Wednesday, January 28, 2009


University of California, Davis
January 27, 2009

George Perle, a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer who helped to establish the University of California, Davis, as a significant center for new music composition and performance, died last week at his home in Manhattan. He was 93.

Perle taught music at UC Davis from 1957 to 1961 and returned to campus several times in recent decades to work with music students.

In a 2008 review, New York Times music critic Bernard Holland noted that Perle's work with atonal music "flourished just as space travel was coming along."

"He and eminent colleagues like Milton Babbitt and Elliott Carter were our musical astronauts," Holland wrote. "They defied gravity and left Mother Earth behind. Music soared into space."

Widely known as a music theorist and author as well as composer, Perle was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1978 and the National Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1985. In 1986 he won the Pulitzer Prize in music for his composition, "Wind Quintet No. 4"
and was named a MacArthur Foundation fellow.

"He was really one of the top composers of his generation. He was always finding new ways to think about music," said Jerome Rosen, an emeritus professor and founding chair of the UC Davis Department of Music.

In addition to his contributions to the UC Davis Department of Music, Perle helped to make the University of California Press a "powerhouse in music" publishing, said D. Kern Holoman, professor of music at UC Davis and a University of California Press author.

Among the books Perle published through the University of California Press are "The Operas of Alban Berg" (2 volumes), "Twelve-Tone Tonality," and "Serial Composition and Atonality," now in its sixth edition.

Perle was well known as a composer and musicologist with special interest in 12-tone theory when he joined UC Davis, the year before the Department of Music was formally established. During his tenure on campus, Perle conducted the University Chorus, served a one-year stint as acting chair of the music department, and helped to create an integrated sequence of courses in music theory. According to UC Davis music department records, Perle was last on campus in November 1986, when American pianist Michael Boriskin performed a Noon Concert devoted to his works.

During his years in Davis, Perle lived in a house on M Street, where he spent long hours composing at the piano, recalls his stepson, Davis resident Max Massey.

"He was a very nice man, funny, easy to talk to -- pretty obsessive about his music," said Massey, who stayed in Davis, earning an undergraduate degree in English from UC Davis, after his stepfather left for the East Coast.

>From UC Davis, Perle joined the faculty of Queens College at the City
University of New York, and later held visiting professorships at UC Berkeley, the University of Southern California, Yale, Columbia and other universities around the country, according to New Grove. He was a visiting composer at California State University Sacramento in 1986, according to Massey. He also served as composer-in-residence at the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra in 1989.

Perle was married three times. His first marriage ended in divorce.
His second, to Barbara Wharton Massey in 1958, ended with her death in 1978. He married the former Shirley Gabis Rhoads in 1982.

In addition to wife Shirley and stepson Massey, Perle is survived by two daughters, Annette Wolter of Sacramento and Cathi Perle of Long Island; stepson Paul Rhoads of Chinon, France; stepdaughter Emma Rhoads of New York City; two grandchildren; and three step-grandchildren, two of whom live in Davis.

Media contact(s):
* Claudia Morain, UC Davis News Service, (530) 752-9841,