Composer Robert Ashley Dies of Liver Disease Complications

Andrew Parks

By Andrew Parks

on 03.04.14 in News

Photo by Joanne Savio

Robert Ashley, the prolific composer known for working with such experimental artists as Alvin Lucier, David Behrman and Maggi Payne, died yesterday afternoon of complications from chronic liver disease. He would have turned 84 later this month.

Kyle Gann, a fellow composer and Bard professor who released a book on Ashley in 2012, confirmed the news and added that Ashley finished a new piece before he died called Mixed Blessings, Indiana.

“Having published a book on him fairly recently,” Gann wrote, “I don’t know how much else I can say. But the reason for writing the book wasn’t because I thought I’d get much from it academically or monetarily, just for the opportunity to spend 28 hours interviewing the most unique personality I’ve ever known. He was so incredibly brilliant and original and alert and non-repetitive. His enthusiasm was unremitting and contagious. Every time I left him I was invariably in a joyous, hyped-up mood, buoyed by his devil-may-care Aries courage.

He continued, “For a wild creative type, he was the most organized person, inside and out, I’ve ever seen. He seemed to have total recall of his entire life and his entire output. He was bitter that he hadn’t gotten more attention for his astonishing creative achievements, but the bitterness only burst out in moments, and his sunny enthusiasm for everything in life would quickly crowd it out again. He was a fabulous role model … one of the most amazing composers of the 20th century, and the greatest genius of 20th-century opera. I don’t know how long it’s going to take the world to recognize that. And it hardly matters. He knew it. That the world was too stupid to keep up was not his problem.”

Watch the first chapter of Ashley’s Perfect Lives opera below, along with a few other clips from his career…