Composer  Roger  Goeb

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Roger Goeb, 82, Who Composed For Orchestra and Taught Music

Published in The New York Times, January 12, 1997

Roger Goeb, a composer whose works were admired for their deft coloration and inherent lyricism, died on Jan. 3 at the Parker Jewish Geriatric Institute in Queens. He was 82 and lived in Rockville Centre, L.I.

Mr. Goeb composed prolifically for orchestra and chamber combinations, and from the late 1940's through the early 1960's his music was performed frequently. Leopold Stokowski gave the world premiere of his Third Symphony in a live broadcast concert in 1952 and later recorded it.

Mr. Goeb was also active in the American Composers Alliance, which supports the performance, broadcast and recording of contemporary works.

Mr. Goeb was born in Cherokee, Iowa, in 1914. After early piano studies, he took up the trumpet, French horn, viola, violin and woodwind instruments. At the University of Wisconsin, he played in jazz bands and completed a degree in agriculture.

But after hearing a Beethoven concert by the Budapest String Quartet, he decided to pursue his musical studies more seriously, and in 1938 he enrolled at the Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris, where he studied with Nadia Boulanger.

In 1939 he returned to the United States and continued his studies, privately with Otto Luening and at New York University, the Cleveland Institute of Music and the State University of Iowa in Ames, where he taught harmony, counterpoint and orchestration while completing his doctorate and the first of his five symphonies.

In the late 1940's he taught orchestral instruments at Bard College, and from 1946 to 1962 he taught a summer course at the Bennington Composers Conference in Vermont. He received Guggenheim Fellowships in 1950 and 1951.

Besides his symphonies, Mr. Goeb's works include violin and piano concertos, the ''American Dances'' for string orchestra, a quintet for trombone and strings and four string quartets. Family illness led him to give up composing for more than a decade, starting in 1964, but after the death of his wife and his son, both from multiple sclerosis, he began composing again. The last of his five symphonies was completed in 1981. He composed 25 more works by 1986, when his activity was limited by a stroke.

He is survived by his daughters, Marilou Goeb of Manhattan and Kathleen Richards of Chicago.

As part of my long series of interviews with American Composers, I was able to arrange a telephone conversation with Roger Goeb in mid-January of 1989.  Portions were presented on WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago, later in the year to celebrate his 75th birthday, and again both five and ten years after that. 

It is with great pleasure that I can now post the entire interview on this website.

Roger Goeb:    [Answering the phone... remember, this was long before Caller ID!]  Mr. Duffie!

Bruce Duffie:    Ah, yes, Roger Goeb!

RG:    You’re right on time!

BD:    Yes, those of us on radio tend to hit the time right on the nose.

RG:    Yes, sure.

BD:    Now’s a good time for our chat?

RG:    I guess so.  I always wondered about how entertaining these discussions are!  [Both laugh]

BD:    In most instances, the listeners seem to enjoy hearing the music and then also hearing some of the thoughts of the composer himself.

RG:    So how do you start, by posing questions?

BD:    We’ll just chat.  I have a number of questions that I like to ask, then other things will come up in the discussion, and if there’s something I don’t bring up that you want to talk about, please feel free to just drop it in.

RG:    Okay.  

BD:    You mentioned that you don’t know how entertaining this is, so let us begin right there.  How entertaining should concert music be?

RG:    I think it should be entertaining in several ways
— pleasant sound or a striking sound or inventive soundbut it should be entertaining into the area where it challenges the listeners somewhat to think, to feel, to respond.  I can’t be more specific than that because it’s been my experience that almost every listener has his own way of listening to music.  I found some people listen to color, for instance.  Other people listen to the mechanics of the manipulation by the composer, and other people listen emotionally with practically no recognition of what’s going on, excepting how they are reacting to the sound.  I don’t know.  I suppose there are hundreds of varieties of how people respond to music.

BD:    Are any of these ways of listening to music more correct than the others?

RG:    No, I don’t think there are any particular ways.  As a matter of fact, that’s one of the glories of music
— so many people could respond in their own way.  As far as a composer is concerned, he has to be entertaining in a whole variety of ways, as many as he possibly can... not just to rely only on technique, or on style, or method, or anything of that nature.  He has to show off a lot of things.  That’s my basic thought about that.

