Open main menu

Merrill Leroy Ellis (9 December 1916 Cleburne, Texas – 12 July 1981 Denton, Texas) was an American composer, performer, and experimental music researcher. He is most known for his work with electronic (analog) and intermedia compositions, new compositional techniques, development of new instruments, and exploration of new notation techniques for scoring and performance.[1][2]

Merrill Leroy Ellis
Born(1916-12-09)9 December 1916
Died12 July 1981(1981-07-12) (aged 64)
Denton, TX
Alma materUniversity of Oklahoma
Occupationcomposer and academic
EmployerUniversity of North Texas College of Music



Ellis studied privately with Roy Harris, Spencer Norton (1909–1978), and Charles Garland (University of Missouri).


Merrill Ellis taught music theory and composition during the 1950s at the Joplin Junior College (now Missouri Southern State University) in Joplin Missouri.

Ellis founded the electronic music program at the University of North Texas College of Music shortly after he began teaching there in 1962. North Texas acquired its first Moog Machine for use in Merrill Ellis' studio, late 1965.[3] Ellis was a pioneer in composing and performing live multimedia music on Moogs from the mid to late 1960s. He worked with Robert Moog to design the second Moog synthesizer ever made to be portable for him and his doctoral students to use during performances. Robert Moog gave a nod to Ellis by naming this second model the E-II. It was Moog's second synthesizer and Ellis' second Moog. In March 1970, a Tucson newspaper (Tucson Daily Citizen) mentioned that he had brought a Moog (smaller than the North Texas studio model) for a live performance of "Kaleidoscope."

The electronic music center at North Texas was one of the few in the southwest in the early 1960s. According to Ellis in a 1970 interview, Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center (in New York City) was the largest and oldest. Yale University, University of Toronto, and University of Illinois had prolific computer music labs, too.[4]

The Center for Experimental Music and Intermedia[5] (CEMI) at North Texas is an outgrowth of his accomplishments. When the College of Music designed and erected a new music complex in the late 1970s, a "new music" theater was designed and named "The Merrill Ellis Intermedia Theater" or "MEIT."

Selected compositionsEdit

Instrumental works
  • "And Ruth Said," sacred songs (medium voice) with piano (Aug. 15, 1947); OCLC 42755062
  • "Brass Quartet," for 2 trumpets, tenor trombone, bass trombone (manuscript dated 1951)
  • "Bridge Game," for string quartet; OCLC 48546112, 28445907
  • "Cape "G" Melody," for oboe, viola, cello, with optional part for double bass (manuscript dated 1951)
  • "Classical Combo," a septet + one; OCLC 27956521
  • Dizzy Kate Piano Suite, (Sept. 19, 1947); OCLC 42755031
  1. "Introducing Kate"
  2. "Kate Was Very Modal"
  3. "She Sas Long and Slim and Loved to Dance"
  4. "Kate Lived at the Corner of 4th and 5th"
  5. "My, My, Dizzy Kate"
  • "A Dream Fantasy," an intermedia piece; may use dancers if desired; for clarinet (some passages may be performed on saxophone), percussion, tape, and 2 reels of 16 mm. film; 35 mm. slides optional, C. Fischer (1976); OCLC 3308993, 869657148
  • "Duets," for flute & piano (1969)
  • "Ecce homo," for cello & piano (1970); OCLC 51169319
  • "Einyah [Festival]," for piano, trumpet, and percussion;[6]
  • Etudes for Piano, ("to Sis, Jan 5, 1951"); OCLC 49981198
  1. Etude I:   "Dorian"
  2. Etude II:  "Phrygian"
  3. Etude III: "Lydian"
  • "Fantasy for Organ" (1969); OCLC 37149337
  • "Five Plus One," for woodwind quintet – flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, and bassoon, with optional double bass (1969)
  • "General William Booth Enters Into Heaven," for SATB chorus with instrumental ensemble, text by V. Lindsay (1954)
  • "Incantations," for two pianos (1969); OCLC 27876766
  • "Mutations," a multi-media composition for brass quintet, prepared electronic tape, 16mm film projection and 35mm slide projections, Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania, Shawnee Press (1972); OCLC 17579310, 223198454
for 2 trumpets, horn, bass trombone and tuba
  • "Pastoral," for harp (1970); OCLC 367625536
  • "Pastoral," for & piano (1970)
  • "Piece," for trumpet & piano (1950); OCLC 29170766
  • "Celebration," for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, percussion, tape, lasers, and visual events (commissioned by Baylor University, Richard Shanley & Society for Commissioning New Music) American Music Center, New York (1980); OCLC 25457601
  • Dream of the Rode," for tape and 16 mm film;[6]
Premiered Nov 6, 1973, Montevallo University, Alabama; Marsue Burns, PhD (1935–2007),[7] libretto; Carroll Young Rich, PhD (1933– ), Anglo-Saxon translation for the spoken parts (Marsue and Carroll were members of the UNT English faculty)[8]
  • "The Sorcerer," for solo baritone, tape, film, slides, and chorus (with optional live band); Shawnee Press, Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania (1973); OCLC 3267795
Film and television
  • "The Choice is Ours," intermedia work for 2 films, slides, tape & audience participation

