James Tenney, American Experimental Composer, Dies at Age 72

Classic Arts News   James Tenney, American Experimental Composer, Dies at Age 72
 
"No other composer is so revered by fellow composers, and so unknown to the public at large."

So wrote composer and music critic Kyle Gann in his book American Music in the 20th Century about James Tenney, whom the American Music Center's NewMusicBox.org describes as "a link between American mavericks such as Varse, Partch, Ruggles, and Cage and today's downtown experimentalists."

Tenney died on August 24 at age 72. NewMusicBox.org reports the cause as lung cancer.

Born in New Mexico in 1934 and raised in Arizona and Colorado, Tenney studied at, among other places, the Juilliard School, Bennington College and the University of Illinois; Edgard Varse, Harry Partch, Carl Ruggles and John Cage were among his teachers, as were Eduard Steuermann, Chou Wen-Chung and Kenneth Gaburo.

Tenney was a pioneer in electronic and computer-generated music in the 1960s, working as part of a team at Bell Telephone Laboratories. However, according to NewMusicBox, almost all of his later music is for acoustic instruments.

He taught at the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) in the early 1970s when the school was getting its start; he returned there in 2000 to take the Roy E. Disney Family Chair in Musical Composition. He also served on the faculties of the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, the University of California at Santa Cruz and York University in Toronto. Among his books is the 1988 A History of 'Consonance' and 'Dissonance'.

An anecdote Gann wrote in his book might serve as Tenney's epitaph: "When John Cage, who studied with Schoenberg, was asked in 1989 whom he would study with if he were young today, he replied, 'James Tenney.'"


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