BD:    Where, then, is the balance between the entertainment value and the artistic achievement?

RG:    It’s again difficult to specify what
artistic achievement really means.  Think of the Histoire du Soldat of Stravinsky.  It’s a quite simple piece; quite angular; almost mechanical in the way it is presented by Stravinsky in the music.  I’ve seen so many performances of it with dance and spoken words, and so on and so forth, so you have a degree of invention.  But whether that is artistic invention, I wouldn’t know whether to specify it in that direction.  Taking it in another area, for instance a novelist, his craftsmanship may be perfectly obvious, but otherwise it might be so smooth that the reader wouldn’t even recognize the craftsmanship.  Then the entertainment value in the novel would at least have been part from the gist of the tale, and the story-tellers ability to make that exciting and interesting. 

BD:    Is this what you work for when you’re writing a piece of music
to make sure that the craftsmanship of your score is unobtrusive, and yet it’s there and will make the impact on the audience?

RG:    Pretty much, yes, especially since I have steered clear from a method.  I hope to write different pieces every time.  By the way, the pieces that you mentioned the other day that you had in your library, are all from the
50s.  The Fourth Symphony was first done in 1958.  It was written in about ’56, or something like that, and the Third Symphony was written around 1950, although it was first performed in 1952.

BD:    The other one that I have is the Louisville record, the Concertino Orchestra No 2.

RG:    That was, again, in the
50s I believe.  What I’ve done since is somewhat of the same genre because it’s my vocabulary, my methods, my intuition, if you will, as to what is interesting sound.  But it’s probably some different from what I was doing in the 50s.

BD:    Do you feel that it’s better, or just different?

RG:    Different!  [Both laugh]  I really don’t measure only what’s better.  There’s a new recording of a piece for two flutes that CRI has put out celebrating Otto Luening
’s 80th birthday.  The first piece on the record is Otto’s Trio for Three Flutes, and it’s a lovely, funny piece, particularly the last movement.  It’s a funny piece in that it’s one of those things that Otto does so well, which is to make it craftsman-like, elegant, interesting but also entertaining, following your principles you spoke of earlier.  My pieces are called Two Divertimenti for Two Flutes, and interestingly they followed Otto’s.  I am very pleased with them, and with the juxtaposition of those pieces, with Otto’s piece first and then mine.


See my Interviews with Ulysses Kay, and Harvey Sollberger.

BD:    You studied with Otto Luening?

RG:    Yes, sir!

BD:    What specifically did he teach you?

RG:    Basically to be yourself, to figure out your own scheme and your own method.  Very little of what he would say would be to lay down the rules, the kind of teaching I had with an earlier teacher.  For instance, Boulanger had much more strict notions of what a composer should do.  Otto was always much more in the freeing of the student to build up his own vocabulary, his own methods, his own instincts, with only an elbow here or a nudge there.

BD:    You’ve done quite a bit of teaching yourself.  Which of these two methods did you adapt into your teaching style?

RG:    In the craftsman area and the earlier studies, I was pretty strict because I appreciated Boulanger’s methods of strict study of solfège first, with concentrated study on counterpoint and things like that.  But also I appreciated Otto’s free nudging.

BD:    I’m a big fan of Otto Luening.   He was one of my early guests in this series, and I play his music a lot.

RG:    He’s an entertaining man, even now [in January of 1989] at 89.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    How did you divide your time between teaching and composing?

RG:    Oh, it’s terribly difficult.  I would do very little composing during the teaching year, and then would spend the time during the summers composing.  That was the system that I used early, and when I was teaching at the Juilliard, it was the intention of the administration to have us load up a very heavy first sixteen weeks of school year.  Then the second twelve-week period would be much lighter, allowing us more time for composing.  When I was working at the American Composers Alliance as book-keeper, etc., and with CRI, most years I would have some time off during the summer for composing.  But during the years there was practically no time or energy for composing.

BD:    You didn’t find that working with the students inspired you to your own materials?

