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Guide to the Richard Maxfield Collection ARS.0074
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Access
  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation
  • Sponsor
  • Biography
  • Scope and Contents
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Richard Maxfield Collection
    Dates: 1959-1964
    Collection number: ARS.0074
    Creator: Maxfield, Richard, 1927-1969
    Physical Description: 1 box : 10 open reel tapes
    Contributing Institution: Archive of Recorded Sound
    Abstract: Open reel tapes by electronic music composer Richard Maxfield containing some of his most well-known works.
    Language of Material: English


    Open for research; material must be requested at least two business days in advance of intended use. Contact the Archive for assistance.

    Publication Rights

    Property rights reside with repository. Publication and reproduction rights reside with the creators or their heirs. To obtain permission to publish or reproduce, please contact the Head Librarian of the Archive of Recorded Sound.

    Preferred Citation

    Richard Maxfield Collection, ARS-0074. Courtesy of the Stanford Archive of Recorded Sound, Stanford University Libraries, Stanford, Calif.


    This finding aid was produced with generous financial support from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.


    Richard Maxfield (1927 - 1969) was born in Seattle, Washington. His musical aptitude was revealed at a young age, playing both piano and clarinet, the latter in the Seattle All-Youth Orchestra. He also began composing in high school, largely exploring neoclassical and twelve-tone serialism. After a year in the Navy, he enrolled at Stanford University (where reportedly campus station KZSU played his music) but transferred in 1947 to U.C. Berkeley to study with Roger Sessions after having heard his music on the radio. Graduating in 1951, Maxfield traveled to Europe on a scholarship, where he was introduced to Boulez, Stockhausen, Nono, and the electronic tape music which would guide his work from then on. Maxfield also studied with Krenek, Babbitt, Copland, Maderna, and Dallapiccola, but was ultimately influenced the most by the work of John Cage, whom he met through Christian Wolff in 1958. Maxfield would employ chance as a compositional tool, at times drawing strips of tape from a glass bowl. Unlike some aleatoric composers, however, Maxfield would further edit works according to what he thought worked best.
    Maxfield's music was presented at Fluxus events, the Living Theatre, and other New York City loft performances beginning in the late 1950s. He composed music for dance, and was musical director of the James Waring Dance Company. Maxfield was friend and mentor to La Monte Young, who first performed his works in New York in 1960. Young's MELA Foundation is custodian for Maxfield's archive.
    Outside of composing, Maxfield wrote essays, produced a film ("An Introduction to New Music"), and worked as freelance audio engineer (one regular client was Westminster Records from 1960 to 1962), but he was far more involved with music education. In fact, New Grove's Dictionary of Music calls him "the first teacher of electronic music techniques in the United States." Maxfield taught at the New School in New York City in 1959 (taking over a class taught by Cage) and later at San Francisco State in 1966 and 1967. He moved to Los Angeles the following year. On June 27, 1969, Richard Maxfield, then 42 years old, jumped out of a window at the Figueroa Hotel.

    Scope and Contents

    The Richard Maxfield Collection consists of electronic music written by Maxfield on open reel tape from 1959 to 1964. Some tape boxes appear annotated by the composer. Nine are labeled as distinct works, while two others are more likely to be work tapes or copies. Pastoral Symphony, Amazing Grace and Cough Music are some of his more canonical pieces, and date from the period considered his most prolific. Maxfield would edit tapes for each performance to ensure a unique event, and it is unknown what versions these recordings represent. Although he supposedly did all his composing in New York, several of these tapes have a Southern California address. The live recording of Dromenon, a ballet for tape and live instruments, was performed by a quintet at Judson Memorial Church New York City in 1964.

    Indexing Terms

    Electronic music