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Biography of

William Duckworth

13 jan 1943 - 13 sep 2012 (West New York)
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William Duckworth (January 13, 1943 – September 13, 2012) was an American composer who also was an author, educator and Internet pioneer. He wrote more than 200 pieces of music and is credited with the composition of the first postminimal piece of music, The Time Curve Preludes (1977–78), for piano. Duckworth was a Professor of Music at Bucknell University. Nora Farrell, his wife, runs Monroe Street Music, which publishes many of his pieces.


Duckworth was born in North Carolina in 1943. He obtained a bachelor's degree in music from East Carolina University, then master's and doctorates in music education from the University of Illinois at Urbana.[1] He studied composition under composer Ben Johnston and wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on the notation of composer John Cage. Duckworth received a 2002 Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grants to Artists Award, as well as a fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts in 1977. Duckworth collaborated with his future wife, Nora Farrell, on his internet projects before marrying her. Over the years Duckworth enjoyed a close collaboration with James Jordan who frequently performs Duckworth's music with his world-renowned choral ensembles. Duckworth died at his home in West New York, N.J., after a long fight with pancreatic cancer.[2][3]

Work as a composer

Duckworth wrote more than 200 pieces of music. His best-known compositions include The Time Curve Preludes, 24 short pieces for piano, and Southern Harmony, which consists of 20 pieces for an eight-part chorus and employs features of shape note singing and minimalism. Other works include Mysterious Numbers, written for chamber orchestra, Imaginary Dances, for solo piano, and Simple Songs about Sex and War, written in collaboration with poet Hayden Carruth. "The Time Curve Preludes" were recorded by Bruce Brubaker in 2009.[4] In the last months of his life, Duckworth completed a piano concerto for Brubaker.[5]

The Time Curve Preludes

The Time Curve Preludes, a set of 24 short pieces for piano, has been described by music critic Kyle Gann as the first work of postminimalism.[6] The harmonic language is more active than preexisting minimalist conventions and doesn't satisfy the established expectations of minimalist practice.[7] Along with its elements of minimalism, the preludes utilize many references to piano music of earlier periods, a tenet of postmodernism. The music makes reference to folk music, jazz, medieval music, Erik Satie, banjo strumming, and the style of Jerry Lee Lewis.[8][9] One of the facets of earlier minimalism is the lack of explicit structure, while this set of pieces are of much more recognizable structure, including the division of 24 separate preludes. The number of preludes itself is a reference to Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, though it doesn't utilize every key as does the Well-Tempered Clavier. The music also utilizes the Fibonacci series in developing proportional and rhythmic patterns, which were set out with the use of a numerical grid.[10] The use of the Fibonacci sequence is not unique and appears in Bartok's music as well, and Duckworth's use of bitonality in Prelude No. 7 seems to be referential of Darius Milhaud's music. Most central to the piece is the Dies Irae, which is transformed into a major variant and serves as the central motive of the piece.[11]

The Time Curve Preludes were composed between 1977 and 1978 on a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. They were premiered at Wesleyan University in 1979 by pianist Neely Bruce.[12]



  • Theoretical Foundations of Music 1978 with Edward Brown
  • Talking Music: Conversations With John Cage, Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson, and Five Generations of American Experimental Composers 1995 (ISBN 0-306-80893-5)
  • A Creative Approach to Music Fundamentals 1981 (ISBN 0-534-09420-1)
  • 20/20: 20 New Sounds of the 20th century 1999 (ISBN 0-02-864864-1)
  • Virtual Music: How the Web Got Wired for Sound 2005 (ISBN 0-415-96675-2)


  • Sound and Light: La Monte Young & Marian Zazeela 1996 (ISBN 0-8387-5346-9).
  • John Cage at Seventy-Five 1989.


  • Jazz: American Popular Music by Thom Holmes (2006).

