Skip to main content
You are here

Jerome Rosen, music department founder, dies at age 89

By Dave Jones on June 30, 2011 in University News

Professor Emeritus Jerome Rosen, featured prominently on UC Davis’ historic soundtrack, as the founding member of the Department of Music in the 1950s and as the composer of University Fanfare and two operas, died June 20 in Davis after a long illness. He was 89.

University Fanfare, which he wrote for UC Davis’ 75th anniversary in 1984, can be heard today at the start of many commencements.

Listen to the fanfare from a 2010 commencement.

Video of Jerome Rosen playing the clarinet

Jerome Rosen video history, from the Emeriti Association

Rosen retired in 1988 but continued his association with the university for two decades after that. “To the public, Rosen was the face of UC Davis music for a half century, present at nearly every concert, often as not participating in it,” said D. Kern Holoman, distinguished professor of music and conductor emeritus of the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra.

“Jerry reveled in his work, and it was contagious,” Holoman said.

Professor Christopher Reynolds, chair of the music department, said: “One of Jerry Rosen’s greatest monuments and gifts to the university is the current excellence of the music department. He was the man with the vision that shaped who we now are and the personality needed to bring everything together over the span of several decades.”

Rosen, a clarinetist and saxophonist, signed on as the university’s first official instructor of music in 1952 and quickly redefined the music program as Davis transitioned from farm school to general campus. He took over the previously established Concert Band and University Chorus, started the chamber music program and began laying the foundation for the Symphony Orchestra.

A second instructor arrived in 1953, and, “while our main task was to prepare for the establishment of a music department, our teaching activities for the time being were directed to students who were not music majors, and who, in general, had little acquaintance with ‘classical’ music,” Rosen wrote in Pastyme with Good Companye, a history of the department, 1952-99.

In 1954, Rosen and Richard Irwin established the Five O’Clock Concerts, which continue today as the Noon Concerts on Thursdays. The first concert featured three faculty members — Rosen on clarinet, Irwin on violin and Herman Phaff, a microbiologist, on cello — plus other musicians from Davis.

More faculty members from around the campus eventually joined, and students began participating in increasing numbers — many of them from the ranks of the California Aggie Marching Band and the ROTC Band, both led by Rosen.

Music department’s founding chair

The university established the Department of Music in 1958, with Rosen as the chair, after he and his colleagues fine-tuned their lessons into an integrated sequence of courses leading to a Bachelor of Arts. Later he would help write the graduate degree curricula as well.

“Step by step he fashioned a superlative academic program and the distinguished faculty that carried it out,” Holoman said.

He described the pillars of Rosen’s department as “a synthesis of music composition, performance and scholarship; a collegiality to be nourished daily; and an innate commitment to the students, the concert-going public and the people of California.”

Theodore Karp, professor emeritus at Northwestern University and former music chair at UC Davis, said Rosen built wisely, creating a department where people worked “with enjoyment and fulfillment, vigorously together in good harmony.”

Some of that harmony came via synthesized sound and computer-aided composition, with Rosen as the first director of the department's Electronic Music Studio.

Rosen built more than a department — having helped design the Music Building and advising on the future Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts.

Thanks to Rosen and others, UC Davis became an important institution for new-music concerts and residencies by such central 20th-century figures as Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Cage and David Tudor.

Additionally, Rosen strove to make the campus a congenial locus for the study of music composition at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

His undergraduate classes were known especially for his insistence, in the days before computerized notation, on meticulous calligraphy with pen and India ink; his own scores are triumphs of the craft.

He composed some 60 works of solo and chamber music, often including clarinet or saxophone, as well as vocal pieces, works of symphonic scope and the operas Calisto and Melibea (1979) and Emperor Norton of the USA (1999), both produced in Main Theatre.

Among his large-scale works for saxophone, a concerto (1957) and a quintet for saxophone and strings (1974) attracted considerable attention, especially in Europe.

The New Music String Quartet recorded Rosen’s String Quartet No. 1 (1947), released on the CBS Epic label in 1957.

He was an important solo musician as well, appearing in countless regional recitals and new-music programs, and frequently with the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra.

From Berkeley to Paris to Davis

Rosen, a Boston native, attended New Mexico State College and UCLA, and, after Army duty in California during World War II, earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in music and his Master of Arts in composition from UC Berkeley in 1947 and 1949, respectively.

While studying at Berkeley, Rosen became associated with Darius Milhaud, who was teaching at nearby Mills College. In 1949-50, Rosen studied in Paris with Milhaud, a dominant force in music education at the time, and took lessons at the Paris Conservatoire from the leading clarinet virtuoso of the era, Ulysse Delécluse.

He went to Paris as the recipient of a UC Berkeley prize, the George Ladd Prix de Paris. Rosen also received Fromm Music Foundation grants (1953, 1954 and 1960), a Guggenheim Fellowship (1958) and a residency at the Rockefeller Study Center in Bellagio, Italy (1982).

Rosen’s friendship with Milhaud led to the commissioning of Milhaud’s Symphony No. 12 (Rurale), op. 390, for the opening of UC Davis’ Freeborn Hall in 1962.

Rosen’s own music is part of the history of two other campus buildings. He wrote Campus Doorways for the 1978 inauguration of Recreation Hall, now known as The Pavilion at the ARC. The music accompanies poetry by Celeste Turner Wright, the university’s first tenured female faculty member — and could be heard again when the university dedicated Wright Hall in 1997.

He also composed White-Haired Lover, a major song cycle to poetry by UC Davis’ Karl Shapiro.

The music department pays homage to Rosen to this day, featuring his work in the Clarinet Festival (January 2011) and in several performances by the Empyrean Ensemble.

He composed his last work, Three Birthday Duets, miniatures for three Sacramento-area clarinetists, in 1999.

Rosen is survived by his wife of 67 years, Sylvia; children, Michael, Elizabeth, Emily and Margaret; a sister, Evelyn Sackler; and 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

A celebration of life will be held at a later date. The family has designated two beneficiaries for memorial donations: the Department of Music (payable to the “UC Regents”), 1 Shields Ave., Davis 95616; or Yolo Hospice, P.O. Box 1014, Davis.

Follow Dateline UC Davis on Twitter.

Media contact(s)

Dave Jones, Dateline, 530-752-6556, dljones@ucdavis.edu

Categories