Observations on the Ph.D. in Composition

October 1, 1963

This article was part of a Symposium entitled The Doctorate in Composition. Other contributors to this Symposium were Edward E. Lowinsky, Arthur Mendel, Henry Leland Clarke, Robert Middleton, Peter Eliot Stone, and Henry Weinberg. Their articles also appear in SYMPOSIUM Volume 3.


Although he was advised against stirring up a hornet's nest, the editor felt that the pages of SYMPOSIUM provided the proper forum for comment on this vexing and controversial subject. He therefore extended invitations for suitable articles with the intent of securing a consensus of current thought on the problem. The response on the whole was gratifying, except for some of the composers who could not find the time to submit their promised contributions. Since the economic issue was raised by several participants, the editor also asked for the statements of two student composers, directly affected by this aspect of the question. Letters arguing the matter pro or con will be welcomed for future issues of SYMPOSIUM.


(The composers from whom the editor solicited articles either responded with statements of model brevity or found the pressure of other work too great to allow them time for any remarks for SYMPOSIUM. George Rochberg proposed a questionnaire for him and other composers to answer but found that his ensuing commitments made even this task impossible. He did, however, pose some interesting questions in a letter to the editor that, with his permission, is here reproduced in part.—Ed.)

October 25, 1962

Dear Henry:

. . . I really don't have the time for a formal article but would be happy to answer a series of questions which you might want to put to me as well as several other composers. For example, what would be the immediate practical value in granting the Ph.D. in composition? Do you believe that the present academic standards for judging theses would be valid as a basis for judging creative work? Do you think that a young composer with a Ph.D. in composition would have the opportunity to teach composition or would he instead be asked to teach courses in theory and possibly even history? Do you think that granting a Ph.D. in composition would tend to create an unnecessary form of self delusion on the part of some who would receive a Ph.D. in composition? In other words, does granting of a degree make a composer?

Well, you see the trend of my thoughts. This is undoubtedly a very real issue. It is very touchy and fraught with all kinds of problems, not the least of which is the fact that the composer has to make his way in society rather than in the university and so the inevitable question arises, is the academic environment the medium through which a creative person can reach society? . . .

As ever,

1934 Last modified on November 15, 2018