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date: 08 July 2020

Lewin, Davidlocked

  • Richard Cohn


(b New York, July 2, 1933; d Boston, May 5, 2003). American theorist. He studied mathematics at Harvard, then composition with Sessions and theory with Babbitt and Cone at Princeton. He taught at the University of California, Berkeley (1961–7), SUNY, Stony Brook (1967–79), Yale University (1979–85) and was appointed Naumburg Professor of Music at Harvard University in 1985. He served as president of the Society for Music Theory (1985), and received an honorary doctorate from the University of Chicago in 1995. While at Bell Laboratories in 1961, he composed the first computer-generated piece by a professional musician.

The most original and far-ranging theorist of his generation, Lewin’s writings combine mathematical rigour with poetic finesse. In his most influential formal work, he employed ‘group theory’ to explain two fundamental musical concepts, interval and transformation. Applied to atonal and serial repertories, transformational theory stresses the dynamic nature of events and gestures as they engage time and articulate form. Other applications include Wagnerian harmony (adapting Riemann’s harmonic theory to a group-theoretic framework) and rhythm and metre (...

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