Fred Lerdahl

(b. 10 March 1943, Madison, Wisconsin).

American composer of mostly orchestral and chamber works that have been performed in the Americas and Europe; he is also active as a writer.

Prof. Lerdahl studied with James Ming at the Lawrence University Conservatory of Music in Appleton, Wisconsin, where he earned his BMus in 1965, and with Milton Babbitt, Edward T. Cone and Earl Kim at Princeton University, where he earned his MFA in 1967. He then studied with Wolfgang Fortner at the Hochschule für Musik Freiburg in Freiburg im Breisgau in 1968–69, on the Fulbright Scholarship. He worked at IRCAM in Paris in 1981, 1984 and 1991. He received an honorary doctorate from the Lawrence University Conservatory of Music in 1999.

Among his honours are the Koussevitzky Composition Prize (1966), the Composer Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1971, 1988), the Guggenheim Fellowship (1974–75), the Recording Award of the Walter W. Naumburg Foundation (1977), the Martha Baird Rockefeller Recording Award (1982), the Creative Arts Award from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs (1989), a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities (1991), a research fellowship from the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in Stanford, California (1993–94), the Lucia R. Briggs Distinguished Achievement Award from Lawrence University (1996), and the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Special Recognition Award (2002). He has received annual awards from ASCAP since 1984 and has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 2010.

As a writer, his books are A Generative Theory of Tonal Music (1983, second edition 1996, with linguist Ray Jackendoff, MIT Press), Tonal Pitch Space (2001, Oxford University Press) and Composition and Cognition: Reflections on Contemporary Music and the Musical Mind (2019, University of California Press). In addition, he has written numerous articles about computer-assisted composition, music cognition and other topics for various publications. He has served as a consulting editor to the music journal Music Perception since 1983 and to the music journal Musicæ Scientiæ since 1999.

He is also active in other positions. He served as composer-in-residence at the Marlboro Music School and Festival in Vermont in 1967–68, the American Academy in Rome in 1987–88, the Wellesley Composers Conference in 1988, the Bowdoin International Music Festival in Brunswick, Maine in 1995, the Yellow Barn Music Festival in 2006, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra in 2006–07, June in Buffalo in 2012, the Etchings Festival in Auvillar, France in 2013, the Beijing Modern Music Festival in 2013, MIAM in İstanbul in 2014, Musica Nova in Helsinki in 2015, and Boston University in 2016–17. He has served on the board of directors of the Koussevitzky Music Foundations since 1979, served as its vice-president from 1985–2014 and has served as chair of its board since 2014. He has served on the advisory council of the section in the USA of ISCM since 1986 and as a composer advisor to the American Composers Orchestra since 1993. He served on the board of trustees of Composers Recordings, Inc. from 1994–2003 and has served on the board of directors of the Alice M. Ditson Fund since 1994 and as its secretary since 2007.

He taught as an assistant professor of music at the University of California, Berkeley from 1969–71, as an assistant professor and later associate professor at Harvard University from 1971–79 and as an associate professor at Columbia University from 1979–85. He then taught at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor from 1985–91, where he was Professor of Music from 1988–91. He again taught at Columbia University from 1991–2018, where he was the Fritz Reiner Professor of Musical Composition from 1994–2018 and co-directed the Computer Music Center from 1994–98. He taught as a visiting professor at Yale University in 1981 and at Boston University in 1985.

His publisher is Schott Music.


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Chords, large orchestra (12 winds, 11 brass, harp, piano, percussion, violas, cellos, double basses), 1974–83 (also version for small orchestra [13 players], 2018)

Cross-Currents, large orchestra (12 winds, 10 brass, harp, piano, percussion, strings), 1987

Waves, small orchestra (8 winds, 2 French horns, strings), 1988

Without Fanfare, small orchestra (12 winds, 11 brass, 3 percussion), 1994

Quiet Music, large orchestra (12 winds, 11 brass, harp, piano, percussion, strings), 1994 (also version for 2 pianos)

Spirals, orchestra (8 winds, 2 French horns, 2 trumpets, piano, percussion, strings), 2006

Arches, cello, small orchestra (22 players), 2011 (version of chamber work)

Time and Again, small orchestra, 2014


String Trio, violin, viola, cello, 1966

Imitations, flute, harp, viola, 1977, revised 2001, 2020

First String Quartet, 1978, revised 2008

Waltzes, violin, viola, cello, double bass, 1981

Episodes and Refrains, flute, oboe, clarinet, French horn, bassoon, 1982

Fantasy Etudes, flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano, percussion, 1985

Marches, clarinet, violin, cello, piano, 1992

Time after Time, flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano, percussion, 2000

Imbrications, flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano, percussion, 2001

Oboe Quartet, oboe, violin, viola, cello, 2002

Duo, violin, piano, 2005

Third String Quartet, 2008

Second String Quartet, 1982–2010

Arches, cello, ensemble (flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, French horn, trumpet, trombone, harp, 2 violins, viola, double bass, piano, 2 percussion), 2010 (also version for cello, small orchestra [22 players])

