Irving Fine (1914-1962), for whom MacDowell’s Irving Fine Studio is named, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, where he studied piano, and received both bachelor's and master's degrees from Harvard University, where he was a pupil of Walter Piston. Fine was a conducting pupil of Serge Koussevitzky, served as pianist for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and studied composition with Nadia Boulanger at the Fontainebleau School of Music in Paris and at Radcliffe College. From 1939 until 1950, he taught music theory at Harvard and conducted its Glee Club, becoming a close associate of Leonard Bernstein, Igor Stravinsky and Aaron Copland. From 1950, he taught at Brandeis University, where he was Walter S. Naumburg Professor of Music and founded the School of Creative Arts. Between 1946 and 1957, he also taught composition at the Tanglewood Music Festival in the Berkshires.
Among Fine's compositions are a violin sonata; a string quartet; Fantasia for string trio; Music for Piano; Partita for wind quintet; Toccata concertante for orchestra; Notturno for strings and harp; Serious Song, subtitled a "lament for string orchestra"; Diversions for piano and orchestra; and the Symphony (1962), which premiered at Tanglewood less than two weeks before his untimely death following a heart attack (Fine conducted the premiere when Charles Munch, who was originally to have conducted, fell ill).
Fine's choral works, which are frequently performed, include two sets of choruses from Alice in Wonderland; Childhood Fables for Grown-ups, settings of various poems about his composer friends, including Leonard Bernstein, Lukas Foss, and Harold Shapero; The Choral New Yorker, The Hour-Glass, McCord's Menagerie, and Mutability song cycles; and others. He also created choral arrangements of his colleague and friend Aaron Copland's Old American Songs.
Notable composition students of Irving Fine include Gustav Ciamaga, Noël Lee, Halim El-Dabh, and Richard Wernick. Towards the end of his life, Fine notably collaborated with Wernick on the musical Maggie, a work based on the Stephen Crane novel of the same name. A Professorship of Music at Brandeis University is named in Fine's honor.
Brandeis University is also home to the Irving Fine Society, founded in 2006 by music director Nicholas Alexander Brown. The society comprises the Irving Fine Singers and the Gifford 5, a woodwind quintet. The mission of the society is to perform "the music of 20th and 21st century composers who have made significant contributions to the longevity of classical music," frequently performing the music of its namesake, Irving Fine.
Fine's honors included two Guggenheim Fellowships, a Fulbright Research Fellowship, and awards from the National Institute of Arts and Letters and the New York Music Critics' Circle, among others, as well as numerous commissions.