Karl Kohn

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Karl Kohn (August 1, 1926) is an Austrian-American music professor at Pomona College in the mid-20th century, when Frank Zappa studied composition under his guidance. He is mentioned as an influence on Zappa on the cover of Freak Out!(1966) under the heading "These People Have Contributed Materially In Many Ways To Make Our Music What It Is. Please Do Not Hold It Against Them".


Karl Kohn was born in 1926 in Vienna, Austria. He moved to the United States when he was 13, following a musical education at the College of Music between 1940 and 1944 and at Harvard University, where he received his B.A. and M.A. His composition teachers were Irving Fine, Randall Thompson and Walter Piston. He taught music at Pomona College for several decades. Two of his pupils were Zappa and Sylvia Brigham. At the insistance of Zappa's then partner, Kay Sherman, Zappa audited Kohn's music class in the fall of 1961, despite not having the grades, skills nor money to attend lessons. But Sherman managed to convince Kohn to give her partner a chance.[1] This was Zappa's first professional guidance in learning how to compose. Kohn was very impressed with his young pupil, particularly regarding how determined he was to his goals. Zappa never missed a lesson and was even the only one to hand in his homework in ink, rather than pencil.[2] According to Frank's account in The Real Frank Zappa Book Zappa was thrown out of class after a disagreement about Anton Webern.[3] However, Kohn had a different recollection and claimed that Zappa told him he would move away and therefore be unable to complete the semester.[4]

Kohn and his wife, Margaret, performed as pianist duo for several decades. They travelled throughout the United States and Europe, performing works by Béla Bartók, Luciano Berio, Igor Stravinsky, Olivier Messiaen, György Ligeti, and Pierre Boulez. His works have been performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, the Oakland Symphony, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, on the "San Francisco Symphony's Musica Viva series", at the "Monday Evening Concerts" in Los Angeles, and in concerts and broadcasts throughout the United States and abroad.

As of 2020, he is still alive and currently Emeritus Professor of Music at Pomona College.


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