Ellis Kohs; USC Composer


Ellis Kohs, a composer praised by one critic for “considerable scope and eloquence” and a teacher and theorist who served on the composition faculty of the USC School of Music for 38 years, died Wednesday. The cause was leukemia, which had been diagnosed late last year. He was 84.

A native of Chicago, Kohs earned a degree at the University of Chicago, studied with Olga Samaroff Stokowski at the Juilliard School in New York City, then attended Harvard University, where his principal teachers included Walter Piston and Willi Apel. Kohs served as a bandmaster in the Army from 1943 to 1946.

He taught at Wesleyan University, College of the Pacific and Stanford University before joining the composition faculty at USC in 1950. During his decades at USC, he served more than 20 years as chairman of the theory department. He wrote three textbooks: “Music Theory,” “Musical Form” and “Musical Composition: Projects in Ways and Means.”

Kohs wrote 10 orchestral works, including two symphonies--the first commissioned by Pierre Monteux, the second by the Fromm Foundation--a cello concerto and a concerto for orchestra.

His opera, “Amerika,” after Franz Kafka’s novel, received a fascinating but incomplete hearing--a partial staging of about one-third of the score by Western Opera Theater--at the Inner City Cultural Center in Los Angeles in 1970.

About that performance, critic Martin Bernheimer, writing in The Times, commented on “Kohs’ sure command of the operatic idiom.” Kohs also wrote choral compositions, a number of chamber works, several songs and a substantial body of keyboard music.