Composition and Theory

Professor Elizabeth Hoffman
Professor Louis Karchin
Assistant Professor Jaime Oliver


Students in the NYU GSAS Composition/Theory specialization explore and refine chosen compositional approaches, largely through one-on-one work with faculty. The composers contribute in a fundamental way, as well, to the critical debate, analysis, and presentation of new music in the Department.

During their first two years, composers typically take one course in musicology, and one in ethnomusicology; for many, this experience is a rich source of new orientations. A more discrete discussion of issues in contemporary composition occurs in the Composers Seminar, and in the context of discussions with guests, regularly invited to teach or to speak in the Department's colloquium series. The Composition Seminar includes visits each semester by invited composers and theorists, and a several-day residency in the spring of each year brings a composer of international stature to participate in department activities under the aegis of the Samuel and Beverly Sirota Endowment for Music. Recent and future invitees include Helmut Lachenmann (2008), Maria de Alvear (2009), and Chaya Czernowin (2010).

Areas supported by faculty expertise include critical theory, and music and the political; sound as embodiment; philosophy as a language or structure for addressing musicological questions; generative and explanatory models of music, including those non-parametrically oriented.  Creative activity across a wide spectrum is embraced. Composers may choose to explore established chamber, orchestral or vocal genres, or experiment with new interstices between composer, performer, and audience.  Many students choose to focus on computer music as an expressive medium, or as a tool for applications to their work in acoustic composition.

Composition students receive department-sponsored performances of their works by professional ensembles.  Students may also participate in First Performance, a graduate student-run organization dedicated to the presentation of new music.  Past ensembles presenting concerts of student works at NYU have included the Arditti Quartet, the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), Alarm Will Sound, the New York Virtuoso Singers, and the American Brass Quintet, among others. Resident groups for 2008-09 include the Jack String Quartet and TimeTable Percussion. The Washington Square Computer Music Studio is a comprehensive facility for graduate composition and research in electroacoustic music. The Washington Square Contemporary Music Society, co-sponsored by the Department, presents a three-concert new music series at Merkin Hall each year, often featuring faculty and student work. 

Our reasonably small program allows excellent advising, funding, and job placement. All of our graduate students receive tuition remission and MacCracken Fellowships. Our doctoral students may take courses at CUNY Graduate Center, Columbia University, the New School University, and other distinguished universities in the region though the Inter-University Doctoral Consortium. For information on admissions, applications, and financial aid, please visit the Graduate School of Arts and Science web site.

Waverly Labs for Music and Computing

Washington Square Contemporary Music Society