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Robert Moevs (Composer)

Born: December 2, 1920 - La Crosse, Wisconsin, USA

The American composer and teacher, Robert (Walter) Moevs, studied with Walter Piston at Harvard College (A.B., 1942). Along with other leading American composers before and after, he studied with Nadia Boulanger at the Paris Conservatory from 1947 to 1951, and at Harvard University (A.M., 1952). From 1952 to 1955 he was a Rome Prize Fellow in music at the American Academy in Rome. He held a Guggenheim fellowship (1963-1964).

Robert Moevs taught at Harvard University from 1955 to 1963. He was composer-in-residence at the American Academy in Rome in 1960-1961. In 1964 he joined the faculty of Rutgers University in New Jersey, where he was a professor from 1968 to 1991, and chairman of the music department at its New Brunswick-campus from 1974 to 1981. In addition to his activities as a composer and teacher, he made appearances as a pianist, often in performances of his own works.

Robert Moevs is part of a generation of composers who came of age musically in the years immediately following World War II. Bold new works of Béla Bartók and Igor Stravinsky, heard amidst the upheavals of the war, inspired many to take a next step: to reject much of the past, forging a new musical language which built on the path-breaking atonality and compositional rigor of Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern. He was well placed to become a leading American representative of the post-war international movement in the world of music. After serving in World War II as a pilot in the United States Air Force, Moevs’ formative years were spent in Europe, first as a student in Paris, and later as a recipient of the coveted Rome Prize. In close contact with the tightly-structured works of Pierre Boulez, and stunned by the raw sound of Edgar Varèse, Moevs synthesised these styles into what he termed “systematic chromaticism.” Perhaps because of his deep-seated love of the music of such masters as J.S. Bach and L.v. Beethoven, Moevs never adopted complete serialism. Based on intervallic procedures that could be heard and recognised, his music retains a compelling and visceral dynamic impact.

As a composer, Robert Moevs developed a compositional method based on intervallic control as opposed to specific pitch sequence that he described as systematic chromaticism. The creator of a rich body of orchestral, chamber, vocal and instrumental music, he has received major performances by George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra, Erich Leinsdorf and the Boston Symphony, and Leonard Bernstein and Symphony of the Air. World-wide recognition came in the form of the Stockhausen International Prize in Composition, which he was awarded in 1978, for his Concerto Grosso for Piano, Percussion, and Orchestra.

As Moevs himself observed in an interview: “I started with the conviction that all, or practically all, music has a tonal centre, and that the phrase “atonal music” is self-contradictory, an imaginary entity.” Moevs’ style has been described as “an extremely rich resource,” because he found a unique way to combine identifiable tonal centres with serialism, creating a musical style the excitement of which arises out of the underlying tension between the realism of tonal centres and the abstraction of serialism.


Passacaglia (1941); Introduction and Fugue (1949); Overture (1950); 14 Variations (1952); 3 Symphonic Pieces (1954-55; Cleveland, 1958); Concerto Grosso for Piano, Percussion, and Orchestra (1960; 2nd version with Amplified Instruments, 1968); In Festivitate for Wind Instruments and Percussion (Dartmouth, N.H., 1962); Main-Travelled Roads, Symphonic Piece No. 4 (1973); Prometheus: Music for Small Orchestra, I (1980); Pandora: Music for Small Orchestra, II (1986).

Spring for 4 Violins and Trumpets (1950); 3 string quartets: No. 1 (1957; Cambridge, MA, 1960), No. 2 (1989), and No. 3 (1994-95); Variazioni sopra una Melodia for Viola and Cello (1961); Musica da camera I (1965), II (1972), and III (1992) for Chamber Ensemble; Fanfare canonica for 6 Trumpets (1966); Paths and Ways for Saxophone and Dancer (1970); Trio for Violin, Cello, and Piano (1980); Dark Litany for Wind Ensemble (1987); Woodwind Quintet (1988); Echo for Guitar (992); Conundrum for 5 Percussionists (1993); solo pieces; various keyboard works.

Cantata sacra for Baritone, Men's Chorus, Flute, 4 Trombones, and Timpani (1952); Attis for Tenor, Chorus, Percussion, and Orchestra (1958-59; 1963); Et Nunc, reges for Women's Chorus, Flute, Clarinet, and Bass Clarinet (1963); Ode to an Olympic Hero for Voice and Orchestra (1963); Et Occidentem Illustra for Chorus and Orchestra (1964); A Brief Mass for Chorus, Organ, Vibraphone, Guitar, and Double Bass (1968); The Aulas Player for Soprano, 2 Choruses, and 2 Organs (1975); choruses; songs.


Source: Edward B. Marks Music Company Website; Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of 20th Century Classical Musicians (1997)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (April 2006)

Use of Chorale Melodies in his works


Chorale Melody


Es ist genug, for organ

Es ist genug


Links to other Sites

Robert Moevs (Edward B. Marks Music Company)




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