Kohs, Ellis (Bonoff)

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Kohs, Ellis (Bonoff)

Kohs, Ellis (Bonoff), noted American composer and teacher; b. Chicago, May 12, 1916; d. Los Angeles, May 17, 2000. His mother was a good violinist, and when Kohs learned to play the piano he often accompanied her at home. In 1928 the family moved from San Francisco (following his early musical studies there at the Cons.) to N.Y., where he studied with Adelaide Belser at the Inst. of Musical Art. In 1933 he enrolled at the Univ. of Chicago as a student in composition with Carl Bricken (M.A., 1938). Upon graduation, he proceeded to N.Y., where he entered the Juilliard School of Music, studying composition with Wagenaar and musical pedagogy with Samaroff. He continued his musical studies at Harvard Univ., with Piston in composition and Leichtentritt and Apel in musicology (1939–41); also attended a seminar given by Stravinsky at Harvard Univ. in 1940-41. During the summer of 1940, he was a lecturer in music at the Univ. of Wise, in Madison. From 1941 to 1946 he served in the U.S. Army as a chaplain’s assistant and organist, and in the U.S. Air Force as a bandleader. After his discharge from service, he engaged in pedagogical work and in active composition; his teaching posts included Wesleyan Univ. (1946–48), the Kansas City Cons, of Music (1946–47), the Coll. of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif. (1948–50), Stanford Univ. (1950), and the Univ. of Southern Calif, in Los Angeles (1950–85). In his music, Kohs pursued the aim of classical clarity, being particularly adept in variation structures; the rhythmic patterns in his works are often asymmetrical, and the contrapuntal fabric highly dissonant; in some of his works, he made use of a unifying 12-tone row, subjecting it to ingenious metamorphoses, as revealed in his opera Amerika, after the novel by Kafka. A humorous streak is shown in his choral piece The Automatic Pistol, to words from the U.S. Army weapons manual, which he composed during his military service. He publ. the useful manuals Music Theory, a Syllabus for Teacher and Student (2 vols., N.Y., 1961), Musical Form: Studies in Analysis and Synthesis (Boston, 1976), and Musical Composition: Projects in Ways and Means (Metuchen, N.J., 1980).


dramatic:Amerika, opera, after Kafka (1969; abridged concert version, Los Angeles, May 19, 1970; 2 orch. suites, 1986, 1987); Lohiau and Hiiaka, Hawaiian legend for Narrators, Flute, Cello, Percussion, and Dancers (1987; also as a suite for Flute, Cello, and Percussion, 1988); incidental music. orch.:Concerto for Orch. (Berkeley, Calif., Aug. 9, 1942); Passacaglia for Organ and Strings (1946); Legend for Oboe and Strings (Columbus, Ohio, Feb. 27, 1947); Cello Concerto (1947); Chamber Concerto for Viola and String Nonet (1949); 2 syms.: No. 1 (1950) and No. 2 for Chorus and Orch. (Urbana, III, April 13, 1957); Violin Concerto (1980; Los Angeles, April 24, 1981). chamber: 3 string quartets (1940–84); Night Watch for Flute, Horn, and Timpani (1943); Bassoon Sonatina (1944); Short Concert for String Quartet (1948); Clarinet Sonata (1951); Variations for Recorder (1956); Brass Trio (1957); Studies in Variation in 4 parts: for Woodwind Quintet, for Piano Quartet, for Piano, for Violin (1962); Snare Drum Sonata (1966); Duo for Violin and Cello, after Kafka’s Amerika (1971); Concerto for Percussion Quartet (1979); Trio for Strings (1983); Fantasies, Intermezzi, and Canonic Etudes on the Name EuDiCe SHApiro for Violin (1985). keyboard:piano:Étude in Memory of Bartok (1946); Variations (1946); Variations on L’Homme armé (1947); Toccata for Harpsichord or Piano (1948); Fantasy on La, Sol, Fa, Re, Mi (1949); 10 Inventions (1950). Organ: Capriccio (1948); 3 Chorale-Variations on Hebrew Hymns (1952). vocal:The Automatic Pistol for Men’s Voices (Washington, D.C., Sept. 5, 1943); 25th Psalm (1947); Fatal Interview, song cycle, Edna St. Vincent Millay (1951); Lord of the Ascendant for Chorus, Soloists, Dancers, and Orch., after the Gilgamesh (1956); 3 Songs from the Navajo for Chorus (1957); 3 Greek Choruses for Women’s Chorus (1957); 23rd Psalm for Soloists and Chorus (1957); Men for Narrator and 3 Percussionists (1982; Los Angeles, March 15, 1984); Subject Cases for Narrator and Percussionist, after Gertrude Stein (Los Angeles, Feb. 14, 1983).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire