Rudolph Bubalo, Composer, 1927–2004


“An enormous control panel looms in the middle of this pristine room, the hundreds of buttons and numerous gauges poised for action,” wrote Plain Dealer music critic Donald Rosenberg on a visit in 1993 to the control room of Cleveland State University’s music technology complex. Coming upon its banks of tape recorders, massive speakers and closed-circuit video screens, Rosenberg said, was like stepping onto the flight deck of the Starship Enterprise.

It was exactly the setting in which you’d expect to find Rudolph Bubalo, the adventurous, pioneering composer and respected CSU music faculty member, whose Spacescape for orchestra and prerecorded tape had received its world premiere at New York’s Carnegie Hall in 1976. NASA might have envied the American Symphony Orchestra’s successful launching that night of Bubalo’s innovative fusion of acoustic and electronically generated sounds.

The work was subsequently performed by five other symphonies around the U.S., including the Cleveland Orchestra. That 1979 performance led by Lorin Maazel, in particular, must have been sweet to Bubalo, who had made Cleveland his home since the mid-1960s.

Born in 1927 in Duluth, Minnesota, of Serbian and Croatian heritage, Rudy Bubalo had begun his career in music as a jazz pianist and arranger. He attended the universities of Minnesota and Illinois before taking degrees from the Chicago Music College and Roosevelt University, where he studied composition with John Becker, Karel Jirak, Ernst Krenek and Vittorio Rieti.

Bubalo was one of the young composers who saw the Moog synthesizer, an electronic means of creating a wide range of strange new sounds that became available in the early 1960s, as opening up an exciting new world of compositional possibilities. He still loved the sounds of traditional instruments, but now Bubalo had, literally at his finger tips, a greatly expanded musical palette—soon to be joined with the ability to pre-record, edit, manipulate, mix and then incorporate any sound into a performance by live musicians.

His muscular Concerto for Cello and Orchestra (1991–92), for example, juxtaposes the rich tonalities of the cello with the eerie taped sounds of automobile spring coils, brake drums and synthesizers. Indeed, in a twist of fate of the sort Brahms never had to deal with, the world premiere by Edwin London and the Cleveland Chamber Orchestra with Regina Mushabac as soloist originally scheduled for 1991 had to be postponed to the following year when the computer printing out the individual parts of the score ran out of memory.

Supported by numerous ASCAP Composer Awards and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and Ohio Arts Council, Bubalo also began to experiment in his early years at CSU with microtones (notes that fall between the tones of the conventional scale) and multiphonics (sounds produced simultaneously on an instrument by special fingerings). Both are employed in The Gay Bassoon (1974), the feral clarinet concerto (1983) and, hauntingly, in Valence II for clarinet, bassoon and tape (1977). The last of these can be heard on New World Records CD #80446, along with Bubalo’s cello concerto, Offset I for orchestra with three synthesizers (1985), and his widely performed 1984 Concertino for chamber ensemble and Yamaha DX7 synthesizer (featuring 302 banks of 32 sounds).

These and other compositions, such as Bubalo’s much-praised Trajectories for orchestra with saxophone, electric piano and tape (1979) and The Sound of Isness for orchestra with two synthesizers (1986), were realized at Cleveland State University, where he was director of the electronic/computer music studios and professor of music until his retirement in 1998 as professor emeritus. Part of his legacy to the adventurous young composers following in his footsteps at CSU was the dedication in 1993 of a linked complex of state-of-the-art studios, said to be unsurpassed anywhere in the U.S. Besides a versatile EMAX digital sampling keyboard, it featured a Yamaha digital system with built-in sequencer and percussion capable of programming 16 voices at once and a Proteus 2XR orchestral console able to mimic the timbres of orchestral instruments with frightening audacity—an invaluable tool for aspiring composers who can't afford to hire an orchestra to practice on.

Rudy Bubalo himself continued to explore the unmapped frontiers of music. His final composition, a Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, dedicated to Julie, his wife of 50 years, was introduced by Laura Prokopyk and the CCS under the baton of Emily Freeman Brown in September 2004 just three months before the composer’s death at the age of 76. Frank J. Oteri, executive director of the American Music Center and a recognized authority on contemporary music, included four pieces of Bubalo’s (Trajectories, Offset I, The Sound of Isness and the cello concerto) alongside compositions by Leonard Bernstein, John Adams and Laurie Anderson on his list of “essential” works for orchestra and electronics by Americans that “point the way toward . . . the music of the 21st century.”

—Dennis Dooley

Cleveland Arts Prize
P.O. Box 21126 • Cleveland, OH 44121 • 440-523-9889 •

home l nominate l honors & awards l scholarships l donate l about us l endowment l archive l news l contact