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George Rochberg, 1999 Photograph by Brian H. Peterson


1918 born July 5th 1918 in Paterson NJ.

1935-1939 Attends Montclair State Teachers College (now Montclair State University) in New Jersey, where he meets his future wife, Gene Rosenfeld.

1939-1941 attends Mannes College of Music, where he studies with Hans Weisse, from whom he not only learns composition, but also absorbs Weisse’s teaching principles, whose method does not impose his own compositional style, and allows his students to find their own voice.

1941 marries Gene Rosenfeld, an actress who studied with Jasper Deeter at the Hedgerow Theatre in Rose Valley, PA.

1941-1945 is drafted into the Army and serves as a Second Lieutenant, Infantry, during the Second World War.

1944 son Paul is born while George is away serving in the Army. Paul is 9 months old when George first meets him.

1948-1954 attends the Curtis Institute of Music under the G.I. Bill, where he studies composition with Rosario Scalero, and also teaches.

1950-1951 wins the Rome Prize and a Fulbright fellowship, and becomes a Fellow of the American Academy in Rome. Convinced of the “inevitability” of 12-tone composition, he begins writing serial music.

1951-1960 is Director of Publications at Theodore Presser Company.

1952 birth of George and Gene’s second child, Francesca (now Catherine and William L. Magistretti Distinguished Professor of Near Eastern Studies at UC Berkeley). Francesca becomes one of the first women to be awarded a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship in 1982 (the so-called “genius” award), and is elected a member of the American Philosophical Society in 2008.

1953 the Galimir Quartet premieres String Quartet No. 1.

1956 George and children in Mexico City, where he writes Dialogues (for clarinet and piano), commissioned by the Koussevitzky Foundation.

1959 Symphony No. 2 (1955-56) premieres with the Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell. The work is widely considered as one of the best American symphonies in 12-tone style, and a later recording with the New York Philharmonic and Werner Torkanowsky goes on to win the Naumburg Recording Award in 1961.

1959 Cheltenham Concerto is awarded First Prize in Italian ISCM International Music Competition.

1960-1983 joins the faculty at University of Pennsylvania, where he serves as Chairman of the Music Department for several years (1960-68), and remains until his retirement.

1962 the sculptor Wharton Esherick dedicates one of his wooden music stands to George, carving the initials of the two friends into the piece (the stand has now been donated to the collection of memorabilia in the Rochberg Room at Montclair State University).

1962 receives an honorary Doctorate from his alma mater, now known as Montclair State University, the first of 6 such awards in the ensuing years: Philadelphia Musical Academy (now the University of the Arts), 1964; University of Pennsylvania, 1985; University of Michigan, 1980; Curtis Institute of Music, 1988; Miami University of Ohio, 1994.

1964 his son Paul, a talented poet, dies aged 20. Following this, George finds that his grief and anger cannot be adequately expressed through serialism, which leads him, over the next few years, to return to tonality and abandon serialism as being devoid of emotion and unable to express fully the human condition.

1965 writes Contra Mortem et Tempus (for violin, flute, clarinet, piano), which is premiered that summer by the Aeolian Quartet at Bowdoin College in Maine. In his notes on the work, George comments on the difficulties, after the loss of his son, of expressing his emotional struggles in his music without a major change in his approach.

Sculpture: Christopher Cairns, 2005, Cairns Studio, Havertown, PA. Photo: Brian Peterson

1972 String Quartet No. 3 is premiered by the Concord Quartet, and comes to be regarded not only as the turning point in Rochberg’s abandonment of serialism in favor of tonality, but also acts as a catalyst for change in academic musical circles, giving “permission” to many composers to write as they feel and want to, rather than as they are expected or required to.

1979 wins a Kennedy Center Friedheim Award for String Quartet No. 4 (the first of the so-called “Concord Quartets”, Nos. 4, 5, 6).

1979 writes String Quartet No. 7 for baritone and string quartet, using poetry by Paul Rochberg.

1982 The Confidence Man, with libretto by Gene Rochberg based on the novel by Herman Melville, premieres at Santa Fe Opera.

1983 retires from the University of Pennsylvania as Emeritus Annenberg Professor of the Humanities.

1984 “The Aesthetics of Survival” is first published by the University of Michigan in hard back. A revised and expanded paperback edition comes out in 2005.

1990 George and Gene form Muse of Fire Press to publish “Poems and Stories” by Paul Rochberg

1995 The Paul Sacher Archive in Basel, Switzerland, contacts George and invites him to send his manuscripts to establish a Rochberg Collection, as they want to expand their large archive of European composers to include some Americans. Packing up these materials coincides with George and Gene’s move from their suburban Philadelphia home to a retirement community nearby. Photo: Michael Garber

1998 String Quartet No. 3 is nominated for Grammy award (Concord Quartet, New World Records).

1998 George visits Presser to work with Editor Daniel Dorff on the publication of American Bouquet, a collection of compositions for guitar, inspired by American popular songs from the pre-World War II era, which George greatly enjoyed.

