Fred Lerdahl

Alfred Whitford (Fred) Lerdahl (born March 10, 1943, in Madison, Wisconsin) is the Fritz Reiner Professor of Musical Composition at Columbia University,[1] and a composer and music theorist best known for his work on musical grammar and cognition, rhythmic theory, pitch space, and cognitive constraints on compositional systems. He has written many orchestral and chamber works, three of which were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for Music: Time after Time in 2001, String Quartet No. 3 in 2010, and Arches in 2011.


Lerdahl studied with James Ming at Lawrence University, 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. At Tanglewood he studied with Arthur Berger in 1964 and Roger Sessions in 1966. He then studied with Wolfgang Fortner at the Hochschule für Musik in Freiburg/Breisgau in 1968-69, on a Fulbright Scholarship. Lerdahl was awarded an honorary doctorate from Lawrence University in 1999, and previously taught at the University of Michigan, Harvard University, and the University of California at Berkeley. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Lerdahl's maternal uncle was the noted astronomer Albert Whitford.

Lerdahl has written two books: A Generative Theory of Tonal Music (1983, second edition 1996, with linguist Ray Jackendoff, MIT Press) and Tonal Pitch Space (2001, Oxford University Press). He has also written numerous articles on music theory, music cognition, computer-assisted composition, and other topics.

Notable students of Fred Lerdahl include composers Zosha Di Castri, Huck Hodge, Arthur Kampela, Alex Mincek, Paul Moravec, Kate Soper, Wang Lu, and Nina Young; and music theorists Elizabeth Margulis and David Temperley.[2]


Lerdahl’s influences include the German classics, Sibelius, Schoenberg, Bartók, Stravinsky, Carter, Messiaen, and Ligeti. Lerdahl has said he “always sought musical forms of [his] own invention,” and to discover the appropriate form for the intended expression.[3] Writing in Fanfare, Robert Carl noted: "Lerdahl is a profoundly musical composer, engaged in all his work in a rigorous and respectful dialogue with tradition, eager to imbue his pieces with the maximum of both information and clarity."[4] Of Lerdahl's composition Waves, Phillip Scott wrote, "Waves is an orchestral scherzo. It conjures up (rather than depicts) the motion and the sense of waves, not merely of the oceanic variety but also those found on graphs: sound waves, heartbeats, and so on. It begins with a surge of activity and never lets up in its cascading scales and rapid figuration. Unlike Debussy's La mer, whose deep-sea swells it recalls only fleetingly, it has no moments of repose."[5]

List of Compositions[6]


Chamber Music







See also


  1. "Lerdahl, Fred", Columbia University
  2. See: List of music students by teacher: K to M#Fred Lerdahl.
  3. Schweitzer, Vivien (November 21, 2010). "Spiral Form and Other Compositional Modes of Fred Lerdahl",
  4. Carl, Robert (January–February 2007). "LERDAHL Time after Time.^ Marches.^ Oboe Quartet.^ Waves' • Jeffrey Milarsky, cond, Columbia Sinfonietta;' Antares;^ La Fenice;^ Orpheus CO • BRIDGE 9191 (60:24)". Fanfare (January–February 2007).
  5. Scott, Phillip (September 2006). "Classical Recordings: Lerdahl - "Time After Time"; "Marches"; Oboe Quartet; "Waves"". Fanfare. 30 (1).
  6. "Schott Music". Retrieved 2016-07-19.
  7. "The Living Composers Project". Retrieved 15 October 2010.
  8. "Time After Time". Retrieved 2016-07-19.
  9. "String Quartet No. 3". Retrieved 2016-07-19.
  10. "American Academy of Arts and Letters - Current Members". Retrieved 2016-07-19.
  11. ""Arches"". Retrieved 2016-07-19.

External links

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