George Rochberg

George Rochberg, (July 5, 1918, Paterson, New JerseyMay 29, 2005, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania) was an American composer of contemporary classical music.


Rochberg attended the Mannes College of Music, where his teachers included George Szell and Hans Weisse. He was the chairman of the music department at the University of Pennsylvania until 1968, and continued to teach there until 1983. His students include Stephen Albert, Maria Bachmann, William Bolcom, Uri Caine, Robert Carl, Daniel Dorff, Vincent McDermott, Michael Alec Rose, and Robert Suderburg.


After a period of experimentation with serialism, Rochberg abandoned it after 1963 when his son died, saying that serialism was empty of expressive emotion and was inadequate to express his grief and rage. By the seventies he had become controversial for the use of tonal passages in his music. His use of tonality first became widely known through the String Quartet No. 3 (1972), which includes an entire set of variations that are in the style of late Beethoven. Another movement of the quartet contains passages reminiscent of the music of Gustav Mahler. This use of tonality caused critics to classify him as a neoromantic composer. He compared atonality to abstract art and tonality to concrete art and compared his artistic evolution with Philip Guston's, saying "the tension between concreteness and abstraction" is a fundamental issue for both of them (Rochberg, 1992).

Of the works composed early in his career, the Symphony No. 2 (1955-56) stands out as an accomplished serial composition by an American composer. Rochberg is perhaps best known for his String Quartets Nos. 3-6 (1972-78). Rochberg conceived Nos. 4-6 as a set and named them the "Concord Quartets" after the Concord String Quartet, which premiered and recorded the works. The String Quartet No. 6 includes a set of variations on the Pachelbel Canon in D.

A few of his works were musical collages of quotations from other composers. "Contra Mortem et Tempus", for example, contains passages from Pierre Boulez, Luciano Berio, Edgard Varèse and Charles Ives.

Symphonies Nos. 1, 2, and 5, and the Violin Concerto were recorded in 2001–2002 by Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra and conductor Christopher Lyndon-Gee and released on the Naxos label.


Rochberg's collected essays were published by the University of Michigan Press in 1984 as The Aesthetics of Survival. A revised and expanded edition (Rochberg, 2005), published shortly before his death, was awarded an ASCAP Deems Taylor Award in 2006. Selections from his correspondence with Canadian composer Istvan Anhalt were published in 2007 by Wilfrid Laurier University Press (Gillmor, 2007). His memoirs, Five Lines, Four Spaces, are scheduled for publication by the University of Illinois Press in 2009.



  • The Confidence Man, an opera in two parts (1982); libretto by Gene Rochberg, based on the novel of the same name by Herman Melville


  • Symphonies
    • Symphony No. 1 (1948-57; revised 1977)
    • Symphony No. 2 (1955-56)
    • Symphony No. 3, for double chorus, chamber chorus, soloists, and large orchestra (1966-69)
    • Symphony No. 4 (1976)
    • Symphony No. 5 (1984)
    • Symphony No. 6 (1986-87)
  • Cantio Sacra, for small orchestra (1954)
  • Cheltenham Concerto, for small orchestra (1958)
  • Imago Mundi, for large orchestra (1973)
  • Night Music, for orchestra with cello solo (1948) (based on 2nd movement of Symphony No. 1)
  • Music for the Magic Theater, for small orchestra (1965-69)
  • Time-Span I (1960)
  • Time-Span II
  • Transcendental Variations, for string orchestra (based on 3rd movement of String Quartet No. 3)
  • Zodiac (A Circle of 12 Pieces), (1964-65) (orchestration of the piano work Twelve Bagatelles)


  • Clarinet Concerto (1996)
  • Oboe Concerto (1983), written for and premiered by Joe Robinson
  • Violin Concerto (1974), written for and premiered by Isaac Stern with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Andre Previn conducting
  • Eden: Out of Time and Out of Space, for guitar and ensemble (1998)

Wind ensemble

  • Black Sounds, for winds and percussion (1965)
  • Apocalyptica, for large wind ensemble (1964)


