Death of a prolific US composer

Death of a prolific US composer


norman lebrecht

February 27, 2017

The thoughtful and influential James Sellars died last week at the age of 76, or 73 (his date of birth in Arkansas is variously given as October 1940 and 1943).

A chamber music specialist, often dwelling on American themes, Sellars taught for most of his career at Hartt College, where thousands of students came to know and play his crafted, intense works.



  • Guy Protheroe says:

    Very sad to hear this: he was a close friend; I worked with him several times over many years and conducted and recorded a number of his works in the UK and US. A really individual voice. Condolences to his close friends.

    • Gene Gaudette says:

      I had no idea that one of my favorite Xenakis conductors knew my college composition teacher! James was one of a kind, and his music reflects the man he was – charming, witty, warm and sunny.

  • Theodore Bale says:

    James was likely my most influential professor. I am very sad to hear of his demise. He taught me music theory and analysis, and often approached scores with an interdisciplinary mind. He taught me how to use set theory to analyze a score. I remember working with him in that regard on Stravinsky’s Requiem Canticles; whenever I hear that piece (almost always in recorded form), I think of James. He was a wonderful, inventive composer. I’ll never forget the world premiere of his concerto for synthesizer and orchestra, Concertorama. In my early student days, I stupidly dismissed a score by Stockhausen as being over-wrought. “Don’t worry,” James replied, “you just can’t hear it yet.” He encouraged me to witness everything in the concert hall. Eventually, I because a music and dance critic and wrote for newspapers, magazines, and peer-reviewed journals. It all started with his classes in music theory. I loved James very much. He was one of those professors who opened every door for his students. He had a great passion for life.

  • Gary Knoble says:

    He was born in 1940.

  • Jonathan Reed says:

    Many of my favorite memories at Hartt College involved James. He was an amazing teacher. Fueled by his incredible intellect and his often zany sense of humor, James’ teaching represented the very best of my experiences at Hartt. He will be missed. I will remember him always.