1999 Receives ASCAP Lifetime Achievement Award

2002 premiere of the revised and restored version of Concerto for Violin takes place with Peter SheppardSkaerved, Violin, and the Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Christopher LyndonGee. Originally premiered in 1974 with Isaac Stern in Pittsburgh, the subsquent recording was made with cuts and changes suggested by Stern, which George never fully accepted.

2004 Symphony No. 5 is nominated for a Grammy award (recorded on Naxos with the Saarbrücken Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Christopher Lyndon-Gee)

2005 a revised, expanded edition of “The Aesthetics of Survival” is published in January, which includes an “envoi” from the composer. The book wins the ASCAP Deems Taylor Award in 2006, presented posthumously to Gene by Paul Moravec at a ceremony in New York.

2005 George passes away on May 29, and is buried next to his son in the cemetery of the Washington Memorial Chapel in Valley Forge National Historic Park outside Philadelphia. His gravestone bears the inscription “CONTRA MORTEM ET TEMPUS”.

Posthumous publications: 2007 “Eagle Minds: Selected Correspondence of Istvan Anhalt and George Rochberg (1918-2005)” published by Wilfrid Laurier University Press

2009 “Five Lines, Four Spaces” memoirs, published by University of Illinois Press

2012 “A Dance of Polar Opposites: The Continuing Transformation of Our Musical Language”, published by University of Rochester Press


George and Gene at home

�Rochberg� Photo: Helen Mirkil

George with Anthony Gigliotti, for whom he wrote his Concerto for Clarinet

George with Sally Pinkas and Evan Hirsch after a performance of Circles of Fire at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, 1998.

George with James Freeman, Gerald Levinson, George Crumb, and David Finko at the 80th birthday concert for George, presented by Orchestra 2001 in Swarthmore, PA, 1998

selected works Chamber and Solo


American Bouquet Versions of Popular Music for Solo Guitar Sale: 114-40631

Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra -- 25’

Electrikaleidoscope for an Amplified Ensemble Fl. Cl. Vln. Vcl. Pno.(El.Pno.) Rental

-- 20’

Imago Mundi for Large Orchestra

Octet, A Grand Fantasia

-- 23’

3(Picc.) 3(E.H.) 3 (B.Cl.) 3(Cbsn.) - 4 3 3 1; Timp. 3Perc. Hp. Cel. Str. Rental

Fl. Cl. Hn. Pno. Vln. Vla. Vcl. Cb. Rental

Symphony No. 2

Ricordanza Soliloquy for Cello and Piano -- 12’

3 3 3 3 - 4 3 3 1; Timp., Perc., Str. Rental

Sale: 114-40179

Slow Fires of Autumn (Ukiyo-E II) for Flute and Harp -- 18’

Symphony No. 6 for Large Orchestra

Violin Concerto

The “Concord Quartets”:

3 3 3 3 - 4 3 3 1; Timp. 2Hp. Cel. Str. Rental

-- 35’

-- 36’

Choral and Vocal

-- 27’

Eleven Songs to Poems of Paul Rochberg for Mezzo-soprano and Piano -- 18’

Sale: 416-41100

String Quartet No. 6

-- 28’

-- 27’

Sale: 416-41099

String Quartet No. 5

-- 22’

4 4 5 4 - 4 4 3 1; 2Timp. 3 Perc. 2 Hp. Cel. Str. Rental

Sale: 114-40245

String Quartet No. 4

-- 26’

3(Picc.) 3(E.H.) 0 3(Cbsn.) - 4 3 3 1; Timp. Perc. Cel. Hp. Str. Rental

Sale: 411-41053

-- 43’ -- 25’

Passions According to the 20th Century for Singers, Jazz Quintet, Brass Ensemble, Percussion, Piano and Tape -- 60’

To the Dark Wood for Woodwind Quintet - - 16’

Phaedra Monodrama for Mezzo-Soprano and Orchestra -- 35’

Sale: 416-41101

Summer, 1990 Piano Trio No. 3 Vln. Vcl. Pno. Sale: 114-40621

Sale: 114-40446

2 2 2 2 - 4 2 3 0; Timp. Perc. Str. Rental

Chamber Orchestra Cantio Sacra for Small Orchestra

-- 12’

2Ob.(E.H.) 2Tpt.(In C.) Ten.Tbn. Str. Rental

Cheltenham Concerto for Small Orchestra -- 15’ Dur: 12’ 1 1 1 1 - 1 1 1 0; Str. Rental

Music for the Magic Theater for Small Orchestra 1 1 1 1 - 2 1 1 1; Pno. Str. Rental

Sale: 416-41241

Songs in Praise of Krishna

-- 40’

Voice, Piano Sale: 411-41075

Keyboard Carnival Music for Solo Piano

-- 25’

Sale: 110-40612

Circles of Fire for Two Pianos

-- 73’

Sale: 410-41325

-- 30’

Nach Bach Fantasia for Harpsichord or Piano Sale: 110-40589

Sonata Seria for Piano Sale: 410-4133

-- 9’

-- 23’

Composer Scrapbook: George Rochberg  
Composer Scrapbook: George Rochberg  

George Rochberg - Composer Scrapbook