Robert Suderburg (January 28, 1936 – April 22, 2013) was born in Spencer, Iowa. He studied composition with Paul Fetler at the University of Minnesota (1953-57), Richard Donovan at the Yale School of Music (1957-60) and George Rochberg at the University of Pennsylvania (1964-66). After having taught and conducted at Bryn Mawr, the Philadelphia Academy of Music, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Washington, Suderburg was appointed Chancellor of the North Carolina School of the Arts in 1974. He was the recipient of numerous awards and commissions including two Guggenheim Fellowships. As a conductor and pianist, he was very active in the performance of new music, especially in his role as co-director of the University of Washington Contemporary Group (1966-74). From 1985 to his retirement in 2001, he taught at Williams College in Massachusetts, and was chair of the Music Department from 1986 to 1995.
Suderburg’s early works were serial (he did his dissertation on Schoenberg) but he abandoned twelve-tone procedures in the late 1960s, a move which allowed his music’s inherent romanticism and lyricism to blossom. His harmonic and melodic language became primarily modal with particular emphasis on Phrygian and Lydian elements. There is a striking stylistic consistency from work to work, exemplified by his preference for harmonies derived from the tetrachords E-C-F-A and E-C-F-B, and the frequent recurrence of specific motives — the rising minor ninth, for example. He occasionally incorporates theatrical gestures or draws on vernacular styles in the manner of Ives. Above all, Suderburg’s works reflect his belief that music should not lose touch with its origins in song, dance and ritual.