was an American composer.
He studied with Ernst Krenek
Ernst Krenek was an Austrian of Czech origin and, from 1945, American composer. He explored atonality and other modern styles and wrote a number of books, including Music Here and Now , a study of Johannes Ockeghem , and Horizons Circled: Reflections on my Music...
from 1936-1947: "I had already studied—and abandoned—the twelve tone system before most other Americans had taken it up." He influenced notable students Morton Subotnick
Morton Subotnick is an American composer of electronic music, best known for his Silver Apples of the Moon, the first electronic work commissioned by a record company, Nonesuch...
, Pauline Oliveros
Pauline Oliveros is an American accordionist and composer who is a central figure in the development of post-war electronic art music....
, Terry Riley
Terrence Mitchell Riley, is an American composer intrinsically associated with the minimalist school of Western classical music and was a pioneer of the movement...
, and Paul Dresher
Paul Joseph Dresher is an American composer. Dresher received his B.A. in music from the University of California, Berkeley and his M.A. in composition from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied with Robert Erickson, Roger Reynolds, Pauline Oliveros, and Bernard Rands.He also...
. He is also the author of The Structure of Music: A Listener's Guide
, which he claimed helped him overcome a "contrapuntal obsession", and Sound Structures in Music
He taught at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minnesota, San Francisco State College, University of California at Berkeley, and then the San Francisco Conservatory. Together with composer Wilbur Ogdon he founded the music department at the University of California San Diego in 1967: "We decided we wanted a department where composers could feel at home, the way scholars feel at home in other schools." While there he met faculty performers such as bassist Bertram Turetzky
Bertram Turetzky is a contemporary American double bass soloist, teacher, and author of The Contemporary Contrabass , a book that looked at a number of new and interesting ways of playing the double bass including featuring it as a solo performance vehicle with no other instrumental...
, trumpeter Edwin Harkins, flutist Bernhard Batschelet, and singer Carol Plantamura
Carol Plantamura is an American soprano specializing in 17th and 20th century music.She graduated from Occidental College and was an original member of the Rockefeller Foundation-funded Creative Associates at SUNY Buffalo, under the direction of Lukas Foss...
: "I could go to Bert, or Ed, with something I'd written down and ask 'Hey, can you do this?' And I'd get an immediate answer. It was a fabulous time for cross-feeding." He also helped start the San Francisco Tape Music Center
The San Francisco Tape Music Center was founded in 1962 by composers Morton Subotnick and Ramon Sender as a "nonprofit cultural and educational corporation, the aim of which was to present concerts and offer a place to learn about work within the tape music medium"...
. Pauline Oliveros, among others, praises his teaching:
Erickson was one of the first American composers to create tape music: "If you get right down to the bottom of what composers do, I think that what composers do now and have always done is to compose their environment in some sense. So I get a special little lift about working with environmental sounds." He also has used invented instruments such as stroking rods, used in Taffy Time
, Cardinitas 68
, and Roddy
(electronic tape composition), tube drums, used in Cradle
, Cradle II
, and Tube Drum Studies
, and the Percussion Loops Console designed with Ron George, used in Pecussion Loops
Many UCSD faculty performers appear on his 1991 CRI release Robert Erickson: Sierra & Other Works
(CD 616), playing works written for and with them:
- Kryl (1977), Harkins, named after the travelling cornet player Bohumir Kryl
Bohumir Kryl was a Czech-American financial executive and art collector who is most famous as a cornetist, bandleader, and pioneer recording artist, for both his solo work and as a leader of popular and Bohemian bands...
. The piece from time to time creates a hocket
In music, hocket is the rhythmic linear technique using the alternation of notes, pitches, or chords. In medieval practice of hocket, a single melody is shared between two voices such that alternately one voice sounds while the other rests.In European music, hocket was used primarily in vocal...
between the singing and playing.
- Ricercar À 3 (1967), Turetzky. For bass soloist live and on two tape tracks.
- Postcards (1981), Plantamura and lutenist Jürgen Hübscher
- Dunbar's Delight (1985), timpanist Dan Dunbar. Virtuoso solo piece for timpani.
- Quoq (1978), flutist John Fonville. Named after "Finnegans Wake
Finnegans Wake is a novel by Irish author James Joyce, significant for its experimental style and resulting reputation as one of the most difficult works of fiction in the English language. Written in Paris over a period of seventeen years, and published in 1939, two years before the author's...
- Sierra (1984), baritone Philip Larson, SONOR Ensemble
SONOR was UCSD's Resident Contemporary Music Ensemble. Performing between 1977 and 2006, the group presented 37 concerts. Members included UCSD Faculty such as Philip Larson, Edwin Harkins, Carol Plantamura, János Négyesy, John Fonville, Robert Zelickman, Steven Schick, Charles Curtis, Aleck Karis,...
conduced by Thomas Nee. Commissioned by Thomas Buckner
Thomas Buckner is an American baritone vocalist specializing in the performance of contemporary classical music and improvised music...
For more information on the above pieces see the liner notes. He also has an album Pacific Sirens
on New World Records.
He wrote Ricercar a 5 for Trombones
for Stuart Dempster
Stuart Dempster is a trombonist, didjeridu player, improvisor, and composer.-Biography:After Dempster completed his studies at San Francisco State College, he was appointed assistant professor at the California State College at Hayward, and instructor at the San Francisco Conservatory...
. The piece uses baroque imitation as well as singing, whistling, fanfares, slides, and other extended technique
Extended techniques are performance techniques used in music to describe unconventional, unorthodox, or non-traditional techniques of singing, or of playing musical instruments to obtain unusual sounds or instrumental timbres....
He received several Yaddo
Yaddo is an artists' community located on a 400 acre estate in Saratoga Springs, New York. Its mission is "to nurture the creative process by providing an opportunity for artists to work without interruption in a supportive environment."...
Fellowships in the fifties and sixties, a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1966, a Ford Foundation Fellowship, was elected as a Fellow of the Institute for Creative Arts of the University of California in 1968, and his string quartet Solstice
won the 1985 Friedham Award for Chamber Music. There are two books about Erickson's life and music: Thinking Sound Music: The Life and Work of Robert Erickson
by Charles Shere and Music of Many Means: Sketches and Essays on the Music of Robert Erickson
by Robert Erickson and John MacKay.
He suffered from a wasting muscle disease, polymyositis
Polymyositis is a type of chronic inflammation of the muscles related to dermatomyositis and inclusion body myositis.-Signs and symptoms:...
, and was bedridden and pained for fifteen years before his death, though his final work was Music for Trumpet, Strings, and Tympani