Artist Catalog

Ross Lee Finney

Born: December 23 1906

Ross Lee Finney

Ross Lee Finney Junior (December 23, 1906–February 4, 1997) was an American composer born in Wells, Minnesota who taught for many years at the University of Michigan. He received his early training at Carleton College and the University of Minnesota and also studied with Nadia Boulanger, Edward Burlingame Hill, Alban Berg (from 1931-2) and Roger Sessions (in 1935). In 1928 he spent a year at Harvard University and then joined the faculty at Smith College, where he founded the Smith College Archives and conducted the Northampton Chamber Orchestra. In 1935, his setting of poems by Archibald MacLeish won the Connecticut Valley Prize, and in 1937, his First String Quartet received a Pulitzer Scholarship Award. A Guggenheim Fellowship funded travel in Europe in 1937. During World War II, Finney served in the Office of Strategic Services, and received a Purple Heart and a Certificate of Merit.

In 1948, following a second Guggenheim Fellowship, Finney joined the University of Michigan faculty. There he was the founder of the University of Michigan Electronic Music Studio in 1965 and composed the score for the sesquicentennial celebration of the University of Michigan in 1967. He retired in 1974.

Finney's works were presented at the 1965 Congregation of the Arts at the Hopkins Center of Dartmouth College, at the University of Kansas, the University of Southern California, and for the 1966 Festival of Contemporary Music at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. Finney collected many honors, including membership in the National Institute of Arts and Letters, honorary membership in Phi Beta Kappa and an honorary doctorate from Carleton College. His "Second Symphony" represented the United States at the 1963 Rostrum of International Composers at UNESCO headquarters at Paris.

For his students See: List of music students by teacher: C to F#Ross Lee Finney.

According to the notes for the Composers Recordings, Inc. recording of Finney's Cello Sonata No. 2 (about 1953), Chromatic Fantasy In E for solo cello (1957) and Piano Trio No. 2 (1954), he received the Rome Prize in 1960 and the Brandeis Medal in 1968. He is quoted in those notes as having begun writing serial music from time to time beginning in 1950 with his String Quartet No. 6 (a work which uses serial principles but is "in E" on the score), his next composition after the sonata.

He wrote eight string quartets, four symphonies as well as other orchestral works, other chamber works and songs. In his later years Finney composed a series of works exploring the nature and experience of memory, which combined serial organization as well as quotations of folk and popular music: Summer in Valley City (1969) for concert band; Two Acts for Three Players (1970) for clarinet, piano, and percussion; Landscapes Remembered (1971) for chamber orchestra; Spaces (1971) for orchestra; Variations on a Memory (1975) for chamber orchestra; and Skating Down the Sheyenne (1978) for band. Finney composed the dance scores Heyoka (1981) and The Joshua Tree (1984) for Erick Hawkins, and in 1984 completed his first opera, Weep Torn Land, to his own libretto.

Finney died on February 4, 1997, at his home in Carmel, California. He was 90.