Robert Erickson, although not a native Californian, was a formidable guiding spirit as composer and teacher, nurturing the distinctiveness of West Coast music and acting as a mentor for a whole generation of Californiatrained composers. Michigan-born (1917) Erickson’s education included composition studies with Ernst Krenek, after which he taught in St. Paul, Minnesota. In the early 1950s he moved to the San Francisco area, teaching at San Francisco State University, the University of California at Berkeley, and the San Francisco Conservatory, and working as Music Director of the innovative KPFA-FM radio station in Berkeley.
In 1967 he accepted a professorship at the recently-formed music department of the University of California at San Diego, and became a crucial figure in its ascent to leadership in composition and new music performance. Among his students from his various positions are Pauline Oliveros, Bun-Ching Lam, Terry Riley, and Loren Rush. Many of his ideas are found in his seminal book The Structure of Music (1955) and Sound Structure in Music, an exploration of the syntax of musical language (1975). In the 1980s, thanks to increased performances and recordings by leading ensembles, his national reputation began to grow, but many of his works are still seldom heard. Unfortunately, for many years Erickson battled chronic health problems, the seriousness of which made his continuing activities as a composer almost miraculous. He died in 1997.