Andrew Imbrie, Composer


Andrew Imbrie, Composer

Imbrie Residence: 2625 Rose Street

Andrew Imbrie, an important figure in Bay Area musical life for many years, was born in New York City and raised in Princeton, New Jersey. He received an M.A. in Music from U.C. Berkeley in 1947 and taught here from 1949 to 1991. Imbrie came to Berkeley in 1946 to study with Roger Sessions, his undergraduate mentor at Princeton. Many of Mr. Imbrie’s students commented that it was a rare lesson that didn’t include some reference to Session’s teachings.

Imbrie was known as an insightful teacher. His mastery of the basics of composition made it possible for him to work with students whose styles were quite different from his own. A Berkeley student of his, composer and lecturer Robert Greenberg, said of Imbrie’s pedagogy: “One of his alchemical skills was to be able to divine what a person’s piece needed, and to talk about it on its own terms…. He could ask you the questions that forced you to address why you’d written what you’d written.”

Imbrie’s exceptional talents were obvious early in his life. He started musical training as a pianist at the age of 4. Though he matured into a skilled pianist, his interests increasingly moved from piano to composition. He composed a string quartet for his undergraduate thesis at Princeton that was recorded by the Juilliard String Quartet. Imbrie’s lifetime musical output included symphonies, concertos, chamber music, and operas, the best known of which is “Angle of Repose,” based on the novel by Wallace Stegner.

Of his compositional style, NY Times music critic Allen Kozinn comments: “Throughout his career, his works have used dissonance dramatically rather than harshly, and if his themes were often shaped with the angularity that was the common accent of mid-20th century composition, they typically had an intensity that listeners heard as passionate and direct rather than merely spiky.”

Imbrie wrote: “The past has an influence on us…. We all have roots some place, and we have to go back to our own roots and reconcile it with everybody else’s roots, and reconcile it with what’s going on in the rest of the world and what used to go on and somehow integrate it… And what happens is all these influences are brought to bear subconsciously and when a composer matures he starts writing his own music, if he’s any good.”

Contributed by Diana Kehlmann, 2015

  • Imbrie Residence, photo (2015) R. Kehlmann

  • Andrew Imbrie in his Berkeley home, photo (ca. 2006) John O'Hara, SF Chronicle

  • Andrew Imbrie String Quartets album cover

  • Andrew Imbrie 80th Birthday Celebration album

Photo credit abbreviations:
BAHA: Berkeley Architectural Heritage Assn.
BHS: Berkeley Historical Society