George Rochberg

George Rochberg, one of America’s most important post-serialists who nonetheless once espoused dodecaphonic orthodoxy, is remembered now as one of the first firmly established American composers to change course midstream during the 1960s and reject both serial techniques and other presumed cerebral approaches to composition. Following his “return” to a modern version of the aesthetics of Romanticism and neo-Romanticism that had been discarded by most composers–especially within the academy–he was often quoted for his conviction that “there can be no justification for music, ultimately, if it does not convey eloquently and elegantly the passions of the human heart.”  By then he had come to believe that the failure of so much new music in the 20th century was owed, at least in large measure, to its shunning of dramatic and emotional expressiveness in favor of minute “abstract design for its own sake.” But even as early as 1959 it would appear that he was seeking to distance himself from the scientific or mathematical connections to composition then fashionable in certain circles. “Music is not engineering,” he wrote in a personal letter to a friend and colleague, “and I stick fast to my conviction that music retains a deep connection with existence as we feel rather than think it.”

Born in Paterson, New Jersey, Rochberg studied piano as a child. During his teen years, his interests expanded to include jazz and composition, and after earning a degree at Montclair State Teachers College, he studied at the Mannes College of Music, in New York, where George Szell was among his teachers. In 1945, following a hiatus necessitated by his wartime service in the United States Army, he resumed studies at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia as a pupil of Gian Carlo Menotti and Rosario Scalero–subsequently joining its faculty–and then received a master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania, where he later served as a professor until 1983.