MacArthur Fellows Program

Conlon Nancarrow

Composer | Class of 1982

Mexico City, Mexico
70 at time of award
August 10, 1997
Published August 1, 1982

Conlon Nancarrow was a pianist, a trumpet player, and a composer who lived and worked in Mexico City.

Nancarrow was one of the few composers who wrote music solely for the player piano.  He produced richly textured compositions, often employing several different melodies and rhythms simultaneously.  In the 1930s and early 1940s, he composed pieces for solo piano, chamber groupings, and orchestra.  Out of frustration in trying to get his pieces played accurately, he turned to creating complex and precise music by hand punching player rolls.  He composed numerous works for player piano, some of which took as long as one year to compose and hand punch. 

Nancarrow’s series “Studies for Player Piano” reflects his early love of jazz, ragtime, and boogie-woogie and consists of over fifty individual studies composed over a span of forty years.  A book entitled, The Music of Conlon Nancarrow, published by Kyle Gann in 1995, presents a study of his music. 

Nancarrow studied at the Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music (1929-32).  He studied composition and counterpoint with Nicolas Slonimsky, Walter Piston, and Roger Sessions.

Last updated January 1, 2005.

Select News Coverage of Conlon Nancarrow
June 24, 2015
"The Prince of the Player Piano"
New York Review of Books
Conlon Nancarrow , 1982 MacArthur Fellow
June 19, 2015
"Conlon Nancarrow’s Math-Mad Music"
Conlon Nancarrow , 1982 MacArthur Fellow
August 12, 1997
"Conlon Nancarrow Dies at 84; Composed for the Player Piano"
The New York Times
Conlon Nancarrow , 1982 MacArthur Fellow
October 25, 1987
"Conlon Nancarrow, On a Roll"
The New York Times
Conlon Nancarrow , 1982 MacArthur Fellow
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