RG:    Oh, possibly.  I also worked with Otto Luening at the so-called Bennington Composers Conference for many years.  It was a two-week session, where a dozen to twenty semi-pro composers would come to Bennington for a two-week period with professional performers form New York City.  They would spend the two-weeks up there, the performers getting practically no pay and the composers and staff getting absolutely nothing.  [Both laugh]  We did it for the love of music, and in that kind of connection, sometimes I would get very good ideas from these students, and it would help me to get down to writing again.  For instance, a friend of yours, Bill Karlins came there a couple of years and was a very good student.  Charlie Wuorinen was there for three or four years, and Donald Erb was there.  It was reported that those particular sessions, just the couple of years that he was there, changed his life and attitude.  So the connections there were very good and very interesting and very positive.

BD:    Were the pieces you wrote on commission, or were these pieces that you just simply had to write?

RG:    Using the phrase ‘having to write something’ is a little bit exaggerated.  In the last ten years now, I haven’t done any teaching at all.  I’ve been just composing, and I found that almost always while I’m doing one piece I will have an itch to do a different kind of piece.  I will want to get on to the next one before I’ve finished the first one, and it’s gone that way for the last ten years, give or take.  It isn’t a matter of ‘having to’.  It’s just a matter of wanting to try out something and wanting to change of pace.  If I do an orchestra work, I’d probably do a work for woodwind quintet, or a duo, or something like that to make a change.


BD:    So these are all pieces you feel just have to escape from your mind, so you work on them?

RG:    Yes, you have to work on them.  But it’s a matter of wanting to rather than having to.  I’ve enjoyed my ten years of composing just enormously.  Although I haven’t counted them, but there is somewhere around forty pieces, including ten to twelve orchestral works and innumerable chamber pieces, and so on and so forth.

BD:    Have these all been played?

RG:    No, that’s one of the things that I’ve often felt negligent about.  I do not have any talent for promoting my music.  I worked for ACA for six years, was desperately trying to help Henry Cowell (1897-1965) and Wallingford Riegger (1885-1961) and Alan Hovhaness (1911-2000) and others like that attain a degree of professional recognition
as much as a poet gets anyway — but I was not successful with that.  I was very disappointed when I left ACA because of that, but I found out that my successors since 1963 haven’t been any better promoting the music than I was!  [Both laugh]  So I don’t feel quite so badly about it, but I still don’t go around peddling my music.  If someone comes along and wants such a piece, if I have it in my catalogue I will gladly submit it to the guy.  Once in awhile I’ll receive a commission to do something, but most of the time it’s for my personal satisfaction.  I avoid the use of the world ‘pleasure’ because composing is as much frustration as it is pleasant.  I’ve come to recognize that if you have three or four days or maybe even a week of complete frustration, when an idea comes that does seem to work, it’s much more pleasurable because of the frustration!

BD:    It repays you then!

RG:    Yes, then it’s doubly satisfying when the thing comes through.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Let me pursue the business of music just a little bit.  Is it perhaps an impossible task to get contemporary music
new works or recent works — played as often as they should be?

RG:    It seems to be.  I know Wally Riegger and Henry Cowell were damn good composers, really.  I don’t remember how big a catalogue Wally had, but Henry had something like four or five hundred works of all kinds, and about the only thing that appears nowadays is Henry’s trick pieces
the pieces he wrote for just an idle inventionwhereas his bigger pieces, like his symphonies are rarely played.

BD:    Now all we hear are the Hymn and Fuguing Tunes.

RG:    Yes, that kind of thing, or the trick piano pieces that he was good at.  John Cage got notions from him, and Henry was a wondrous star at this kind of manipulation of the piano over and above what had been customary to use.  John Cage picked that idea up, and of course by that time had his own inventions.  But as far as determining a professional composer these days, it’s almost impossible.  For one thing there are so many composers.  Elliott Schwartz was the President of the American Association of University Composers, and at one time he was reporting that there were 10,000 members in that Association.  Mind you, these are only American composers!  Now goodness, gracious, when are 10,000 composers in this country alone going to get a hearing?  That’s the first thing, and secondly, who is going to take on the problem of choosing between which composers will be recognized, and which ones won’t.  You find some composers are very good at promoting their works.  I don’t know whether Mozart was good at promoting his works or not, but I understand that Beethoven was not very good at it, and Bach, of course, never had any thought of that kind of thing.  Gesualdo was kicked out of the church!  [Both laugh]

Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa (30 March 1566 – 8 September 1613) was an Italian musician, who was Prince of Venosa and Count of Conza. As a musician he is best known for writing intensely expressive madrigals and pieces of sacred music that use a chromatic language not heard again until the late 19th century. He is also known for his cruelty and lewdness: the best known fact of his life is his gruesome killing of his first wife and her lover upon finding them in flagrante delicto.

