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Retired music professor Robert Palmer dies at age 95

Robert M. Palmer, the Given Foundation Professor Emeritus of Composition in the Department of Music, died July 3 in Ithaca after a long illness. He was 95.

Born in Syracuse, N.Y., in 1915, Palmer studied piano, violin and theory before entering the Eastman School of Music, where he earned bachelor's and master's degrees in composition. After studying with Roy Harris in 1939 and with Aaron Copland at the opening session of Tanglewood in the summer of 1940, Palmer taught composition, theory and piano at the University of Kansas before joining the Cornell faculty in 1943, replacing Harris.

Palmer founded the Doctor of Musical Arts program in composition at Cornell and guided it to national prominence. He retired in 1980.

A prolific composer, Palmer was influenced by another teacher, Quincy Porter, and by Béla Bartók. He composed more than 90 works, from piano and violin sonatas to chamber music and fully orchestrated symphonies. His many choral works include "Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight" (1948) and "Portents of Aquarius" (1975). He continued to compose music for several years after his retirement. His body of work resides at Cornell in the Sidney Cox Library of Music and Dance and in the University Archives in Olin Library.

His music was commissioned by the Columbia Broadcasting System, the Koussevitzky Foundation, the Minneapolis Orchestra (now the Minnesota Orchestra), Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, the Fromm Foundation and the Kindler Foundation, among others.

Palmer received awards and fellowships from the National Academy of Arts and Letters in 1946, the Guggenheim Foundation in 1952 and 1960, the Fulbright Senior Research Grant in 1960 and the National Endowment for the Arts in 1980.

He is survived by his daughter, Anne Plaine; brother, Gordon Palmer; sister, Claire Carpenter; two grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.

A memorial service for family and friends will be held Saturday, July 24, at 11 a.m. at Bangs Funeral Home, Ithaca. In lieu of flowers, contributions can be sent to the Foundation of Light, 391 Turkey Hill Road, Ithaca, NY 14850.

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Blaine Friedlander