Obituary for William Jay Sydeman |

Obituary for William Jay Sydeman

William Jay


May 8, 1928 – May 27, 2021

William Jay Sydeman, American composer, 93, died in his sleep on May 27, 2021. Jay lived at The Woods, a private community near Mendocino, California. He taught composition at the Mannes School of Music conservatory in New York from 1960 to 1970. The New York Times once wrote, “The season has begun: there is a premier by William Sydeman…” and called him the most played composer of his generation. Sydeman was selected by Erich Leinsdorf to write “In Memoriam John F. Kennedy”, performed by the Boston Symphony in Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C. He was awarded the Boston Symphony’s Award of Merit and scholarships to Tanglewood.

Sydeman wrote contemporary music, pushing the envelope of the avant garde. He was not a devotee of any single school of music but used the tonal and harmonic resources opened up by Schoenberg, Bartok, Stravinsky, and one of his teachers, Roger Sessions, with freedom and individuality. As one of the composers selected for a commission for the dedication of Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center, his piece, Malediction, a “black comedy” spoof on the excommunication curse from “The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman,” a satiric 18th century comic novel by Laurence Sterne enjoying a revival at the time, nearly caused a riot. Sydeman said, “I know how Stravinsky felt at the premiere of “The Rite of Spring.”

In 1981 Sydeman taught at Steiner College in Fair Oaks, California, where he wrote much of his choral music. There he set to music Rudolf Steiner’s Calendar of the Soul. Sydeman lived in Nevada City, California, from 1988 to 2007, and there he helped organize a composers group, the Nevada County Composers Cooperative. They started a mentoring program for young composers, which is still active today.

In Mendocino Jay played piano for a weekly lunch program at the Mendocino Presbyterian Church and gave performances and talks at the Mendocino Art Center. He played with a jazz group and played classical music with friends at the Woods. He had a radio program on local station KZYX called “The Mind of the Composer” until he retired in 2018.

Jay is published by Edition Peters, E. C. Schirmer, Associated Music, Subito Music and others. Many of his works are available on International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP). Jay always believed the best memorial to him would be to listen to his music. Tributes and stories can be left at

Jay is survived by his daughters, Ann Sydeman (Henry Moreton), Michelle Sydeman, son William Sydeman (Catherine Madonia), granddaughters, Emily and Julia Moreton and Claire and Marie Sydeman, and close friend and caregiver, Jeanne Duncan.

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