Gesualdo was not kicked out of the church... in fact he is buried within one:

Gesualdo died in isolation, at his castle Gesualdo in Avellino, three weeks after the death of his son Emanuele, his first son by his marriage to Maria. One 20th-century biographer has raised the possibility that he was murdered by his wife. He was buried in the chapel of Saint Ignatius, in the Church of the Gesù Nuovo, in Naples. The sepulchre was destroyed in the earthquake of 1688. When the church was rebuilt, the tomb was covered over, and now lies beneath it. The burial plaque, however, remains visible.

Perhaps Goeb was thinking about another composer, Alfonso Fontanelli (1557-1622), who (according to the Penguin Companion to Classical Music) wrote intense madrigals on a miniature scale, and was acquainted with Gesualdo.  Fontanelli was part of the Ferrarese Court, but was banished on a charge of murder.

BD:    So what advice do you have for any of these 10,000 composers?

RG:    Don’t hope for any success except in your own mind.  That’s what best I could give.  Now, we all, I suppose, have a hope that maybe one, or two, or ten pieces that we put out would eventually become part of the catalogue, but that is a 100-to-1 shot, really, in these times.

BD:    [Genuinely surprised]  Really???  Just a 100-to-1???  I would think it would be more a million-to-one!

RG:    [Laughs]  Well, I would guess that you would be closer to right than I am!  [Both laugh]

BD:    Well, are you optimistic about the whole future of concert music?

RG:    Yes.  [Not sounding so optimistic]  I have to be because I keep writing.  I have set it up that as long as copyright lasts on my works they will presumably be available through the American Composers Alliance, but it’s not a sanguine possibility.

BD:    Is it particularly pleasing to you to know that several of your pieces have been recorded?

RG:    In one sense, yes, because, for instance, the Third Symphony seems to be the one that has attracted the most attention over the past thirty-eight years. 

BD:    Is that solely because Stokowski conducted it?

RG:    No.  A great share of it was dependent upon the performers.  Stokowksi was doing that at a time when freelance performers in New York were doing very well.  They made very good livings on freelance work, and Stokowski had his choice of all those freelance guys.  I could run out the list of top-notch performers from Julius Baker (1915-2003) on the flute to Bob Bloom (1908-1994) on oboe straight down to the double bass that were performing my Third Symphony, and that in itself certainly made the record a more shining example of what ‘Stoki’ wanted.   It was the performers themselves that were so good.


BD:    You say it was what Stokowski wanted.  Is the recording what you wanted?

RG:    I used to debate that when it first came out.  I used to say that this is Stokowski’s record rather than my piece, but now, as I go over to the age of 74, I’m recognizing that probably Stokowski’s personality comes through, and that is, and should be, a part of music performance.  I’ve been trying to preach for years and years and years that the composer just puts down his spots, and the performer has to add his own ideas and make his own fashioning out of those spots to produce a piece as much as does the composer.  In other words, the performer is a real active component of the music production, and to answer an earlier question, that is one reason why concert music will continue.  Performers will keep on producing what they think is good.  But then I would go a step further, and say that you have a three part proposition here in music.  I am speaking of concert music production.  I don’t mean the pop stuff.  You have the composer and the performer, but you have also the need for a willing audience.  You need an audience that will spend the time listening to it, listening carefully, listening intelligently, depending upon the individual’s experience in listening to music in general.  But it’s a three-part show really
composer, performer, and the audience, and each of them is equally important.

BD:    Did you find that over the years you had responsive audiences?

RG:    Yes, I think so.  For the most part I have very small audiences very frequently.  [Laughs]  There was a piece last month
a duo for viola and clarinet, about a ten-minute piece — and there probably weren’t more than fifty people in the hall.  But I was so pleased with the performance because the performers themselves really put out, really produced their own feelings, particularly the second movement, and in one sense it proved to me that I’m still active!  I’m still creative enough to keep the performers excited and the audience responsive.

BD:    I’m glad that to know that the juices are still flowing!

