Robert Linn; Composer, USC Music School Teacher


Robert Linn, a versatile and prolific classical composer who helped elevate the USC’s venerable Thornton School of Music to international prominence, has died. He was 74.

Linn died Thursday at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Los Angeles of complications from cancer, his son Steve said Monday.

“Though he contributed profound utterances to the [school’s] repertoire,” Thornton’s dean, Larry J. Livingston, said of Linn, “his music and manner were graced by a complete absence of pretense.”


Linn taught at USC for 33 years and chaired the composition department for 17. He retired in 1990 “to become a full-time composer,” he told The Times then, “something I never thought would happen.”

Linn’s music has been recorded on major classical labels and performed on six continents by groups ranging from the USC Symphony Orchestra and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra to the San Francisco, Boston and London symphonies.

His 1990 Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 2, written for pianist John Perry, was one of 10 semifinalists in the Kennedy Center’s Eric Friedheim Awards Competition of New American Music. The piece was also a finalist that year in the National Orchestra Assn. New Music Project.

The composer’s Fantasia for Cello and String Orchestra was premiered in 1976 by another USC musical treasure, cellist Nathaniel Rosen, and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. Rosen repeated the Linn piece at a 1984 Ambassador Auditorium concert celebrating the centennial anniversary of USC’s School of Music.

Linn, although a very new faculty member in 1958, composed the anthem played by the USC Symphony Orchestra for the inauguration of university President Norman Topping.

During his brief years as “full-time composer,” Linn made short work--three months--of a commissioned cantata for the 17th annual Baroque Music Festival of Corona del Mar in 1997. The cantata, in memory of festival board member Robert Sangster, was written for four vocalists and orchestra, set to excerpts from Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.”


“The work was designed to be a joyous and jovial and secular cantata, which is reflected in the subtitle--’In Praise of Love and Music,’ ” Linn told The Times. “There wasn’t a lot of revising. It seemed to flow very naturally.”

Adding a 20th century composition to a festival celebrating 17th-century music might seem unusual, but it was not unprecedented. Four years earlier, Linn had composed a concerto for oboe, harpsichord and orchestra for the same Corona del Mar event. That piece was the first ever commissioned by the festival organizers.

Linn composed more than 80 works for full orchestra, chamber groups, piano, strings, brass and woodwinds.

“It seems to me that it’s more fun to take each new commission and hope that it’s going to be something different--a chance to write for different instruments or a chance to use new forms or techniques,” Linn told The Times in 1993.

Even the old-fashioned baroque concerto, he said, “ended up writing itself very easily. I had to set my mind to baroque type of thinking. When I wasn’t writing, I was listening to baroque music and harpsichord music.”

“Baroque . . . jazzy . . . romantic . . . at least three different styles,” he said. “And yet I think it all sounds like me. I write in different ways, and yet there’s something about the way you think and put notes together that is the same.”


Born in San Francisco, Linn studied composition with Darius Milhaud at Mills College, Roger Sessions at Princeton and Halsey Stevens and Ingolf Dahl at USC, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music.

Survivors include Linn’s wife of 48 years, Virginia; two sons, Steve of Oceanside and Roger of San Francisco; a daughter, Stacy, of Orange; and one grandson.

Services are scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Monday in the Old North Church at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills. The family asked that instead of flowers, friends plan to contribute to the Robert Linn Memorial Scholarship at the USC Thornton School of Music, Los Angeles, CA 90089-0851.