Leroy Robertson: Mormon Composer
Leroy Robertson was a internationally prominent composer and educator. For instance, in 1947, he was presented with a Western Hemisphere composing award—then the largest prize ($25,000) in musical history—at a nationwide broadcast of his symphony, Trilogy, in front of a live audience in Detroit, Michigan.
He was born on December 21, 1896, in Fountain Green, Utah, and early on had a talent for music. He could play the family organ by ear and made up songs for his own enjoyment. When he was ten, he created a violin out of odds and ends he found on his family farm. Despite the limited opportunities for musical study in his rural community, he found ways to enjoy music. He moved to Utah County to live with his grandparents when he was fifteen so he could graduate from Pleasant Grove High School.
After he graduated from high school, he taught violin before he was drafted into the U.S. Army during World War I. He was sent home during the flu epidemic, and after he recovered he studied at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. While there, he served a brief mission in the New England States to perform, arrange, and direct music for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which he was a member.
With his certificate in public school music and diplomas in composition, piano, and violin, the taught music in high schools and supervised music instruction for the Alpine School District. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Brigham Young University and his PhD from the University of Southern California. He also studied with Ernest Bloch at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and in Roveredo Capriasca, Switzerland. He also studied with Hugo Leichtentritt in Berlin.
He was a professor of music and the chairman of the music department at BYU from 1925 to 1948. From 1948 to 1952, he chaired the Department of Music at the University of Utah. While there, he worked with Maurice Abravanel to create a home for the Utah Symphony on the university campus.
In addition to his work as a music educator, he composed music. His works include Fantasia for the Organ, Songs from the Shadow, Quintet, String Quartet, and Passacaglia, which have been performed all over the world. He composed the well known Oratorio from the Book of Mormon. He served for thirty-six years as a member of the General Music Committee of the Church. He wrote a number of hymns that are included in the 1985 Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including “Upon the Cross of Calvary” and “We Love Thy House, O God.”
Robertson and his wife, Naomi, were the parents of four children. He died on July 25, 1971.