RG:    Yes, I am too, because when you sit here, as I do, seeing people very rarely and going to concerts less and less every year now, I begin to wonder if I am in an Ivory Tower and nothing is possible.  But it’s good to have that kind of response.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    When you sit down and you write a piece, are you always in control of that pencil, or are there times when you feel that that pencil is really controlling your hand?

RG:    One gets an idea for the start of a piece, an imaginative idea, but I will sit for sometimes days, but sometimes weeks, too, and study that idea back and forth.  I will study it, trying to see what the elements are that will go, and be sure that they maybe will work out into a musical expression.  Now I would have to spend a lot of time to describe what I mean by a ‘musical expression’
, or musical significance or musical ideas.  But once I get settled on whether or not this is a pretty good idea, whether it’s a worthwhile idea, whether it can be manipulated into an articulate five- to eight- to ten-minute piece, then pretty well I know the parameters.  I know the elements in the idea, and from then on it’s more or less controlled in possession.  It has to be controlled, particularly in timing and in maintaining the craftsmanship.  But it leads from that original idea, and I don’t think the pencil really does it.  It’s the mind that does it.

BD:    You touched on the essence of a musical idea.  Would you talk a little bit about your ideas of music, and musical ideas?

RG:    When you’re discussing how people react to music, we proposed that there are all kinds of ways to listen to music.  I would have to say that it’s about the same when it comes to defining such a phrase as ‘musical significance’ or ‘musical expression’.  Everybody has his own idea, but there are certain generalities.  We all were brought up from childhood on with a certain kind of musical experience
from nursery rhymes to tunes, and so on, that we heard often enough in our infancy — so we pretty well have a general idea of what music is... excepting, of course, that when it comes to art music, many people don’t ever have that kind of experience.  They won’t take the time to listen to a piece of art music, or they will respond like a child I heard once say, Why listen to Beethoven?  He doesn’t even have words.  But musical experience, as from the arts side of it is concerned, you’ve only got to take my situation.  I came from a small town in Iowa.  I played instrumentstrumpet and piano and so onbut I’d heard mostly only jazz bands, where the music was certainly secondary to a lot of other things that were going on.  We had a band master in my high school that had four different town bands.  He would take certain lead performers along with him every night to his town bands within a forty or forty-five mile-radius of my home town, and we’d play in those town bands.  I’d never really heard art music until I got to college, and that was when I decided to become a musician.


See my Interviews with Jacob Druckman, and Harvey Phillips.

BD:    This brings up a topic that I like to ask composers, and that is the huge proliferation of music on recordings and on the radio.   Has this helped or hurt the concert music audience and the concert music composer?

RG:    It’s helped in one way, and then it’s limited in another.  For instance, the Concertino No. 2 that Louisville played should be a piece that most orchestras could play well.  Certainly, the Albany Symphony, the Seattle Symphony and all of these Class A orchestras, rather than Class AA like the Boston, the Philadelphia, or the New York, but not a single one of them has played that particular piece, or even inquired about it, as far as I know.  In a once sense, then, the recording probably harmed the composer.  Henry Cowell used to say that once a piece was recorded, no other conductor would bother to perform it because the conductor will think that if an audience wants to hear that piece, they can buy the record.  I don’t know whether I would go along with Henry to that great an extent, but it certainly has an element of truth in it.

BD:    But now we have this over-proliferation of recordings, especially of the standard repertoire.

RG:    That of course is nonsense, absolute nonsense, a commercial exploitation that doesn’t help music.  It doesn’t even help the audience because they get so tied up with whether this conductor does the work that much faster or that much slower than another conductor.  Then they hardly ever listen to the music itself. 

[At this point I needed to make an adjustment in the recording (!) of our conversation, and in our brief chit-chat I mentioned that I was learning a lot from our discussion.]

RG:    Well, always a teacher!  [Both laugh]

BD:    Since we’re talking very briefly about teaching and students, how, if at all, did the teaching of music change over your career?

RG:    I don’t think it changed very much.   When I went to Juilliard, the Galamians and other big-named teachers made a big stink about composers coming in to teach so-called L&M
Literature and Material coursesand they required so much time from their students that they didn’t have time to practice their scales the way they should!  That conflict is diminishing a little bit.   These kinds of teachers are dying off somewhat, and the newer ones are getting to allow the students a little more freedom, and even getting allowing their students to take a course just on how to play the fiddle.  [Laughs]

BD:    It seems apparent in the last twenty or thirty or forty years, that technical proficiency of performers has increased many, many fold.  Has the inspirational ability of the composing students also increased?


