Halsey Stevens was born in Scott, New York on December 3, 1908, the seventh of eight children of Horace B. and Mary Colenia (Churchill) Stevens. He was educated at Homer (NY) Academy, Syracuse University where he studied composition with William Berwald and piano with George Mulfinger (1926-31, 1935-37), and the University of California Berkeley where he studied composition with Ernest Bloch (1944). He married Harriett Elizabeth Merritt on September 2, 1939 and had three children: Christopher, Ann, and Joanna.
He was on the faculties of Syracuse University, Dakota Wesleyan University (1937-41), Bradley University (Director of the College of Music from 1941 to 1946 [on leave, 1943-46, for service in the United States Navy Reserve]), the University of Redlands (1946), and the University of Southern California from 1946 until his retirement in 1976 (Assistant Professor, 1946-48; Associate Professor, 1948-51; Professor 1951-1976; Chairman Department of Composition, 1949-75; Composer in Residence, 1972-76; Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities, 1974-76, Professor Emeritus from 1976 until his death in 1989.) He also held appointments as visiting professor at Pomona College (1954), the University of Washington (1958), Yale University (1960-61), the University of Cincinnati (1968), and Williams College (1969).
As composer, Stevens wrote extensively for orchestra, various chamber groups, keyboard, and chorus. His music has been played widely throughout the United States and in more than 30 countries. He received commissions from the Louisville Orchestra (Triskelion, 1953, and Sinfonia Breve, 1957), the University of Redlands (Trio No. 3, 1954), the University of Southern California (The Ballad of William Sycamore, 1955), the Fromm Music Foundation and the University of Illinois (Septet, 1957), the San Francisco Symphony (Symphonic Dances, 1958), the New Haven Symphony (Threnos, 1968), the Friends of Lee Gibson (Clarinet Concerto, 1969), the Claude M. Almand Memorial Fund (A Testament of Life, 1959), Sigma Alpha Iota (In te, Domine, speravi, 1962), Pi Kappa Lambda, North Texas State University (Magnificat, 1962), Georgia Southern College (Te Deum, 1967) , the Alchin Fund (Double Concerto, 1973), and the National Endowment for the Arts (Viola Concerto, 1975).
His long list of honors includes two Guggenheim Fellowships (1964-65, 1971-72), Friends of Harvey Gaul Award (1960), National Institute of Arts and Letters Grant (1961), Doctor of Letters degree (honoris causa) from Syracuse University in 1966, USC Distinguished Faculty Award (1973), Ramo Music Faculty Award (1974), and the Abraham Lincoln Award (American Hungarian Foundation, 1978). His recorded music includes Triskelion, Sinfonia Breve, Symphony No. 1, and Symphonic Dances, Sonata for Solo Cello, Sonata for Trumpet and Piano, Sonata for Tuba and Piano, Concerto for Clarinet, Sonatina for Tuba and Piano, Sonata for Horn and Piano, Partita for Harpsichord, Quintet for Flute, Piano, Violin, Viola, and Cello, and several choral works.
An internationally respected musicologist, Halsey Stevens authored the definitive and monumental work The Life and Music of Béla Bartók (Oxford University Press, 1953; revised edition, 1964; Japanese translation, 1961; paperback edition with further revisions, 1967). He also coauthored with his wife Harriett M. Stevens Easter in the Arts, a film strip and study manual. Additionally, his scholarly articles have appeared in such publications as Musical Quarterly, Notes, the Journal of Music Theory, Music and Letters (London), Tempo (London), Énekszós (Budapest), Musikoloski Zborník (Ljubljana) and numerous other reviews, and he served as program annotator for the Los Angeles Philharmonic from 1946 to 1951 and for the Coleman Chamber Music Concert series. He lectured in more than 60 American colleges and universities, as well as in Copenhagen, Budapest, Belgrade, Zagreb, Ljubljana, and Milan. He was a member of the American Composers' Alliance, BMI, American Musicological Society, Phi Mu Alpha, National Association of Composers, USA, and the American Association of University Professors.
Halsey Stevens, distinguished composer, scholar and beloved educator, passed away January 20, 1989 after a long battle with Parkinson's disease.