Born in Philadelphia, Lawrence Kramer was educated at the University of Pennsylvania and at Yale. He is largely self-taught in composition, although in college he studied with composer-advisors during three years as the producer of programs featuring contemporary classical music on public radio. Kramer began writing music during the decade of the 1980s but he is a true late bloomer as a composer: most of the work in his catalog has been composed since 2006, when he turned sixty. His turn to composition came after more than fifteen years of intensive work in musicology, for which he is independently well known. (His 2016 book The Thought of Music won the ASCAP Virgil Thomson Award for Outstanding Music Criticism.)
Kramer’s vocal and chamber music has been performed widely throughout the United States and Europe and has won competitions sponsored by Composers Concordance, Hartford Opera Theater, and Ensemble for These Times, among others. Vocal music figures prominently in his output, in part because he is also a literary scholar. Of his sixteen song cycles, a dozen are settings of American poetry; the poets include Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Hart Crane, William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, the contemporary poet Daneen Wardrop, and the composer himself. Kramer’s catalog also includes stand-alone songs with texts by those poets and others, including Marianne Moore, Robert Frost, Stephen Crane, Amy Lowell, H. D., and Carl Sandberg.
Kramer’s music adheres to no single style or school. It does not hesitate to call up any expressive resource that fits the occasion, from traditional melody to so-called extended techniques. It is comfortable with any sort of harmony depending on the expressive needs of the music at hand. With songs, it typically aims to combine and reconcile two traditional pairs of opposites: fidelity to the text and transformation of the text; naturalness of intonation and full-throated songfulness.