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Earl Kim (1920-1998) was born in Dinuba, California, the son of Korean immigrants. He was educated at Los Angeles City College, UCLA, and Harvard. His principal teachers included Schoenberg, Ernest Bloch, and Roger Sessions.

Kim received considerable recognition as a composer, including commissions from the Koussevitzky Foundation, the University of Chicago, and Boston University and grants from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. He was also active as a pianist (including lieder recitals with Bethany Beardslee, Benita Valente, and Dawn Upshaw), vocal coach, and conductor, and was a co-founder and past president of Musicians Against Nuclear Arms.

Kim is especially well-known for his work in the idiom of music theater, specifically on texts by Samuel Beckett. Representative works include Exercises en Route, Narratives, Eh Joe and the one-act opera Footfalls. Kim died of lung cancer at his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at the age of 78.

The composer provided the following note:

While serving as a combat intelligence officer in the U.S. Army Air Force, I flew over Nagasaki on August 10, 1945, just 24 hours after the bomb was dropped. On August 8, 1981, some 36 years later almost to the day, Now and Then was complete in its first version for voice and piano. Although each of the songs was conceived in a day, the years that intervened between their completion and Nagasaki seemed to have been necessary before they could be set down.

The texts which I finally settled on cover a range of poetic images dealing with the death of friends, the innocence and vulnerability of daffodils, the loneliness of one's final moment, and Chekhov's prophetic vision of an earth which for thousands of years… has borne no living creature.

The present version of Now and Then for soprano, flute, harp, and viola received its first performance in Chicago on January 22, 1982, with soprano Elsa Charleston and the Chicago Contemporary Chamber Players conducted by Ralph Shapey. It was commissioned by the Department of Music of the University of Chicago and dedicated to Paul Fromm in celebration of his 75th birthday. The dedication is uniquely appropriate for a man who gave lifelong support to the creation and performance of new American music.