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May 23, 1911 - April 25, 1988
By: James Porter
Published: Fall, 1988, Ethnomusicology Newsletter
Professor Emeritus Boris Kremenliev died April 25 after a long fight against lymphoma. Boris will be remembered by many composition and ethnomusicology students at UCLA, where he came to teach in 1947 after receiving his doctorate at the University of Rochester (1942), studying there with Howard Hanson. Emigrating from his native Bulgaria in 1929, he chose to come to the U.S. to study at De Paul University in Chicago, although another choice facing him at that time was the possibility of studying with Vaughn Wiliams in London. The orchestral score the Williams' Sea Symphony was the first full score he ever encountered.
After wartime service in the U.S. Army, Boris joined the Music Department at UCLA and remained here until his retirement in 1978. Thereafter he continued to compose and write on his special area of Slavic, especially Bulgarian, folk music, and at the time of his death was preparing a series of articles for publication in book form. His Bulgarian-Macedonian Folk Music (UC Press 1952) is his best-known scholarly work and is still the only book-length treatment of the subject in English. Boris also published widely in ethnomusicology and folklore journals here and abroad.
Among his compositions are the film score for The Tell-Tale Heart, one of five films in its category nominated for an Academy Award that year. His orchestral works have been performed by orchestras around the world, including the Stuttgart Philharmonic, the Orchestra of Mexico City, the symphony orchestras of both Sydney and Melbourne, and the Sofia Philharmonic. A recent ASCAP survey listed performances of his works in England, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, and East Africa.
In his long service to UCLA Boris began as a part-time lecturer. Over the years he taught some twenty-four different courses, introducing almost half of them to the curriculum himself: Music for Radio, Television and Motion Pictures; Tonal Counterpoint; Advanced Orchestration; Advanced Harmony; Music of the Balkans; Seminar in Electronic Music. He chaired over seventy theses and dissertations in ethnomusicology, composition and historical musicology.
As one of the forces behind the formation of the Institute for Ethnomusicology, Boris served twice as its Acting Director. He devised and presented at this time a radio program for KPFK, the Many Musics of Man. Its existence undoubtedly raised the profile of ethnomusicology within the local community by presenting aspects of world music, and Boris invited a series of distinguished guests to participate in discussion: Charles Seeger (The Meaning of Music), Walter Starkie (Music of the Gypsies of Southern Europe), Ulysses Kay (American Music), Israel J. Katz (Music of the Jewish People), A. L. Lloyd (Epics of Eastern Europe), Radmilla Petrovic (Narrow-Range Melodies in Serbian Folk Music).
After the Institute was dissolved, Boris became Chair of the Council on Ethnomusicology, and perhaps his most important achievement at that point was persuading the administration of the need for an additional FTE at tenure rank and of upgrading certain part-time lectureships. In this he paved the way for the new Department of Ethnomusicology, which came into existence July 1, 1988.
In his role of interpreting for visiting foreign musicians in Los Angeles, as a member of ASCAP and the Screen Composers Association of the U.S., Boris had the opportunity to meet many distinguished composers and to discuss matters of mutual interest. Among these figures were Pierre Boulez, Elliot Carter, Carlos Chavez, Aaron Copland, Luigi Dallapiccola, Roy Harris, Ulysses Kay, Ernst Krenek, Luigi Nono, Harry Partch, Arnold Schoenberg, Dmitri Shostakovitch, William Grant Still, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Stravinsky, Toch, Vaughan Williams and William Walton.
Two of Boris' achievements for the Music Department in which he took special pride were his fight to have windows installed in classrooms and offices, despite the plans of the architects which elevated brick over glass. The second was his design of the recording studio in Schoenberg Auditorium, for which he specified all the equipment and supervised its installation.
As a person Boris was universally recognized as his own man. He constantly opposed hypocrisy and inefficiency wherever he found them. His championing of student causes, compassion for the underdog, and appeals for fair play were characteristic of his high professional and personal standards of conduct. The Department of Ethnomusicology owes a great deal to him and remembers his inestimable contributions with affection and gratitude.