George Burt, Composer for Robert Altman Films, Dies at 85

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George Burt, composer, author and educator who scored Robert Altman’s “Fool for Love” and “Secret Honor,” died Saturday at his home in Sonoma, Calif., after a long battle with cancer. He was 85.

Burt was a veteran educator who, in his last academic post at USC, schooled hundreds of young composers in the craft of writing music for film. His 1994 book “The Art of Film Music” is still used as a textbook in many university film-music classes in the U.S., Europe and China.

As a film composer, his best-known credits were Altman’s Richard Nixon film “Secret Honor” and the Sam Shepard play adaptation “Fool for Love,” both in 1984-85. He also scored the 1971 film “Cry Dr. Chicago” and the 1993 Karen Black drama “The Trust,” along with music for documentaries and stage plays.

Burt was born in San Francisco, attended the San Francisco Conservatory and earned degrees from UC Berkeley, Mills College in Oakland, Calif., and Princeton University.

His “Two Movements for Orchestra” was performed by the Detroit Symphony, his “Exit Music III” by the Houston Symphony and “Interlude” by the Cleveland Chamber Symphony. He also wrote numerous chamber-music pieces and many more involving synthesizers and other electronic music.

In recent years he completed a symphony and a work titled “Into Thin Air” for two violins, string orchestra and percussion.

Burt taught at Smith College, the University of Michigan and Rice University. At Rice he created a new-music ensemble called Syzygy and developed its graduate program in music theory and analysis; he was eventually named professor emeritus.

During the late 1990s and early 2000s he served on the composition faculty in the Scoring for Motion Pictures and Television program at USC.

Survivors include his wife, Sharon Graham Burt; two sons; four stepchildren; and nine grandchildren.

A memorial service is slated for April 18 at a location to be announced.

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