In memoriam: Allen Forte, music theorist

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Allen Forte

Allen Forte, a renowned music theorist and musicologist, died at his home in Hamden, Connecticut on Oct. 16. He was 87 years old.

A memorial service will be held on Saturday, Oct. 25 at 11 a.m. in the Veterans Cemetery, 317 Bow Lane, Middletown, Connecticut, All are welcome.

Forte, the Battell Professor Emeritus of the Theory of Music, was a specialist in 20th-century atonal music, music analysis by Schenkerian methods, and the American popular ballad. He was the author of 12 scholarly books and 100 articles. His book “The Structure Of Atonal Music” has been hailed as one of the most important contributions to music theory in the 20th century. His use of the computer as well as traditional means of analysis led to fuller knowledge of musical structure, thereby enhancing both the understanding and the enjoyment of music.

“Forte was a model for our field — a widely influential adviser, a productive and agenda-setting scholar, and a tireless advocate for music theory and its practitioners. He was an extraordinary man,” wrote Yale professor Daniel Harrison in message to members of the Society of Music Theory, of which Forte was the founding president. Harrison is the current incumbent of the Forte Professorship, established at Yale in 2000 in honor of the musicologist.

Forte was born on Dec. 23 1926 in Portland, Oregon. During World War II he served in the American Navy from 1944 to 1946 on the U.S.S. General Butner in the Pacific. A graduate of Columbia University, where he earned both his B.A. and M.A. degrees, Forte joined the Yale faculty as an instructor in music theory after teaching at the Columbia University Teachers College. He became a full professor in 1968 and assumed the Battell Professorship in 1991. He was director of graduate studies from 1970 to 1977 and director of undergraduate studies from 1995 to 1996. During his 44 years at Yale, he advised 72 Ph.D. students.

Forte was the general editor of the Yale University Press series “Composers of the Twentieth Century” for more than two decades. He served for seven years as the editor of the Journal of Music Theory, and was on the advisory boards of The Musical Quarterly and Music Analysis. Forte’s papers are housed in the Irving S. Gilmore Music Library at Yale.

A fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Forte received numerous other honors, including fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Society for Music Theory awarded him its First Lifetime Membership in 1995, and the Eastman School of Music gave him an honorary Doctor of Music degree in 1978. A 1997 book of essays titled “Music Theory in Concept and Practice,” edited by David Beach, Jonathan Bernard and James Baker, was dedicated to the Yale professor.

Forte also taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Yale Summer School of Music and Art, and the Eastman School of Music. He was a visiting lecturer at Columbia University and the University of British Columbia, and he served on four different occasions as director of the National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar for College Teachers.

He is survived by his wife, concert pianist Madeleine Forte, her sons, and her grandchildren.