Skip to main content


The Composition program at Cornell combines private lessons and group seminars, with an emphasis on the development of the student’s personal approach to composition, while attaining the highest possible technical mastery. The D.M.A. at Cornell blends scholarship with artistic work. Like some Ph.D. programs, we require a foreign language and a thesis dealing with a historical or theoretical topic (not with the candidate’s own music), and we expect that all composers will do some seminar work in academic subjects. A principal strength of the program is that, like all Cornell doctorates in the humanities, the D.M.A. program in composition offers the adventurous student the opportunity to study many subjects, including topics outside the field of music, and to meld these into a highly individual course of study.

Students who do not already have a master’s degree in music earn the Master of Fine Arts in the course of their study; but the M.F.A. is not normally viewed as a terminal degree at Cornell, and those wishing to earn only the master’s degree are not usually admitted. All doctoral students are admitted with four full years of funding in the form of 1.5 years of fellowships and 2.5 years of teaching assistantships.

In addition to seminar work and lessons, students will be required to present a public concert of their work comprising at least 30 minutes of music in various media composed during their study at Cornell. As part of the D.M.A. thesis, students are required to complete a single composition or a portfolio of totaling at least twenty minutes’ duration. If a single twenty-minute work is submitted, it must be scored for “large forces”; if a portfolio is submitted, it should cover a range of forces and genres, but again at least one work should be for large forces.

The works by doctoral composers are performed by the student-managed Cornell Contemporary Chamber Players, typically three times a year; the Festival Chamber Orchestra (a professional group of fourteen players, modeled on the London Sinfonietta) presents an annual concert of doctoral candidates’ chamber-orchestra scores.


For detailed information regarding the Composition program, please see the Composition Program pamphlet .