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Burrill Phillips

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Biography

Burrill Phillips (9 November 1907, Omaha, Nebraska - 22 June 1988, Berkeley, Calif.) was an American composer, teacher, and pianist. Phillips studied at the Denver College of Music with Edwin Stringham and at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY, with Howard Hanson and Bernard Rogers. He taught composition and theory at Eastman (1933–49), the University of Illinois (1949-64), the Juilliard School of Music (1968–69), and Cornell University (1972-73). His students include Ben Johnston. He was a Fulbright Lecturer in Barcelona, Spain, in 1960-61, and received Guggenheim fellowships in 1942-43 and 1961–62.

Phillips's first important work was Selections from McGuffey's Reader, for orchestra, based on poems by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. By the 1940s he had turned to a more astringent and expressive idiom. In 1960 his String Quartet Number Two was premiered at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. by the Paganini Quartet, with the composer present, and broadcast on live FM radio. In the early 1960s he turned to free serial techniques, less sharply accented rhythms, and increasing fantasy.

He wrote, in 1983, of his musical influences: "The first music of a serious nature I was introduced to as a child was the 2- and 3-part inventions of Bach. Then Haydn and Chopin. All of these are simple and clear, and their harmonic content is not obscured by an elaborate overlay of either contrapuntal virtuosity or chromatic sugaring. After college I emerged with a fairly self-recognized set of preferences:Scarlatti, Soler, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Berlioz, Debussy, Stravinsky — all those whose attitude toward the sonic portion of music is one of making things clear and strong-flavored."


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