There and Back Again, cello, 2010

Times 3, violin, cello, piano, 2012

Give and Take, violin, cello, 2014

Chaconne (String Quartet No. 4), 2016

Three Bagatelles, guitar, violin, 2016

Duo for Cello and Piano, cello, piano, 2017

Cyclic Descent, piano, ensemble (flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, French horn, trumpet, percussion, violin, viola, cello, double bass), 2018

Reflection, flute, clarinet, piano, 2020


Cornstalks (text by Richard Wilbur), 8 mixed voices, 2012


Wake (text by James Joyce), soprano, harp, violin, viola, cello, 3 percussion, 1967–68

Aftermath (dramatic cantata, text by the composer), soprano, alto, baritone, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, harp, 2 violins, viola, cello, double bass, 1973

Eros (text by Ezra Pound), mezzo-soprano, alto flute, harp, electric guitar, viola, bass guitar, piano, 2 percussion, 1975

Beyond the Realm of Bird (text by Emily Dickinson), soprano, orchestra (8 winds, French horn, trumpet, trombone, harp, piano, percussion, strings), 1981–84

The First Voices (text by Jean-Jacques Rousseau [translated by John H. Moran, Alexander Gode]), soprano, mezzo-soprano, alto, 8 percussion, 2007

Fire and Ice (text by Robert Frost), high soprano, double bass, 2015


Piano Fantasy, 1964

Quiet Music, 2 pianos, 2001 (version of orchestral work)

Three Diatonic Studies, 2004–09

Embedded Loops, 2 pianos, 2020

Inner Life, 2 pianos, 2021

Solitude, 2 pianos, 2022


First String Quartet (original version). Juilliard String Quartet (Composers Recordings, Inc.: CRI 551, 1987 [reissued as New World Records: NWCR551, 2007])

Waltzes; Fantasy Etudes; Eros; Wake. Bethany Beardslee, soprano; Beverly Morgan, mezzo-soprano; Rolf Schulte, violin; Scott Nickrenz, viola; Fred Sherry, cello; Donald Palma, double bass; Robert Beaser/Musical Elements; David Epstein/Boston Symphony Chamber Players; Fred Lerdahl/Collage (Composers Recordings, Inc.: CRI 580, 1991 [reissued as New World Records: NWCR580, 2007; partially reissued as Bridge Records: 9269; partially reissued as Bridge Records: 9391; partially reissued as New World Records: NWCRL378])

Waves. Orpheus Chamber Orchestra (Deutsche Grammophon: 435 389-2, 1992 [partially reissued as Bridge Records: 9191])

Fantasy Etudes. eighth blackbird (eighth blackbird, 1999)

Time after Time; Marches; Oboe Quartet; Waves. Antares; La Fenice; Jeffrey Milarsky/Columbia Sinfonietta; Orpheus Chamber Orchestra (Bridge Records: 9191, 2006 [partial reissue of Deutsche Grammophon: 435 389-2])

Cross-Currents; Waltzes; Duo; Quiet Music (original version). Rolf Schulte, violin; Scott Nickrenz, viola; Fred Sherry, cello; Donald Palma, double bass; James Winn, piano; Paul Mann/Odense Symfoniorkester (Bridge Records: 9269, 2008 [partial reissue of Composers Recordings, Inc.: CRI 580, New World Records: NWCR580])

String Trio; Piano Fantasy. Robert Miller, piano; members of The Composers Quartet (New World Records: NWCRL319, c. 2009)

First String Quartet (revised version); Second String Quartet; Third String Quartet. Daedalus Quartet (Bridge Records: 9352, 2011)

The First Voices. Frank Epstein/New England Conservatory Percussion Ensemble (Naxos Records: 8.559684, 2011)

Eros. Beverly Morgan, mezzo-soprano; Fred Lerdahl/Collage (New World Records: NWCRL378, 2011 [partial reissue of Composers Recordings, Inc.: CRI 580, New World Records: NWCR580])

Spirals; Three Diatonic Studies; Imbrications; Wake; Fantasy Etudes. Bethany Beardslee, soprano; Mirka Viitala, piano; eighth blackbird; Michel Galante/Argento Ensemble; David Epstein/Boston Symphony Chamber Players; Scott Yoo/Odense Symfoniorkester (Bridge Records: 9391, 2013 [partial reissue of Composers Recordings, Inc.: CRI 580, New World Records: NWCR580])

Cornstalks. New York Virtuoso Singers (Soundbrush Records: SR 1027, 2013)

There and Back Again. Anssi Karttunen, cello (Toccata Classics: TOCC0171, 2013)

Episodes and Refrains; Quiet Music (second version); Times 3; Time and Again. Quattro Mani; Weiss–Kaplan–Stumpf Trio; Windscape; Roberto Abbado/Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra (Bridge Records: 9484, 2017 [partially reissued as Bridge Records: 9486])

Quiet Music (second version). Quattro Mani (Bridge Records: 9486, 2017 [partial reissue of Bridge Records: 9484])

There and Back Again; Chaconne (String Quartet No. 4); Fire and Ice; Three Bagatelles; Arches (second version). Elizabeth Fischborn, high soprano; David Starobin, guitar; Movses Pogossian, violin; Tom Kraines, cello; Toke Møldrup, cello; Edwin Barker, double bass; Daedalus Quartet; Andreas Delfs/Odense Symfoniorkester (Bridge Records: 9522, 2019)