Fonds F0428 - James Tenney fonds

Title and statement of responsibility area

Title proper

James Tenney fonds

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  • Textual record
  • Sound recording
  • Graphic material

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  • 1946-2000, predominant 1956-2000 (Creation)
    Tenney, James

Physical description area

Physical description

4.64 m of textual records
1 audio cassette
208 audio reels
7 photographs

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Archival description area

Name of creator


Biographical history

James Tenney (1934-2006), composer and educator, was born in Silver City, New Mexico and grew up in Arizona and Colorado where he received his early training as a composer and pianist. He was educated at the University of Denver, the Juilliard School of Music and Bennington College where he received his BA in 1958. He received an MMus from the University of Illinois in 1961. His teachers included Chou Wen-chung, Kenneth Gaburo, Lejaren Hiller, Lionel Nowak, Carl Ruggles, Edward Steuermann and Edgard Varese. As a performer, he was the co-founder and conductor of the Tone Roads Chamber Ensemble in New York City from 1963-1970 and has performed with the ensembles of John Cage, Philip Glass, Harry Partch and Steve Reich, among others. He has long been interested in the field of computer and electronic music and, as such, worked with Max Matthew and others at the Bell Telephone Laboratories in the early 1960s to develop programs for computer sound-generation and composition. He is the author of numerous articles on musical acoustics, computer music, musical form and musical perception and is the author of "META-HODOS : a phenomenology of 20th century musical materials and an approach to the study of form," (1964, 1988), and "A history of consonance and dissonance," (1988). He taught in the Music Department at York University in Toronto, ON from 1976 until 2000 after teaching New School for Social Research, the California Institute for the Arts and other American schools. Tenney is a modern composer of orchestral, chamber, vocal, piano and electroacoustic music with over fifty works completed including "Quintext : five textures for string quartet and bass," "Sonata for ten wind instruments," and "Clang for orchestra." He has collaborated with Carolee Schneemann and Stan Brakhage on film projects and is an expert on the music of Conlon Nancarrow. He has also been commissioned by several organizations for compositions, has released several recordings of his compositions and arrangements and published numerous scores. Up to the time of his death on 24 August 2006, he was the Roy E. Disney Family Chair in Music in the School of Music at the California Institute of the Arts.

Custodial history

Scope and content

Fonds consists of material that documents Tenney's career as an composer, musician and academic and contains personal and professional correspondence with friends and colleagues including copies of letters received from such people as Carolee Schneeman, Steve Reich, Stan Brakhage and Lionel Nowak, among others, as well as correspondence with Bell Telephone Laboratories that documents his efforts in developing programs for computer sound-generation. It also contains records in the form of musical scores, computer outputs, programmes, clippings and sound recordings that document his musical output and material that documents Tenney's ongoing academic and professional interest in the fields of composition, music theory and electronic music, among others. There is also correspondence, photographs and other material that documents his relationship with his family and, in particular, his father.

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No restrictions on access. Some material is located off-site and requests for access must be made in advance of your visit to the archives.

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Associated materials

Related material may be found in The Music Gallery fonds (F0119).

Related materials


The fonds comprises the following accessions: 1978-018, 1998-038, 2000-045, 2006-047, 2010-050, 2020-007 . Further accruals may be expected.

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Dates of creation, revision and deletion

2002/04/08 Jizi Chen:. (Creation)
2002/04/08 Awaiting review by the Data Collection Archivist
2003/05/07 Shannon MacDonald. Added URL for online finding aid. Updated wording in accruals, access restrictions.
2006/03/28 Sean Smith. Revised fonds level description including adding series level descriptions.
2006/03/28 Sean Smith. Corrected extents.
2006/03/28 Sean Smith. Corrected extents.
2006/03/29 Sean Smith. Revised fonds level description. Expanded series level description.
2006/09/11 Sean Smith. Added date of death to bio sketch.
2006/11/17 Sean Smith. Updated fonds level description.
2013/06/25 Anna St.Onge. Updated accessions
2014/07/22 Migrated to AtoM
2014/10/31 Anna St.Onge. Updated scope and content note.
2018/08/01 N. Roz, KCP. Post-migration metadata clean-up. Published description and generated finding aid.
2020/03/26 KCP, N. Somerset. Added subject access points.
2020/04/28 KCP. Added offsite storage notes.
2021/11/04 KCP. Added digital copy notes.

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Accession area