RG:    I wouldn’t say ability, but I would say variety, yes.  There are so many thousands of good composers, from the anonymous composers of the Gregorian Chant on, who are forgotten today, so I feel very humbled about trying to match my ideas about music with theirs.  Gesualdo was one of the great composers of all time, yet whoever hears of him nowadays!  Same for Isaac, or you could name dozens of them.

BD:    Josquin?

RG:    Right.  Josquin, Machaut, and so on and so forth.  This really answers your question about whether the performers technical proficiency is improving a little bit, but I don’t think it will follow that the composers’ ability will follow in the same way.  I don’t think composers’ abilities have advanced very much.  As a matter of fact, many of the so-called systems
like the twelve-tone systemhave limited a lot of composers.  But then I would say that many of the systems of the past probably limited a lot of the composers, too. 

BD:    Should we try to keep alive the music of Josquin and Machaut, and all of those others, as well as the great Baroque and Romantic and Contemporary composers?

RG:    I think so, yes, especially to try to break away from the concentration on nineteenth-century.  I think maybe it’s a little bit … there was an article in the The New York Times today about Paine and another nineteenth century American composer, both of whom are being recognized and not being sneered at as they used to be in the

BD:    Is this a good thing?

RG:    Yes, yes, very definitely.  Let’s not have a Beethoven performance on every concert, for goodness sake!  Beethoven’s a great composer.  So is Mozart, but they wrote dogs too!

BD:    How can we get the conductors not to continually program the Beethoven Fifth and Mozart Jupiter?

RG:    Ah, it’s a good question!  [Both have a huge laugh]  I don’t know.  For one thing, I would say that American orchestras damn well better choose American conductors pretty soon, and quit this business of chasing all over the world for somebody other than Americans to conduct our orchestras.  I’ve been preaching this a long time. 
Maybe it’s that American conductors don’t have quite the facility as some European conductors, or other conductors brought up in that tradition, but they damn well never will learn unless they have an orchestra.  It’s desperately needed for American conductors to have a chance to up their skills. 

BD:    What advice do you have for American conductors
young ones especially?

RG:    Some of them are going the right way by continuing to look for new pieces and continuing to try to learn new pieces that they find interesting.  I don’t think there’s any real
‘sesame word that I could use to help those conductors, except to jut just keep plodding away!

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    What is next on the calendar?  Are you continuing just to work on new pieces? 

RG:    Yes.  I finished an orchestra piece in July, and I finished a chamber orchestra piece in December, and I am now working on a piece for baroque flute and harpsichord.  That’s really a challenge for me because I’ve not never written for either one of them before.

BD:    So you’re learning as much as you are writing?

RG:    Oh, you have to, yes!  If you don’t progress, you die!  I think I heard Picasso say that once, but you keep on progressing, you keep on changing, you keep on learning, you hope, or at least you keep trying new things.

BD:    I’m glad that you are continuing to learn and continuing to produce new music.  I look forward to your new pieces.  I have the records of the Third Symphony, and the Fourth Symphony, and the Concertino.  Are there others that you feel would be especially representative of your work that I should try to find?

RG:    So many of those early records that were put out are no longer available.  Those made in the
40s and 50s are no longer in existence now.  The companies don’t continue.  That’s one of the reasons why, when we started CRI, we had a notion to keeping these records available to the audience as long as they weren’t mechanically obsolete.  That theory has proven itself because whereas RCA Victor put out my Third Symphony in ’52, by ’54 it was withdrawn. 

BD:    Then CRI re-issued it?

RG:    CRI luckily had the contract with RCA Victor so they could recover the tape and put out their own version of the thing.  Do you know the name Carter Harman?

BD:    No, I don

Carter Harman (1918–2007) was a composer, writer, and music industry executive. During World War II, Harman achieved particular distinction for his service in the U.S. Army Air Forces. He piloted the first mission by a U.S. military helicopter in a combat zone in 1944. In 1945, the U.S. Army awarded him the Distinguished Flying Cross for these efforts. Harman later rendered service to the music industry over a career spanning the 1940s through the 1980s. In 1981, BMI awarded him their Commendation of Excellence, and the American Composers Alliance awarded him their Laurel Leaf Award.