2 players

  • Duo for Oboe and Bassoon (1946; rev. 1969)
  • Duo Concertante, for violin and cello (1955-59)
  • Dialogues, for clarinet and piano (1957-58)
  • La bocca della verita, for oboe and piano (1958-59); version for violin and piano (1964)
  • Ricordanza Soliloquy, for cello and piano (1972)
  • Slow Fires of Autumn (Ukiyo-E II), for flute and harp (1978-79)
  • Viola Sonata (1979)
  • Between Two Worlds (Ukiyo-E III), for flute and piano (1982)
  • Violin Sonata (1988)
  • Muse of Fire, for flute and guitar (1989-90)
  • Ora pro nobis, for flute and guitar (1989)
  • Rhapsody and Prayer, for violin and piano (1989)

3 players

  • Piano trios
    • Piano Trio No. 1 (1967)
    • Piano Trio No. 2 (1986)
    • Piano Trio No. 3 Summer (1990)
  • Trio for Clarinet, Horn, and Piano (1980) see recording below

4 players

  • String quartets
    • String Quartet No. 1 (1952)
    • String Quartet No. 2, with soprano (1959-61)
    • String Quartet No. 3 (1972)
    • String Quartet No. 4 (1977)
    • String Quartet No. 5 (1978)
    • String Quartet No. 6 (1978)
    • String Quartet No. 7, with baritone (1979)
  • Contra Mortem et Tempus, for violin, flute, clarinet, and piano (1965)
  • Piano Quartet (1983)

5 or more players

  • Chamber Symphony for Nine Instruments (1953)
  • Serenata d'estate, for six instruments (1955)
  • Electrikaleidoscope, for an amplified ensemble of flute, clarinet, cello, piano, and electric piano (1972)
  • "Quintet" for piano and string quartet (1975)
  • Octet: A Grand Fantasia, for flute, clarinet, horn, piano, violin, viola, cello, and double bass (1980)
  • String Quintet (1982)
  • To the Dark Wood, for wind quintet (1985)


  • 50 Caprice Variations, for violin (1970)
  • American Bouquet, for guitar (1991)


  • Arioso (1959)
  • Bartokiana (1959)
  • Book of Contrapuntal Pieces for Keyboard Instruments (1979)
  • Carnival Music, for piano (1976)
  • Four Short Sonatas, for piano (1984)
  • Nach Bach: Fantasia, for harpsichord or piano (1966)
  • Partita-Variations, for piano (1976)
  • Sonata Seria, for piano
  • Sonata-Fantasia, for piano (1956)
  • Three Elegiac Pieces, for piano
  • Twelve Bagatelles, for piano (1952)
  • Variations on an Original Theme, for piano (1941)


  • Behold, My Servant, for mixed chorus, a capella (1973)
  • Blake Songs, for soprano and chamber ensemble (1957; rev. 1962)
  • David, the Psalmist, for tenor and orchestra (1954)
  • Eleven Songs to Poems of Paul Rochberg, for mezzo-soprano and piano (1969)
  • Fantasies, for voice and piano (1971)
  • Four Songs of Solomon, for voice and piano (1946)
  • Music for The Alchemist'', for soprano and eleven players (1966; rev. 1968)
  • Passions [According to the Twentieth Century], for singers, jazz quintet, brass ensemble, percussion, piano, and tape (1967)
  • Phaedra, monodrama for mezzo-soprano and orchestra (1973-74)
  • Sacred Song of Reconciliation (Mizmor L'piyus), for baritone and orchestra (1970)
  • Seven Early Love Songs, for voice and piano (1991)
  • Songs in Praise of Krishna, for soprano and piano (1970)
  • Songs of Inanna and Dumuzi, for alto and piano (1977)
  • Tableaux, for soprano, two speakers, small men's chorus, and twelve players (1968)
  • Three Cantes Flamencos, for high baritone (1969)
  • Three Psalms, for mixed chorus, a capella (1954)


External links



  • Gillmor (2007). Gillmor, Alan M., ed. Eagle Minds: Selected Correspondence of Istvan Anhalt and George Rochberg (1961–2005). Waterloo, Ont.: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2007. ISBN-13: 978-1-55458-018-7.
  • Rochberg (1992). Rochberg, George. "Guston and Me: Digression and Return." Contemporary Music Review 6 (2), 5–8.
  • Rochberg (2005). Rochberg, George. The Aesthetics of Survival: A Composer's View of Twentieth-Century Music. Rev. and exp. ed. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2005. ISBN-13 978-0-472-03026-2.

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