Photo from 1983 or 84
by Marc Lieberman
Kryl for Solo Trumpet in C
b. 1917 - 1997
Robert Erickson was born in 1917 in Marquette, Michigan, where, as a youth he played violin, piano and flute. Drawn to composition in his teens, he found his principal teacher in Ernst Krenek, whom he met in Chicago in 1938. He followed Krenek to Hamline University in St. Paul, and worked with him until 1947, when he received his M.A. degree. Since then Erickson has taught at St. Catherine College (St. Paul), The San Francisco Conservatory, and, since 1966, the University of California at San Diego. Among his credits are several Yaddo Fellowships (1952, 1953, 1965), a Guggenheim Fellowship (1966), election as a Fellow of the Institute for Creative Arts of the University of California (1968), and a commission from the National Endowment for the Arts for a work for violin and orchestra (1976). His most recent book is Sound Structure in Music (1975). In 1981 he received an award from The American Institute of Arts and Letters.
Erickson has composed for a wide variety of instrumental and vocal combinations. In recent years he has worked in electronic music (usually employing musique-concrete procedures) as well. He was one of the first American composers to explore the resources of the twelve-tone system, and by 1943 his music had evolved to a less systematic type of atonal writing rooted in the rigors of imitative contrapuntal procedures. Through writing his book, The Structure of Music: A Listener's Guide to Melody and Counterpoint, he found himself "purged . . . of the contrapuntal obsession," and since then (1952) his music has been more intuitive, where "craft, thought and intuition are so merged that it is all one thing." In recent times his concerns have included expanded notions of instrumental and vocal timbre (of which General Speech is one example), increasingly flexible means of rhythmic articulation, and improvisation within controlled limits. His most recent music has shown an interest in melody intricately embedded in timbre and rhythm through hocket and hocketlike formations, along with a dense web of mostly microtonal ornament.
Further information in New Grove's Dictionary; Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Music and Musicians; International Who's Who inedia of Contemporary Music.