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Composer Stephen Dembski Has Died Suddenly, Aged 71

According to his family, Dembski died of natural causes, and was found by his student Andrew Rindfleisch at his home in Madison, Wisconsin


The American composer Stephen Dembski passed away unexpectedly on August 14, 2021.

Dembski was a student of serial composer Milton Babbitt at Princeton University, and tended later in life to integrate Babbitt's style of twelve-tone serialism with a more tonal language.

He also taught composition at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for 35 years.

Born in 1949, Dembski had an unconventional route to composition. As a teenager, he played the flute, but also enjoyed playing folk and rock music.

He then became interested in jazz improvisation, and the music of Cecil Taylor was a strong influence in this regard. It was only following this period that Dembski undertook formal study in composition, studying at Antioch, SUNY-Stony Brook, and Princeton.

His music includes instrumental, vocal, and electro-acoustic works as well as pieces for improvising musicians and interactive installations of sound and light.

His honors include three commission-fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, a fellowship from the George A. and Eliza Gardner Howard Foundation, and the Goddard Lieberson Award of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

Dembski's colleagues, students, and friends have written heartfelt tributes to him on social media.

"I write this still in shock, as it was only the afternoon before that Steve and I had a characteristically good humored and animated conversation about new projects and a broad spectrum of life’s pleasures ranging from food and wine, to travel, and (of course) music," writes American composer William Rhoads. "No one appreciated more or could extoll the virtues (or the opposite) of a wider range of topics so eloquently as Steve. He was my teacher, my mentor, and my dear friend. I will miss him."

Our condolences to Mr. Stephen Dembski's family, friends, students, and colleagues.

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