neo-classical, madrigal, tone rows or a rhumba, his music unleashes melody, movement, drama, and spirit.


Martin Hennessy

About Me