Archives & Special Collections
Robert B. Cantrick Original Music Collection

Description and Background | Contents and Inventory


Donor: Dr. Robert B. Cantrick and Estate.
Date of Acquisition: 2007. Processed: 2010.
13 boxes; 20 linear ft.

Historical Background

As Dr. Robert B. Cantrick (1917-2006), composer and music professor at Buffalo State College, 1969-1985, indicated in correspondence dated 2005, his intention throughout the last thirty years of his life was to "formulate fundamental concepts of music which are applicable to all cultural traditions and historical eras.” This mission seems to have been in the back of his mind since 1970 and the contents of his archive documents his attempts to bring this life-long project to fruition.

The project was evolutionary in its scope. He was constantly pushing towards greater comprehensiveness and clarity as can be seen by the sheer volume of notes and revisions within the contents of the archive, as well as evidence of extensive and close reading not only in music but especially in philosophy as well. Project completion was never realized as he passed away not long after the above-mentioned letter) to a prospective publisher as it turned out, was written. The project seems to have evolved in three chronological stages, identified by the following titles:

1. Comprehending Music. A work-in-progress textbook, in existence during the 1970s and 1980s, based on his teaching and classroom experiences with students at Buffalo State College. The text sold in ever-changing paperback format at the College bookstore.

2. Comprehensive Theory of Music. A more formalized concept and version of the above textbook. Throughout this stage of investigation, Cantrick perceived an incompatibility of methods of inquiry and communication among the practitioners of the various sub-disciplines of music, e.g., musicology, theory, aesthetics, performance, etc. He sought a way to apply truth-functional, truth-conditional semantics to music scholarship. This method, he wrote in 1996, "consists of an object language constructed by a set of meta-linguistic rules [enabling one] to tell the truth about music without methodological confusion and without abandoning any of the diverse methods of inquiry now in successful use.”

3. Semantics of Music Scholarship. Cantrick clearly indicates that the title “Comprehensive Theory of Music” is antecedent to this new title which he designates throughout as “SMS.” He envisioned it as a two-volume work: Vol. I: Formulating Concepts True of all Music, and Vol. II: Teaching Concepts True of all Music. The expansive growth from his original textbook to SMS may give evidence to his willingness to recognize and encompass the growing concern in most other academic disciplines for a contemporary world view -- a sea change from the rather parochial exclusivity of the traditional Western approach to music. Further, as Dr. Cantrick had observed, music scholarship had not kept pace with the widespread interest in the semantics of natural language evidenced in other academic disciplines. It is to Cantrick's credit that he attempted to systematically rectify the situation in a work of this scope and content.

The material and its use are under certain restrictions. Please contact the Archivist for information on the material.

Please see more information on Dr. Cantrick’s life and works at:

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Archives houses various college publications, scrapbooks, memorabilia and statistics from 1860 on, as well as college annual reports, budgets, and salary information.

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