Career in education

Duckworth was professor and former chairman of the Department of Music at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Penn.[citation needed] A 1992 profile in Rolling Stone magazine described him as a "hip, bright, innovative teacher."[13] Duckworth instructed Martin Rubeo, founder of the alternative rock band, Gramsci Melodic, when the latter was a student at Bucknell University.[14]

Internet activities

Much of Duckworth's late music was composed and performed as part of Cathedral. Conceived in 1996 and launched on June 10, 1997, Cathedral is a work in music and art which depicts five "mystical moments in time": The building of the Great Pyramid in Giza, the building of Chartres Cathedral, the 19th century Native American Ghost Dance movement, the detonation of the atomic bomb, and the creation of the World Wide Web.[15]

More recently, Cathedral has served as the site for the distribution of The iPod Opera 2.0: The Myth of Orpheus, the Chronicler and Eurydice, podcast in 26 episodes as MP3 and QuickTime video files. The video episodes may be downloaded and played on many different kinds of computer systems, including Apple OS, Windows and Linux computers, while the MP3 files may be downloaded and burned as an audio disk. The completion of the podcast in February 2007 was timed to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the first performance of Monteverdi's L'Orfeo.[16]

Cathedral features an instrument called the PitchWeb, which allows anyone with a computer to play along with the Cathedral Band when the band is performing live over the Internet. Duckworth plays the PitchWeb on a laptop computer when the band performs live.[17]

Cathedral was conceived during a conversation Duckworth had with his wife, Nora Farrell, a software designer who specializes in music and publishing web applications. Farrell collaborated with Duckworth on Cathedral and elements of it such as "The iPod Opera 2.0." As a member of the Cathedral Band, she edits the PitchWeb contributions by outside musicians.

A chapter in Duckworth's 2005 book, Virtual Music: How the Web Got Wired for Sound, discusses the Cathedral site.


  1. ^ Kozinn, Allan. "William Duckworth, internet composer, dies at 69." New York Times 22 Sept. 2012: B8(L). Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 18 Nov. 2013.
  2. ^ Kozinn, Allan, "William Duckworth, Internet Composer, Dies at 69," The New York Times, September 22, 2012
  3. ^ Kyle Gann's obituary for William Duckworth, accessed 13 September 2012
  4. ^ Kosman, Joshua, "CD: Bruce Brubaker 'Time Curve'", "San Francisco Chronicle", August 2, 2009
  5. ^ Duckworth, William, "BIG PIANO", composer's blog
  6. ^ Kyle Gann discusses Duckworth on Arts Journal, accessed 16 February 2010
  7. ^ Byelick, "Duckworth: Time Curve Preludes," American Record Guide (Mar.-Apr. 2012): 89, GALE|A281901288.
  8. ^ Jonathan W. Bernard, “Minimalism, Postminimalism, and the Resurgence of Tonality in Recent American,” American Music, Vol. 21, No. 1 (Spring, 2003): 128.
  9. ^ William Duckworth, The Time Curve Preludes, Neely Bruce (piano), 1979, CD2031 7-4529-52031-2-4, compact disc (liner notes by Kyle Gann).
  10. ^ Duckworth, compact disc.
  11. ^ William Duckworth, "The Time Curve Preludes," Web, 22 Sept. 2013, <>.
  12. ^ Duckworth, web.
  13. ^ Zevin, Dan. "Dancing in the seats." Rolling Stone 639 (1992): 83. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. July 1, 2010.
  14. ^ The Duquesne Duke 9-11-2008
  15. ^ Kozinn, Allan. "William Duckworth, internet composer, dies at 69." New York Times 22 Sept. 2012: B8(L). Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 18 Nov. 2013.
  16. ^ Kozinn
  17. ^ Kozinn

Further reading

  • Gillespie, Don C. 2001. "Duckworth, William (Ervin)". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.

External links

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "William Duckworth. Allthough most Wikipedia articles provide accurate information accuracy can not be guaranteed.
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