Richter, Marga (1926—)

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Richter, Marga (1926—)

American composer. Born in Reedsburg, Wisconsin, on October 21, 1926; daughter of Paul Richter and Inez (Chandler) Richter (a soprano); studied piano at the Juilliard School of Music under Rosalyn Tureck and composition with William Bergsma and Vincent Persichetti; married Alan Skelly (a professor of philosophy), in 1953; children: Michael and Maureen.

Marga Richter's paternal grandfather would not permit his children to study music. As a result, her father Paul Richter was devoted to music and married Inez Chandler Richter , a soprano. Their daughter Marga was born in 1926. On Saturday afternoons, if the Metropolitan Opera featured Wagner on its radio broadcasts, Paul Richter locked the front doors, allowing no one access or egress until the performance was over. Marga began studying piano at age three and composition at twelve. From the beginning, she used the 12-tone scale, though at the time she had heard very little contemporary music. Richter continued her studies at the Juilliard School of Music, where she majored in composition. She was one of the youngest composers to have her compositions programmed on the Composers Forum series in New York.

Richter married Alan Skelly in 1953 and after their two children were born devoted herself more to home and family than to composition. "I'm glad, I think, that I didn't have commissions coming in and deadlines to meet while the kids were growing up," she said. Once her children were grown, however, she returned to composition, and the interval seemed to have borne creative fruit. In 1968, she began to compose Landscapes of the Mind I, and produced six other major works in a ten-year period. She also received endowments, including a grant from the Martha Baird Rockefeller Foundation, the Tucson Symphony, and the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as a dozen stipends from the New York State Council on the Arts. Many American orchestras included her compositions in their programs. Jessye Norman included Richter's songs in recitals, and her compositions were increasingly performed internationally.


Block, Adrienne Fried, and Carol Neuls-Bates, comps. and eds. Women in American Music: A Bibliography of Music and Literature. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1979.

Cohen, Aaron I. International Encyclopedia of Women Composers. 2 vols. NY: Books & Music (USA), 1987.


Tapes and interviews held at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, Project for the Oral History of Music in America.

John Haag , Athens, Georgia