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American composer Marga Richter’s career spanned most of the twentieth century.  She worked with dancers, recorded with MGM, dabbled in 12-tone (she disliked it), and developed a neo-Romantic, or, as she once called it, a “transcendental expressionist” style.  She composed over 100 works in a variety of genres, including large-scale orchestral works that were performed by major orchestras to mostly positive reviews.  When she graduated in 1951 from the Juilliard School of Music with a master’s degree in composition, it was the highest degree offered in composition and she was the first female to do so.  (Later, Ellen Taaffe Zwilich became the first to earn a doctorate in composition from Juilliard.) In this video, Dr. Sharon Mirchandani presents her research on Richter’s life and works, with special attention to Richter’s music that incorporates infleunces from Asian music.


October 21, 1926: Florence Marga Richter was born in Reedsburg, Wisconsin.

1929: Began piano lessons

1941: Began composing

1948: Married physicist Vernon Hughes

1949: Earned Bachelor of Music in composition from the Juilliard School; studied piano with Rosalyn Turck; studied composition with William Bergsma and Vincent Persichetti

1950: Divorced physicist Vernon Hughes

1951: Earned Master of Music in composition from the Juilliard School; studied with Vincent Persichetti

1951: Four works performed on Composers Forum in NYC

1953: Married philosophy professor Alan Skelly, with whom she would have two children: Michael Skelly (pianist at Columbia) and Maureen Skelly (learned sitar; became a nurse).

1953-57: Composed works commissioned for and recorded by MGM

1971-73: Taught at Nassau Community College, Long Island

1972: Cofounded Long Island Composers’ Alliance

1975: Received publishing contract with Carl Fischer, Inc.

1976: Lament for string orchestra performed by Minnesota Orchestra, conducted by Stanislaw Skrowaczewski

1964-67: Abyss and Bird of Yearning composed for performance by Harkness Ballet

1976: Landscapes of the Mind I (for piano and orchestra) premiered with Tucson Symphony, conducted by Gregory Millar; William Masselos pianist.

1977: Landscapes of the Mind II (for violin and piano) premiered by Daniel Heifetz in Alice Tully Hall

1981: All-Richter Concert in Merkin Concert Hall

1986: Traveled to China and Tibet; began composing Qhanri (Snow Mountain): Tibetan Variations for cello and piano (1988)

1986: Landscapes of the Mind I performed by Natalie Hinderas and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra; conducted by Louis Lane

1997: Traveled to Katowice, Poland for recording of her triple concerto, Variations and Interludes on Themes from Monteverdi and Bach for violin, cello, piano, and orchestra

2002: Premiere of Riders to the Sea opera at Music at St. Marks’s concert series. Conducted by Gregory Buchalter

2008: Downsized from large family home to small white cottage, her “elf house.” Continues to compose and supervise performances and recordings.

For Further Reading:

Marga Richter website:

Mirchandani, Sharon. Marga Richter. Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, 2012.

________. “The Choral Music of Marga Richter.” Choral Journal (May 2003): 9-17.

________. “Marga Richter.” In Women of Influence in Contemporary Music: Nine American Composers, edited by Michael K. Slayton, 357-404. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2011.

Ammer, Christine. Unsung: A History of Women in American Music. 2nd ed. Portland, Ore: Amadeus Press, 2001.

Jezic, Diane. Women Composers: The Lost Tradition Found. 2nd ed. Prepared by Elizabeth Wood. New York: Feminist Press, 1994.

Lee, You Ju. “Marga Richter’s Character Sketches for Piano.” Clavier Companion 3, no. 6 (November/December 2011): 20-27.



WAM Research Team: Tracey Crystal Miller, Emily McGovern, Nicholas Wagner

Faculty Advisor: Rebecca Cypess

Video Editor: Arlyn Jimenez