Harman was born in the New York City Borough of Brooklyn on June 4, 1918. He began musical studies at age nine by learning how to play the clarinet. After graduating from the Morristown School (now Morristown-Beard School) in Morristown, New Jersey, Harman received his bachelor's degree with high honors from Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey. During his time at Princeton, he studied under composer Roger Sessions, who won two Pulitzer prizes during his career. Harman served as music editor of the Nassau Lit, the college literary magazine at Princeton. He also participated in the choir and band.

Following his service in the U.S. military during World War II, Harman completed his master's degree at Columbia University in Manhattan in 1949. He studied under Otto Luening, a German-American pioneer of tape music and electronic music.

Before World War II, Harman flew Piper airplanes and Waco aircraft. In 1943, he completed air force training in class 43-C of an Army Air Corps training program in Texas. Harman then served as a flight instructor for primary training. He later joined the first class of helicopter pilots (five in total) of the U.S. Army Air Services. The group trained at Sikorsky Aircraft's headquarters in Stratford, Connecticut to learn to pilot the YR-4B, an early military helicopter. (The R stood for rotary aircraft.) The YR-4B carried no onboard weapons. It featured a cruising speed of 65 miles per hour and a range of 130 miles.

On April 21, 1944, the Japanese Imperial Army in Burma shot down a Stinson L-1 Vigilant rescue aircraft piloted by American Murphy Hladovack, which carried three wounded British soldiers. After a Stinson L-5 Sentinel aircraft spotted the group, the 1st Air Commando Group tasked Harman with rescuing them. His YR-4B was the only working helicopter among the four used by the group. The limited range of the YR-4B and small size of its cabin constrained how Harman managed the rescue operation. Harman had to transport the soldiers one by one to a liaison L-5 plane waiting at a designated sandbar and without the aid of weaponry. Over the span of two days, he ferried the soldiers to this plane to bring them to safety. The book Chopper: Firsthand Accounts of Helicopter Warfare, World War II to Iraq chronicles Harman's account of this first mission by a military helicopter.

Following World War II, Harman resumed his career as a music critic, which spanned two decades. He wrote articles for The New York Times (1947–1952) and Time Magazine (1952-1957). Harman also composed a ballet titled "Blackface", an opera titled "The Food of Love", and several children's songs. Recorded by Broadway star Mary Martin, his children's songs were released as the album Mary Martin Sings for Children.

Starting in the 1950s and continuing into the 1960s, Harman worked as a music critic in Puerto Rico. In 1956 he began his career as a record producer, working with Emory Cook, founder of Cook Records. In 1967, Harman joined Composer Recordings, Inc. (CRI), a producer of contemporary classical music (now part of New World Records), as their executive vice president. He later served as the company's executive director from 1976 to 1981.

During his music industry and writing career, Harman served as the sound recorder for the 1963 film Lord of the Flies. Directed by Peter Brook and produced by Lewis M. Allen, the film represented a British adaptation of William Golding's 1954 novel with the same name. Harman also authored three books. His first book discussed music history up through the Jazz Age. Harman's later books examined the West Indies, a collaboration with his wife, Helen Scott Harman and editors at Life magazine (1963), and building activities to construct skyscrapers.



Carter Harman, 88, Composer, Music Critic and Record Producer, Dies


Published in The New York Times, January 31, 2007

Carter Harman, a composer, music critic, author and record producer, died on Jan. 23 in Stowe, Vt. He was 88 and lived in Waterbury, Vt.

His death was announced by his daughter, Lisa Diomande.

Mr. Harman’s breadth of interests led him to write profiles of jazz greats like Duke Ellington and Rosemary Clooney while composing his own operas and symphonic works, and to write a children’s book about skyscrapers at a time when he was also producing recordings of avant-garde music. He worked for two decades as a music critic, first for The New York Times from 1947 to 1952, and for Time magazine from 1952 to 1957, and then in Puerto Rico through the mid-1960s.

His first book, “A Popular History of Music — From Gregorian Chant to Jazz,” was published by Dell in 1956. His other books include “The West Indies,” a collaboration with his wife, Helen Scott Harman, and editors at Life magazine (1963); and “A Skyscraper Goes Up” (1973). After he left Time, Mr. Harman was engaged to help Ellington write his autobiography and collected about 20 hours of interviews before withdrawing from the project when it became clear to Mr. Harman that he and Ellington were at cross purposes. “I thought I was writing the ‘secret’ Ellington,” Mr. Harman said in 1991, “and he had no such idea. He wanted to write a book that was a print version of the public Duke Ellington.”

