Ellis Bonoff Kohs (May 12, 1916 – May 17, 2000) was an American
composer, theory textbook author, and Professor at the University of
Born in Chicago to Pauline Bonoff, a school teacher of Russian Jewish extraction, and Samuel C. Kohs, Ellis grew up in San Francisco, where he undertook his early musical studies at the San Francisco Conservatory. In 1928, his family moved to New York where he entered the Institute of Musical Art. He continued his studies at the University of Chicago, studying composition with Carl Bricken. After he completed his master's degree there in 1938, he returned to New York and enrolled at the Juilliard School, where he studied composition with Bernard Wagenaar. He also studied composition with Walter Piston, and musicology with Willi Apel and Hugo Leichtentritt at Harvard University. During World War II, Kohs conducted the Army and Air Force bands at Fort Benning, Georgia, St. Joseph, Missouri, and Nashville. After the war, he joined the faculty of Wesleyan University, where he taught composition from 1946 to 1948, and the Kansas City Conservatory, where he taught during the summers of 1946 and 1947.
He moved to California in 1948 and undertook teaching positions at the College of the Pacific, and at Stanford University. He began teaching at USC in 1950 where he remained on the faculty for 38 years, serving as chairman of the music theory department for several years.
Kohs' stage works include Amerika (1969), an opera based
on Kafka's novel, Lohiau and Hiiaka, a choreographed setting of a
Hawaiian legend, and incidental music for Shakespeare's Macbeth (1947).
His orchestral works include a Concerto for Orchestra (1942), a
Cello Concerto (1947), a Violin Concerto (1980) and two
symphonies (1950 and 1957). His vocal works included settings of Navajo
songs and The Lord Ascendant, based on The Epic of Gilgamesh.
He also composed solo and chamber music.
A recording of Kohs' music, including the Chamber Concerto,
Passacaglia for Organ and Strings, Toccata for Harpsichord
or Piano, Short Concert for String Quartet, and Sonatina
for Violin and Piano was released on Composers Recordings, Inc.
© 1986 Bruce Duffie
This conversation was recorded on the telephone on March 5, 1986. Portions were broadcast on WNIB the following May, and again in 1993 and 1998. This transcription was made in 2020, and posted on this website at that time.
To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.
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.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.