Professor Emeritus

William Duckworth

Music Theory

A well-known theorist and composer of over 100 works, Duckworth's Time Curve Preludes have been performed on five continents, most recently at the Spoleto Festival USA, the Festival of Havana, and New York's Merkin Hall. He was a member of the composition forum at Darmstadt, gave master classes in Rome, and was a featured composer at the 1995 Ferrara Festival. He was named one of six Master Teachers in America in 1983 by the College Music Society.

William E. Duckworth, 69, died on Thursday, September 13, 2012. Professor Duckworth became a faculty member at Bucknell University in 1973, and after 38 years, retired as professor of music in 2011.

William (Ervin) Duckworth (Jan. 13, 1943-Sept. 13, 2012) was a leading American composer and a pioneer in both postminimalist music and internet interactive music. Drawing on minimalist principles, Duckworth fused influences of bluegrass, medieval music, Satie, Messiaen, and jazz into a smooth, seamless music of gently undulating textures and understated rhythmic liveliness. He was also an author, known for his book of composer interviews Talking Music (1999), and for Virtual Music: How the Web Got Wired for Sound (2005), a study of interactive music.

Born in Morganton, North Carolina, Duckworth studied composition with Martin Mailman at East Carolina University (BM 1965), and with Ben Johnston at the University of Illinois (DMEd 1972). He was appointed to the faculty of Bucknell University in 1973, and taught there until taking medical leave in 2011. Duckworth's breakthrough piece was The Time Curve Preludes (1978-79), a cycle of twenty-four piano pieces using various types of process, sometimes in an accelerating or phase-shifting manner. Unlike minimalist music, the pieces were short and their processes not always transparent to the listener. The style they represented came to be called postminimalism; Duckworth was perhaps its earliest and leading exponent. Other works in a similar diatonic, lyrical, and serenely structured idiom included Southern Harmony (1980-81) for chorus, based on early American hymnody; Simple Songs About Sex and War (1983-84) on poems of Hayden Carruth, a set of "postminimalist pop songs"; Imaginary Dances (1985/88) for piano; Blue Rhythm (1990) for flute (or violin), cello, and piano; Gathering Together/Revolution (1992-93) for percussion ensemble; and Mysterious Numbers (1996) for small orchestra.

In the mid-1990s, Duckworth took a turn away from conventional concert performance toward interactive internet art in collaboration with his wife Nora Farrell, a software designer. They created a large, overarching work called Cathedral (1997-), which included multiple manifestations on the internet, in which listeners could participate at their leisure or during specific world-wide performance events, and also improvisational concerts by Duckworth's core ensemble, employing prerecorded elements. A later, equally technologically innovative work was iOrpheus (2007), an "iPod opera" performed on iPods, mobile phones, and laptops. Duckworth's internet music made him particularly well-known in Australia, where he spent much time, and garnered him a worldwide audience.

Duckworth died following an eighteen-month battle with pancreatic cancer, during which he wrote Big Piano, a concerto for the pianist Bruce Brubaker. He is survived by his third wife Nora and his children Will, Katherine and Alison.

Kyle Gann, a former visiting professor at Bucknell, and Professor Duckworth's long-time friend and collaborator wrote an essay on Bill's life and work. In addition, NPR published the following article about Professor Duckworth. The New York Times published the following obituary.


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