While our physical offices are closed until further notice in accordance with Austin's COVID-19 "stay home-work safe" order, the Handbook of Texas will remain available at no-cost for you, your fellow history enthusiasts, and all Texas students currently mandated to study from home. If you have the capacity to help us maintain our online Texas history resources during these uncertain times, please consider making a 100% tax-deductible contribution today. Thank you for your support of TSHA and Texas history. Donate Today »


Frank Kiel

COOPER, KENNETH PAUL (1926-1996). Paul Cooper, composer and teacher of music, was born Kenneth Paul Cooper on May 19, 1926, in Victoria Township, Knox County, Illinois. He was the son of Charles and Jessie Cooper. He attended public school in Galesburg, Illinois, and Belmont High School in Los Angeles, graduating in 1944.

He served in the United States Army in two wars. During World War II he served at Fort Benning from 1944 to 1946, initially as an enlisted clerk-typist and then as a lieutenant instructor at the Infantry School. During the Korean War from 1950 to 1952 Cooper initially served as an instructor at Fort Ord and then as an infantry company officer in the Thirty-fifth Infantry Regiment, Twenty-fifth Division in Korea. He was diagnosed with malaria in 1952 and was hospitalized at Wadsworth Veterans Hospital in Los Angeles.

Between these military assignments, he was a student at the University of Southern California (1947–50) and majored in music theory and composition. After graduating magna cum laude, he pursued graduate study in music composition and comparative literature at the University of Southern California in 1952 and 1953. His master’s thesis was “The Influence of Nadia Boulanger on Contemporary American Creative Music.” The subsequent year (1953–54) he was a Fulbright Fellow at the Conservatoire Nationale in Paris and studied with Nadia Boulanger. He also studied at the Sorbonne. Further graduate study in composition and comparative literature at the University of Southern California led to his doctoral degree in August 1956. His dissertation equivalent was his Symphony No. 2.

Cooper served on the faculty at the University of Michigan School of Music from 1955 to 1968, then at the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music from 1968 to 1974, and finally as a founding member of the Rice University Shepherd School of Music from 1974 to 1996. He held the Lynette S. Autrey Endowed Chair and was the Composer-in-Residence at the Shepherd School.

In addition to the Fulbright Fellowship in 1953, Cooper received other prestigious awards and grants, including a Guggenheim Fellowship (1965), a National Endowment for the Arts award (1979), and twenty-five consecutive annual awards from the American Society of Composers and Performers (ASCAP).

He produced six symphonies, six concertos, six string quartets, several oratorios, and many instrumental and vocal chamber compositions. Commercial recordings included: three symphonies—No. 3, No. 4, No. 5; Concerto for Flute and Orchestra; Violin Concerto No. 2; Jubilate—a symphonic work for woodwinds, brass, and percussion; two string quartets—No. 5 and No. 6; Sonata for Flutes and Piano; Canons d’Amore for violin and viola; Four Impromptus for saxophone and piano; Verses for violin and viola; and Elegies for cello and piano. The music, although framed in classical forms, developed new ways of expression to provide a fresh sound. It was characterized by transparent textures with an emphasis on orchestral color. Cooper was influenced by the French style (e.g., chromatic, although always based in tonality) of Nadia Boulanger and the constructionalist style (e.g., the development of larger structures out of very short, simple musical motifs) of Joseph Haydn.

He was well-known as a teacher of music theory and wrote Perspectives in Music Theory: An Historical-Analytical Approach in 1973, which long served as a basis for the curriculum at the Shepherd School and other music institutions.

In 1953 he married Christiane (“Christa”) Ebert (1940–1989). She was a poet, and many of Paul Cooper’s vocal compositions represent collaborations. They had two children. Paul Cooper died on April 4, 1996, in Houston.


Paul Cooper Papers, 1943–1995 (MS 463), Woodson Research Center, Fondren Library, Rice University, Houston. Houston Chronicle, April 6, 1996. Stanley Sadie, ed., The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (Washington: Grove’s Dictionaries of Music, 1980; 2d ed., New York: Grove, 2001).

Image Use Disclaimer

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.


The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Frank Kiel, "COOPER, KENNETH PAUL [PAUL]," accessed May 27, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fco63.

Uploaded on June 25, 2014. Modified on August 4, 2016. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
visit the mytsha forums to participate

View these posts and more when you register your free MyTSHA account.

Call for Papers: Texas Center for Working-Class Studies Events, Symposia, and Workshops
Hi all! You may be interested in this call for papers I received from the Texas Center for Working-Class Studies at Collin College...

Katy Jennings' Ride Scholarly Research Request
I'm doing research on Catherine Jennings Lockwood, specifically the incident known as "Katy Jennings' Ride." Her father was Gordon C. Jennings, the oldest man to die at the Alamo...

Texas Constitution of 1836 Co-Author- Elisha Pease? Ask a Historian
The TSHA profile of Elisha Marshall Pease states that he wrote part of the Texas Constitution although he was only a 24 year-old assistant secretary (not elected). I cannot find any other mention of this authorship work by Pease in other credible research about the credited Constution authors...