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Obituary
Andrew Imbrie

16 January 2008

Andrew Walsh Imbrie, a professor emeritus of music and a renowned composer, died Dec. 5 at his Berkeley home following a long illness. He was 86.


Imbrie's repertoire included instrumental as well as vocal music; he wrote three symphonies, eight concertos, and numerous songs, sonatas, chamber works, and choral compositions. He also composed two operas: the fantasy Three Against Christmas (1960) and the nationally acclaimed Angle of Repose (1976), commissioned and performed by the San Francisco Opera for the nation's bicentennial. Angle was based on Wallace Stegner's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about California's Gold Rush.

Former San Francisco Chronicle music writer Robert Commanday described Imbrie's music as "unique and individual, independent of any trend, current, or school."

"I don't like to predict what a piece is going to be; I let ideas go where they lead," Imbrie told the Oakland Tribune in 1977. "I am in a constant state of dialogue with my material. It talks back, and you have to fit its demands. You lay yourself open to subconscious suggestion."

Born April 6, 1921, in New York City, Imbrie began studying the piano at the age of 4. After a year of study in Paris, he returned to the U.S. in 1938 and attended Princeton University, where he worked with composer and professor Roger Sessions, who became his mentor. Imbrie earned his undergraduate degree at Princeton in 1942; his senior thesis, a string quartet, was recorded by the Julliard Quartet.

After World War II, Imbrie moved to Berkeley to study with Sessions, who had begun teaching here. Imbrie earned his M.A. in music in 1947 and joined the faculty in 1949.

In addition to teaching music composition, theory, and analysis at Berkeley, Imbrie was a visiting professor at the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, New York University, Brandeis University, Harvard University, and the University of Alabama. He also taught at the San Francisco Conservatory, the Sand Point Music Festival, and Tanglewood Music Center. His commissions included works for the New York Philharmonic, the San Francisco Symphony and Opera, the Halle Orchestra of England, the Francesco Trio, the Pro Orte Quartet, and the Ford and Naumburg foundations.

Among Imbrie's awards have been the Prix de Rome, the New York Music Critics Circle Award, a National Institute of Arts and Letters grant, two Guggenheim fellowships, and a Boston Symphony Orchestra Merit Award. He also received the New York Music Critics Circle Award in 1994 for the first of his five string quartets, written while he was a student at Princeton.

He was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters, and was honored with a weeklong celebration of his work in San Francisco in 1985. He received the Berkeley Citation, this campus's highest honor, in 1991.

Imbrie's compositions include Requiem, a choral and orchestral work written in memory of his son John, an athlete, musician, and Princeton University freshman, who unexpectedly collapsed and died; Prometheus Bound, a 1980 work for orchestra, chorus, and dance; A Hawk for Peace; and Here We Stand, which celebrated the survival of redwood and oak trees threatened by a highway.

Imbrie's survivors include his wife, Barbara Imbrie of Berkeley, and a son, Andrew Philip Imbrie, of Santa Clara. A funeral service took place on Dec. 12 at St. Clements' Episcopal Church in Berkeley.

- Kathleen Maclay