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date: 01 October 2023

Winham, Godfreyfree

Winham, Godfreyfree

  • Scott Gleason

(b London, 11 Dec 1934; d Griggstown, NJ, 26 April 1975). American composer, music theorist, and critic of English birth. Winham was educated at the Westminster School (1947–51), and studied at the Royal Academy of Music and privately with Matyas Seiber and Hans Keller before completing the AB (1956), MFA (1958), and PhD (1964) degrees at Princeton University. He married the soprano Bethany Beardslee in 1956.

He was a critic for The Music Review and the recipient of the first PhD in music composition from Princeton, he coined the term ‘array composition’ (see Milton Babbitt), and he wrote the MUSIC 4B PROGRAM (with Hubert Howe) and Music-on-Mini (with Mark Zuckerman) computer music languages. In 1970, with Kenneth Stieglitz, he established a digital-to-analogue conversion laboratory at Princeton, later renamed the Godfrey Winham Laboratory (see Computers and music). With his cohort at Princeton (including J.K. Randall, Peter Westergaard, David Lewin, and Benjamin Boretz), Winham was deeply concerned with the epistemological and logical status of linguistic claims about music, and particularly the distinctions between description, music criticism, and analysis, and what constitutes a significant claim about music. He attempted an axiomatic, phenomenalistic reconstruction of music, and, importantly and uniquely, attempted to include the rhythmic domain in this reconstruction.

Winham died at the age of 40, of cancer, without having achieved publicly visible signs of distinction in the broader composition world. Musically a conservative-radical, his compositions are severe, at times aggressive, but include moments sounding introspective, even gentle. They are Schoenbergian in texture, affect, and method: disavowing Webernian pointillism and the methods of the contemporaneous Darmstadt School, Winham considered Babbittian combinatoriality to be the way forward. These music-theoretical aspects, however, could occur within traditional musical surfaces.

Winham’s scores and extensive unpublished analytical and theoretical writings are collected in the Princeton University Library.


(selective list)

Four Pieces, pf, 1952

Composition, str qt, 1953

Three Compositions, pf, 1955

The Habit of Perfection, v, str qt, 1956

Concert Piece, orch, 1957

Sonata, 2 vn, 1959

To Prove My Love: Three Sonnets of William Shakespeare, v, pf, 1960

Composition for Orchestra, 1962

Two Pieces for Computer, cptr synth sound, 1962

NP, cptr synth sound, 1973

Variations on a Theme by James Pierpont, pf, 1974


(selective list)

  • ‘Henry Weinberg: Three Songs (1959)’, PNM, vol.2/2 (1964): 106–11
  • ‘How MUSIC 4B generates formants and non-harmonic partials, and improves loudness control and “quality”’, American Society of University Composers: Proceedings, vol. 1 (1968): 42–6
  • ‘Composition with Arrays’ PNM, vol.9/1 (1970): 43–67
  • ‘Schoenberg’s Fourth String Quartet: Vertical Order of the Opening’ Theory and Practice, vol.17 (1992): 59–66


  • J.K. Randall: ‘Godfrey Winham’s Composition for Orchestra’, PNM, vol.2/1 (1963): 102–13
  • J.K. Randall: ‘A Report from Princeton’, PNM, vol.2/1 (1965): 84–92
  • L. Blasius: The Music Theory of Godfrey Winham (Princeton, 1997)
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Perspectives of New Music