Newton D. Strandberg

Newton D. Strandberg (1921-2001) was born in River Falls, Wisconsin and raised in his youth in mid-America, Iowa. He first attended North Park College (now North Park University) in Chicago and later, in 1983, was awarded an honorary doctorate of Fine Arts from the school. He studied piano and composition with Anthony Donato at Northwestern University, receiving a Bachelor of Music Education in 1942, a Master of Music in Piano Performance in 1947, and a Doctorate of Music in Composition in 1956, the first music degree of its sort to be awarded at Northwestern.

He furthered his studies in composition with the well-known composer and innovator, Henry Cowell at Columbia University and the most influential teacher of our American composers, Nadia Boulanger in Fontainebleau. He received numerous awards and commissions, and was honored with contemporary festivals featuring his music exclusively. He served on the faculty of several universities including Denison University (1947-49), Samford University (1950-54 and again in 1956-67), and Northwestern University (1954-56). In 1967 he joined the faculty of Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, where he remained until his retirement in 1997.

Among his compositions, are works for orchestra, piano, organ, chorus, wind ensemble, and a variety of eclectic chamber ensembles. Strandberg’s witty and adventurous personality is reflected in much of his music often resulting in humorous or unusual titles and texts. His versatile style incorporates rhythmic vitality, surprising orchestrations, beautiful harmonic and melodic moments, and a true sense of originality. Although never purposely interested in Americana, by his own admission, he was interested in African and Asian music and the ethnic influences found in the great 20th-century composers such as Stravinsky, Bartok, Messiaen, and Copland. Although modern and original to its core, his music has never abandoned triadic harmonies entirely. Strandberg was deliberate in his musical style and, in 1982, articulated his philosophy:

“My life has never been spent in the environment of New York City or Paris. The accessibility of trends in thought and ideas have always trickled down to me. These ideas I would read about or perhaps I would see a snatch of a score, but the real live aural experiences have been most modest. So, even though the triad has not been forsaken by me, I consider my style for the most part indeed eclectic. I write within the bounds of the twelve chromatic tones. I model and experiment with shape and design that leads to my own conclusions of form. I have aversions to some compositional practices that I think have been overworked but I still use them in a manner that I hope an auditor (including myself) will find refreshing.”

My first-hand knowledge of his warm and sincere character confirms his candid musical approach to composition. His music is, like his person was, energetic, refreshing, engaging, and original.

Sheryl Murphy-Manley, Ph.D.
Professor of Musicology
School of Music, SHSU