The Kennedy Center

William Bergsma


American composer William Bergsma was born in Oakland, California in 1921 where he studied piano and viola before concentrating on composition. At the age of sixteen he took his first composition lessons from Howard Hanson with whom he later studied at the Eastman School of Music, where he earned his bachelor's and his master's degrees.

From 1946 to 1963 Bergsma served on the faculty of the Juilliard School of Music in various roles, most importantly as chair of the composition department. From 1963-1971 he was director of the University of Washington School of Music.

Bergsma composed works for symphony orchestra, opera, chamber ensembles, solo instruments and choral groups. He is particularly known for his opera The Wife of Martin Guerre, the full orchestral work First Symphony, and suites from the ballets Paul Bunyan and Gold and the Senor Commandante. Bergsma also composed string quartets, a woodwind quintet and other works for piano, voice, chorus and band. His music, unequivocally based in the twentieth century, is noted for its lyrical contrapuntal elements.

He received numerous honors and awards, including two Guggenheim Fellowships and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Bergsma's many commissions include those from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. In 1992 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

William Bergsma


  • Music on a Quiet Theme