Dear Stephen Mosko, you are quite an “extremist”

The Stephen “Lucky” Mosko Collection, 1963-2000 is cataloged and open for research.

Undated portrait of Stephen L. Mosko. Ms. Coll. 140 (Photographs. Prints. Box 1)

Undated portrait of Stephen L. Mosko. Ms. Coll. 140 (Photographs. Prints. Box 1)

Composer, conductor and professor Stephen Lee “Lucky” Mosko was born in Denver, Colorado in 1947. After early training under conductor Antonia Brico, Mosko attended Yale University, where he studied music theory and composition with the composer Mel Powell. Upon completing his bachelor’s degree in 1969 Mosko began graduate study at Yale, but soon thereafter followed Powell to the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts). He received his M.F.A. from CalArts in 1972, at which time he immediately joined the CalArts Faculty, with which he remained affiliated until his death in 2005.

Mosko drew from a wide variety of techniques throughout his compositional career, including graphic notation, chance operations (for instance, use of the Chinese I Ching) and serialism. As a conductor, Mosko’s approach was governed by an openness to many different strains of twentieth-century Music. In addition to his work with the CalArts Twentieth Century Players, he served as principal conductor of the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players (1988-97), Contemporary Chamber Players (1995-98) and Griffin Music Ensemble (1990-92) among others. Mosko’s programming tended toward eclecticism, often juxtaposing a wide variety of music within a single evening’s programming. Mosko also worked occasionally in event production. His most prominent position as music director was for the Olympic Arts Contemporary Music Festival, organized in conjunction with the Olympic Games in Los Angeles in 1984.

Undated photograph of Stephen L. Mosko conducting. Ms. Coll. 140 (Photographs. Prints. Box 1)

Undated photograph of Stephen L. Mosko conducting. Ms. Coll. 140 (Photographs. Prints. Box 1)

Outside of his work in contemporary music, Mosko maintained a lifelong interest in Icelandic folk music, especially the vocal traditions of kvæðaskapur and rímur. He traveled to Iceland several times to study its music, beginning with a Fulbright-Hays Fellowship he received in 1974. Mosko maintained a regular correspondence with Icelandic musicologist Hreinn Steingrímsson and in 2000 published a volume of Hreinn Steingrímsson’s research, edited with Dorothy Stone). Icelandic music also provided the central inspiration for two of Mosko’s own compositions, titled Indigenous music, no. 1  (1980) and Indigenous music, no. 2 (1984).

In his later years, Mosko frequently collaboration with his wife Dorothy Stone, a flautist and co-founder of the group Califonia E.A.R. Unit. Aside from a brief visiting appointment at Harvard University from 1990-91, Mosko remained on the faculty of CalArts until shortly before his death. Stephen Mosko died on December 6th, 2005.

Materials in the collection were transferred to the Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library directly by Mosko’s surviving relatives in the late 2000s. The materials primarily relate to Mosko’s career as a composer, conductor and teacher of music. The recorded materials include much documentation of Mosko’s own compositions, as well as extensive materials relating to his career as a conductor. The latter give deep insight into the work of contemporary classical performance in the United States during the second half of the twentieth century. Programs, publicity and correspondence with composers related to these performances are also preserved.

Correspondence files reveal much communication with well-known figures of the musical avant garde, including Morton Feldman, Milton Babbitt, Karlheinz Stockhausen, John Cage, Elliott Carter and others. In this letter from 1985, the cosmically attuned Stockhausen offers Mosko a horoscope; Stockhausen goes on to explain that he has “written into my score the time intervals between the star signs as they occurred in a recording of the Octet of the Berlin Philharmonic.”

Letter from Karlheinz Stockhausen to Stephen L. Mosko, December 18th, 1985. Ms. Coll. 140 (Documents. Box 2)

Letter from Karlheinz Stockhausen to Stephen L. Mosko, December 18th, 1985. Ms. Coll. 140 (Documents. Box 2)

Scores in the collection include extensive pre-compositional notes prepared by Mosko, often featuring graphs, charts, prose descriptions and serial matrices.

Draft of The Atu of Tahuti, "Structural proportions," October 8th, 1984. Stephen L. Mosko composition notebook. Ms. Coll. 140 (Documents. Box 9)

Draft of The Atu of Tahuti, “Structural proportions,” October 8th, 1984. Stephen L. Mosko composition notebook. Ms. Coll. 140 (Documents. Box 9)

A small number of items of a more personal nature such as family photographs and correspondence have been retained in order to give biographical background on Mosko’s life as a composer.

Comprising 60 boxes of papers and audiovisual collections, the collection includes musical scores, audio and video recordings, correspondence, press and publicity materials, teaching materials, photographs and concert programs.

Access is unrestricted. To see materials in the collection, start by visiting the HOLLIS record. Please contact the Isham Memorial Library for assistance if needed.

Contributed by Michael Heller, who processed the collection and wrote this piece, and by Christina Linklater, Keeper of the Isham Memorial Library.

2 Comments

  1. Do you know Stephen Mosko doesn’t have a detailed page on Wikipedia? Of course, it exists but comparing the information you presented here with what’s there on Wikipedia it’s like nothing over there. It’s filled with sources but nothing descriptive.

  2. Christina Linklater

    February 29, 2016 at 9:30 am

    You’re right, Mihai Pintilie: it’s a pretty skimpy page, and refers to “California Ear Unit”! The Grove music online article isn’t very detailed either. I’ll refer your suggestion to the musicologist who prepared the finding aid and most of this blog post, in the hopes that he can find time to do justice to the composer and the collection.

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