Awards & honorsEdit

Ellis became a member of ASCAP in 1966.[9]

  • ASCAP Award for contributions in serious music; 1967, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979

Other publicationsEdit

  • Electronic Music Composition Manual, Merrill Ellis, Robert Cannon Ehle (born 1939), and Robert A. Moog, North Texas State University (196-?); OCLC 24103657

Merrill Ellis Memorial Composition Scholarship recipientsEdit

  • 1990–92 — Kurt Kuniyasu
  • 1990–91 — Gregory Alan Schneider
  • 1991–92 — Rick D. Chatham
  • 1991–92 — Michael Anthony McBride
  • 1994–95 — Steven Bryant
  • 1994–95 — Hideko Kawamoto
  • 1994–96 — Man-Mei Wu
  • 1996–97 — Lucio Edilberto Cuellar, DMA 2002
  • 1998–99 — J.T. Rinker
  • 1999–00 — Henry Vega
  • 2000–01 — Kayli House
  • 2002–03 — James Worlton
  • 2005–07 — Stephen Lucas
  • 2007–08 — Camilo Salazar
  • 2009–10 — Nicholas Kanozik
  • 2011–12 — Ryan Pivovar
  • 2012–13 — Jonathan Jackson
  • 2013–15 — Dan Tramte

Selected discographyEdit

Merrill Ellis, "Kaleidoscope," for Orchestra, Synthesizer, and SopranoJoan Wall, soprano
George Crumb, Echos of Time and the River
originally released 1974 (LP), Louisville Orchestra First Edition Recordings LS711; OCLC 916602, 9846970, 221630245, OCLC 83589462, 221612389, 79876387
Crystal Records (2004); OCLC 57490708
  • Facets 2, John Holt, Trumpet
Natalia Bolshakova (piano)
Crystal Records CD764 (Dec 1, 2004); OCLC 57491034
Track 10 – Ellis: Trumpet Piece
† Crumb, who shares the album with Ellis, won the 1968 Pulitzer Prize in Music for this composition



General referencesEdit

Inline citationsEdit

  1. ^ Elsa Gonzalez, "Ellis, Merrill," by Elsa Gonzalez, Handbook of Texas Online
  2. ^ "A Performer's Guide to Multimedia Compositions for Clarinet and Visuals: Archived 2011-07-19 at the Wayback Machine A Tutorial Focusing On Works by Joel Chadabe, Merrill Ellis, William O. Smith, and Reynold Weidenaar" (DMA Dissertation), by Mary Alice Druhan, Louisiana State University (1993); OCLC 52452151
  3. ^ "Various Cultural Programs Brighten Year in Denton," Denton Record-Chronicle, January 30, 1966, Sec. 7, pg. 2
  4. ^ "Deedle, Blat, Zonk, Beep, Urk, To Star in Festival Opener," by Dan Pavillard, Tucson Daily Citizen, March 29, 1970
  5. ^ "Homepage - Center for Experimental Music & Intermedia, UNT".
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h "Merrill Ellis Papers," Special Collections, University of North Texas Libraries
  7. ^ Marsue M. Haviland, née McFadden – surnames from former marriages: Burns, Johnson; Obituary: "Marsue (McFadden) Johnson – Haviland," Daily Courier (Arizona), August 22, 2007
  8. ^ "Ellis to Play with Symphony," Denton Record-Chronicle, November 9, 1973
  9. ^ ASCAP Biographical Dictionary (4th ed.), compiled for the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers by Jaques Cattell Press, R.R. Bowker (1980); OCLC 7065938

External linksEdit