The Kennedy Center

Robert Kelly


Composer Robert Kelly was born in Clarksburg, West Virginia on September 26, 1916. He began studying the violin at a young age. He later majored in violin at the Juilliard School of Music under Samuel Gardner. He studied composition with Rosario Scalero at The Curtis Institute of Music and from there, received his Bachelor of Music degree in composition. He went on to study with Herbert Elwell at the Eastman School of Music where he received his Master of Music in composition.

From 1946-1976, Mr. Kelly worked as a professor of composition and theory at the University of Illinois's School of Music in Urbana. During this time, many of his compositions were written and performed: Miniature Symphony (Symphony No. 1) premiered by the Austin Symphony with Ezra Rachlin as conductor. The symphony was later performed at one of the University of Illinois's Contemporary Arts Festivals and by the Cleveland Orchestra with George Szell conducting. Mr. Kelly's Symphony No. 2 premiered in Tokyo with the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra with Akeo Watanabe conducting. Walden Pond, a cantata for mixed choir, percussion ensemble, flute and soprano was premiered by the University of Illinois.

Emancipation Symphony (Symphony No. 3) premiered in Washington DC in 1963 with the National Symphony Orchestra during the 100th anniversary year of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Mr. Kelly was appointed Associate Member of the University of Illinois Center for Advanced Study from 1963 to 1965 with a grant to compose an opera, The White Gods, the Aztec viewpoint of the conquest of Mexico. He was guest composer of the New York City Composers Forum in 1957.
Robert Kelly


  • Emancipation Symphony