In Memoriam: Professor Philip Lambert

February 10, 2022

The Graduate Center community is deeply saddened by the loss of retired Professor Philip Lambert, a dear friend, esteemed colleague and mentor, and revered music theorist.

The Graduate Center community is deeply saddened by the loss of retired Professor Philip Lambert (GC/Baruch, Music/Fine and Performing Arts), a dear friend, esteemed colleague and mentor, and revered music theorist, who died on February 8, 2022, at age 63. The cause was a malignant brain tumor. 

Lambert, who started teaching at Baruch College in 1988 and retired from CUNY in 2021, rose to prominence early in his career as a scholar of the music of Charles Ives. His 1997 book The Music of Charles Ives remains the standard analytical study of that challenging body of music, according to Graduate Center Professor Joseph Straus (Music). The book sprung from the dissertation he wrote for his Ph.D. from the Eastman School of Music in 1987, Compositional Procedures in the Experimental Works of Charles Ives.

Lambert also edited Ives Studies, which was published by Cambridge University Press in 1997. He wrote several highly regarded articles about Ives in journals such as Music Theory Spectrum and Intégral.

Beginning around 2005, Lambert shifted his attention to popular music and musical theater. He wrote Inside the Music of Brian Wilson: The Songs, Sounds and Influences of the Beach Boys’ Founding Genius; To Broadway, To Life!: The Musical Theater of Bock and Harnick; and Alec Wilder. He also wrote two widely used textbooks: Basic Post-Tonal Theory and Analysis and Principles of Music, both from Oxford University Press.

“A brief list like this gives a sense of the range and lasting importance of his scholarship, but it doesn’t say much about what a wonderful colleague and person he was,” Straus, Lambert’s longtime colleague, wrote in a tribute. “Although his principal professional home for virtually his entire career was Baruch College, CUNY, he also taught regularly at the CUNY Graduate Center, where his courses on aspects of post-tonal and transformational theories were legendarily and memorably good; generations of our students loved him and eagerly learned from him.”

Straus added, “In a professional world populated largely by pushy, loud New Yorkers, Phil stood out for his gentleness, his good humor and good sense, and his ability to remain quiet for surprisingly long periods of time, especially during faculty and committee meetings. But when he did speak, people listened because they knew they would hear something worth hearing. His friends, his colleagues, and our entire field, will miss him very much.”

In a note to colleagues, Professor Andrew Tomasello (GC/Baruch, Music/Fine and Performing Arts), deputy chair of the Fine and Performing Arts department at Baruch, described Lambert as “a pillar of our Music Program for almost 35 years, formally establishing the teaching of keyboard harmony and the Music Theory minor.” He added, “With his brilliant mind, dry wit, and quiet presence, he was always a steady and secure source of advice and guidance.”