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Robert Palmer

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Robert Palmer


Robert Moffat (variously "Moffatt" and "Moffett") Palmer (2 June 1915, Syracuse, New York - 3 July 2010, Ithaca, New York) was an American composer, pianist and educator. He composed more than 90 works, including two symphonies, Nabuchodonosor (an oratorio), a piano concerto, four string quartets, three piano sonatas and numerous works for chamber ensembles.

Palmer began, at age 12, piano studies with his mother. He attended Syracuse's Central High School, undertaking pre-college studies in piano and additional study of violin and music theory at the Syracuse Music School Settlement. Awarded a piano scholarship to the Eastman School of Music, he soon became a composition major. At Eastman, he studied with Howard Hanson and Bernard Rogers, earning bachelor's (1938) and master's (1940) degrees in composition. He undertook additional studies with Quincy Porter, Roy Harris and, at the first composition class at the Tanglewood Music Center in 1940, with Aaron Copland.

From 1943 until his retirement in 1980, Palmer served as a member of the faculty at Cornell University, where he was appointed Given Foundation Professor of Music in 1976. According to Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Steven Stucky, Chair of the Board of Directors of the American Music Center and a former Palmer student, "(Palmer) founded the doctoral program in music composition at Cornell University, which was the first in the United States (and quite possibly the world)." Writing in Clavier magazine in 1989, pianist Ramon Salvatore observed that "[Palmer's] influence on two generations of Cornell composers has been enormous; many of his former students now hold university and college professorships throughout the United States" Additionally, Palmer served as visiting composer at Illinois Wesleyan University in 1954 and as the George A. Miller Professor of Composition at the University of Illinois in 1955-56. Many of Palmer's most distinctive works date from his Cornell period. Steven Stucky remarks that Palmer "once seemed poised to become a leading national figure. A steady stream of first-rate pieces attracted top performers in concert and on recordings: the Second Piano Sonata (1942; 1948), championed by John Kirkpatrick; Toccata Ostinato (1945), a boogie-woogie in 13/8 written for pianist William Kapell; the first Piano Quartet (1947); the Chamber Concerto No. 1 (1949); the Quintet for Clarinet, Piano, and Strings (1952). Most influential of these was the mighty Piano Quartet, which used to loom large as one of the major accomplishments of American chamber music."

Echoing this assessment, Robert Evett, in a review written in 1970 for the Washington Evening Star of Palmer's first Piano Quartet (1947), found it "one of the most engrossing works of a superb American composer. ... At its premiere, it was a triumph. It was a triumph again last night."

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