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Columbia Music Professor and Composer Jonathan Kramer Dies at 61
Jonathan Kramer

Jonathan Kramer, Columbia professor of music and composer, died June 3 in Manhattan at the age of 61. The cause of death was acute leukemia.

Kramer, who had taught at Columbia since 1988, combined talents: he was a prodigious theorist and writer as well as a gifted composer. Longtime Village Voice new music critic Kyle Gann summed up his abilities in an article two years ago, saying that Kramer had "produced some of the late 20 th century's most thought-provoking musical writings." He then described the "omnivorous" composer as having "cut a wide swath through quite a few 20 th-century musical isms, like a lawn mower too fast and wide to stay confined to one yard."

A native of Hartford, Conn., Kramer earned a bachelor's degree in music in 1965 from Harvard. He then obtained an M.A. (1967) and Ph.D. (1969) in composition at the University of California at Berkeley . His musical mentors included Leon Kirchner, Roger Sessions, Seymour Shifrin and Karlheinz Stockhausen, among others.

After teaching stints at Oberlin, Yale and the University of Cincinnati, he joined the faculty of Columbia as a full professor. Kramer wrote widely, and among his most important books are The Time of Music and Listen to the Music, both published in 1988. His long-awaited book on musical postmodernism was completed shortly before his death.

At his funeral service, Elaine Sisman, music department chair, described Kramer as "a truly wonderful colleague -- responsive, reliable, generous and judicious." She said that Kramer's undergraduates summed him up as "likable, funny and brilliant," and retold a story that emphasized his wry humor and insight: "Kramer: 'Those of you who were raised believing the fiction that there are three different minor scales will call this a harmonic minor.' Student: 'Well, if it's fiction, what's the reality?' Kramer: 'There is no reality.' "

Fred Lerdahl, a close friend and colleague in the music department, spoke movingly in his eulogy about Kramer's contributions to the University and his students: "Throughout, he was a rock of steadiness, rationality and good counsel. He acted always for the benefit of the greater whole. And he was a supportive and extremely diligent teacher and mentor of countless students in theory and composition. Indeed, this is one of his important legacies. It is hard to imagine life at Columbia without him."

Jeffrey Milarsky, music director and conductor of the Columbia University Orchestra, announced that a fall concert, featuring Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings and Bela Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra, will be dedicated to Kramer, who often gave eloquent pre-concert lectures for the orchestra. There will also be a memorial service for him in the fall.

The Jonathan Kramer Memorial Fund has also been established to honor his life and art. Contributions to the memorial fund should be sent to the Music Department, Columbia University, 2960 Broadway, New York, N.Y. 10027. Please make checks payable to Columbia University/Jonathan Kramer Memorial Fund. For more information, contact the Department of Music at 212-854-3825.

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Published: June 21, 2004
Last modified: Jan 10, 2005

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