Mr. Harman was born in Brooklyn on June 14, 1918, and began his musical studies as a clarinetist, at the age of 9. He studied composition with Roger Sessions at Princeton University, where he received his bachelor’s degree in 1940.

In World War II, he joined the Army Air Forces, becoming a helicopter pilot. In 1944, he was the first to accomplish a rescue by helicopter behind enemy lines, extracting three Allied soldiers from a jungle in Burma; an account appears in “Chopper” by Robert F. Dorr (Berkley, 2005). Mr. Harman was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

After the war, Mr. Harman resumed his musical studies at Columbia University, where he was a student of Otto Luening. He completed his master’s degree in 1949, and began composing, at Mr. Luening’s advice, with a group of simple children’s songs that were recorded by Mary Martin; the record was titled “Mary Martin Sings for Children.” But he wrote on a larger scale too: his catalog includes a ballet (“Blackface,” from 1947) and an opera (“The Food of Love,” 1949-51) and several orchestral works. He began to compose electronic music in 1954 and took it up again 20 years later, in “Alex and the Singing Synthesizer.”

In the mid-1960s, Mr. Harman became a record producer, with a special interest in contemporary music. In 1967, he became executive vice president of CRI Records, which specialized in works by American composers. He was the label’s executive director from 1976 to 1984.

RG:    After I left CRI, Carter Harman managed it for a great number of years until he was asked to retire three or four years ago.  When I was there we had sixty-eight LPs put out and, from that time on, CRI has put out some 500 others.  So Carter was doing an awful lot of that, but he was trying to manipulate the sound in some ways to make the earlier records appear as if they were stereo.

BD:    Oh, yes, electronically rechanneled.

RG:    Some of kind of thing like that, yes.  I’m not sure that he ever did anything with my Third Symphony, but I know the Fourth Symphony was put out first as a mono, and then was put out as a stereo record.  The Concertino [on Louisville Records] was done before stereo came out.  I just discovered a copy of the Violin Concerto that I had not known was ever recorded.  I didn’t discover it, but some people at the ACA office discovered it and they gave me the copies.

BD:    What label was that on?

RG:    It was never produced.  It was never put out commercially.

BD:    So it was made as a record but then never released?

RG:    Yes.

BD:    Is that a good recording?

RG:    I think it is quite good, yes.  The violinist is a fellow that everybody around seemed to have lost named Maurice Wilk.  Nobody seems to know what happened to him, whether he, like so many of the violinists or violists or cellists went out to teach because he was not able to make a good living in New York anymore.  But he was the violinist of that, and I think he did a very nice job with it.

Maurice Wilk was a well-known American violinist who performed as a member of the Alma Trio from 1953 until his sudden death in February, 1963 at the age of 38.  He was the original violinist in the Bach Aria Group during the late 1940s. The other original members of the Bach Aria Group were Bernard Greenhouse (Cello); Menahem Pressler (Piano); and Robert Bloom (oboe). During the 1950s he was a faculty member at Columbia University in New York City.




BD:    [Noting the time]  It’s been just fascinating speaking with you.  I’m glad that you’ve allowed me to pick your brain for an hour.  It’s been most enjoyable and most enlightening.

RG:    Well, I thank you for the opportunity, and I think I’m probably running out of gas now myself!  [Both laugh]

BD:    Now that I have met you, at least on the phone, I’ll play your recordings on the air and then, for your 75th birthday later in the year, we’ll do a special program and play several of the recordings, and use parts of this conversation.

RG:    Very good.

BD:    I wish you lots of continued success, and I want to thank you for being a composer.

RG:    Thank you, sir.  Thank you for doing the work.  At one time I was running a small radio station about the way that I presume you are.  I know it’s a lot of work.


© 1989 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded on the telephone on January 15, 1989.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB later that year, and again in 1994 and 1999.  This transcription was made in 2016, and posted on this website at that time.  My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.  To read my thoughts on editing these interviews for print, as well as a few other interesting observations, click here.

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Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.