Edward Cone

Composer, pianist and musicologist of 'unparalleled' eloquence
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The Independent Online

Edward Toner Cone, musicologist, pianist and composer: born Greensboro, North Carolina 4 May 1917; Professor, Department of Music, Princeton University 1960-85 (Emeritus); Andrew D. White Professor-at-Large, Cornell University 1979-85; died Princeton, New Jersey 23 October 2004.

The musicologist and composer Edward Cone was a member of the music faculty at Princeton University all his professional life. He was, according to his head of department, Scott Burnham, "all things at once - a wonderful composer, inspired pianist and fabled lecturer". But Cone's writings ensured that his influence was felt much further afield.

His best-known books were Musical Form and Musical Performance (1968), examining the relationship between analysis and performance, and The Composer's Voice (1974), a disquisition on the links between composition and performance, which was saluted with an Ascap-Deems Taylor Award in 1975. Both became classics, Burnham commenting that "many of the ideas in these books have become such common currency that they often circulate without attribution to Ed". Another former colleague, Peter Westergaard, pulled no punches:

Writing about music is not easy and most don't do it very well. Ed didn't just do it well, he did it superbly. His eloquence is universally admired and simply unparalleled in post-World War II music theory.

Cone was born in 1917 and his bachelor degree earned at Princeton in 1939, as a student of the composer Roger Sessions - then, and perhaps still, America's finest modernist. His piano instruction was in equally impressive hands: Jeffrey Stoll, Karl Ulrich Schnabel and Eduard Steuermann.

Already a capable composer himself, Cone submitted a four-movement string quartet as part of his senior thesis; he was the first undergraduate to be allowed to do so. A master of fine arts degree followed - from Princeton, of course - in 1942. War duty, in the Office of Strategic Services, then took him out of circulation until 1946, when he rejoined the Department of Music as an instructor; a year later he was appointed assistant professor. A full professorship followed in 1960, Cone's subjects being music theory, history and composition. From 1979 until his retirement in 1985, he was concurrently the Andrew D. White Professor-at-Large at Cornell University.

Cone's compositions cover a range of genres. The orchestral scores include a symphony (1953), an Elegy (1953), Nocturne and Rondo for piano and string (1955-57), a violin concerto (1959) and a handful of other works. Among his chamber works are two string quartets (1939-49), two violin sonatas (1940, 1948), a piano quintet (1960), a string sextet (1966) and a piano quartet (1983).

One of his earliest vocal works was a setting of Tennyson's "The Lotos-Eaters" from c 1945; he returned to that inspiration in 1978 to set 9 Lyrics from Tennyson's In Memoriam. He wrote surprisingly little for his own instrument, the piano: 21 Preludes (c 1945), a sonata (1946), Fantasy (1950), Prelude, Passacaglia and Fugue (1957), Prelude and Variations for piano duet (1946) and a Fantasy (1965) for two pianos.

Opinion on its durability is divided. Although a Guggenheim Fellowship in composition brought recognition as early as 1947, one commentator felt that his music, "broadly 'tonal' in style, was always well fashioned yet rarely strongly distinctive; while holding interest, it didn't quite project necessity". Another found the 1966 Sextet "a skilful, frequently moving piece".

Cone also edited a collection of the writings of his former teacher, Roger Sessions on Music (1975), and with Benjamin Boretz co-edited an important series of publications: Perspectives on Schoenberg and Stravinsky (1968), Perspectives on American Composers (1971), Perspectives on Contemporary Music Theory (1972) and Perspectives on Notation and Performance (1975). For six years (1966-72) he edited the periodical Perspectives on New Music. An anthology of his own writings appeared as Music: a view from Delft (1989).

He is survived by George Pitcher, his companion of nearly 48 years.

Martin Anderson