The Graduate Composition and Theory Program at the University of
California, Davis, provides an invigorating and liberating
approach to the art of music composition. Our selective program
investigates areas that are vital to young composers developing
their craft in today’s world.
Each year, the UC Davis Graduate Composition and Theory Program
sponsors performances of the graduate composers’ works by
the Empyrean Ensemble, the Department of Music’s new
music ensemble-in-residence. Numerous artists-in-residence visit
our campus each year, allowing for additional readings,
performances, and recordings of graduate composers’ works. Our
graduate composers have collaborated with the Lyris and Calder
Quartets, Alarm Will Sound, Firebird Ensemble, Yarn/Wire, Wet Ink
Ensemble, Tony Arnold, and Paul Hillier, as well as participating
in highly competitive workshops and summer courses, such as June
in Buffalo, Wellesley Composers Conference, Norfolk Music
Festival, Aspen Music Festival, and the highScore Festival.
The biannual UC Davis Symphony Orchestra Composition
Readings gives our graduate composers the chance to learn how to
write for orchestra. The UC Davis Department of Music and
the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts also sponsor
a biannual music festival and composition workshop, which
offer additional performance opportunities for our graduate
Ph.D. candidates typically finish our program in five years,
during which time they receive financial support from the
University of California. Our graduate composers gain valuable
teaching experience by serving as TAs for undergraduate courses.
Philip Acimovic, a Ph.D. candidate in music composition, has
received a Russell J. and Dorothy S. Bilinski Educational
Foundation Dissertation Writing Fellowship for the academic year
Acimovic’s dissertation analyzes three musical works from
different eras that challenge established musical conventions of
clarity, intent and perception: “Musical Offering” by Johann
Sebastian Bach (1747), “Holiday Symphony” by Charles Ives (1913)
and “Melodien” by György Ligeti (1971).
• An Office of Graduate Studies online application with
fee by the stated admission deadline.
• A bachelor’s degree comparable to a degree from the University
of California in both distribution of academic subject matter and
• Three letters of recommendation (recommenders can be listed in
the “Recommendations” section of the application. Letters
are submitted by the recommenders themselves to the
• Official transcripts
• GRE scores (subject test in music not required)
• TOEFL or IELTS score (if applicable)
• Samples of work (a single PDF file of three recent scores)
should be uploaded in the “Writing Sample” section of the
application. Please be sure that all sound files are complete
recordings, not excerpts. A link to recordings of the same three
scores should be entered in the “Other Information / website
link” section of the application. The recordings must be linked
in a ready-to-play format using programs such as Sound Cloud,
Bandcamp, YouTube, or to a personal website. The
admissions committee will not listen to recordings that must be
downloaded. Do not send hard copies of scores or
If you do not have a website or other link, please send your mp3
sound files to firstname.lastname@example.org. If your scores
are larger than 4 MB, please send them to
email@example.com. Be sure that your file names
begin with your last name.
• A CV
• A minimum GPA of 3.0
Composition and theory Ph.D. students must successfully pass an
exam in two foreign languages, one of which must be a language
relevant to the student’s fieldwork / research.
After the second quarter of the second year, students take
comprehensive examinations, and then draft their dissertation
proposal. At the end of the third year, they take a qualifying
examination. Upon successful completion, students advance to
Ordinarily, the master’s degree is completed as part of the Ph.D.
program. However, with the consent of the graduate advisor and
the Dean of Graduate Studies, course work completed at another
institution may be credited toward the master’s degree. The limit
for such transfer credit is six units from another institution or
up to one-half of the unit requirement if earned from another
campus of the University of California, provided the units were
not used in satisfaction of the requirements for another degree.
Students may transfer up to 12 units of work from the Concurrent
Courses program offered by University Extension.
Candidates are required to present and successfully defend a
dissertation in a final public oral examination. The doctoral
dissertation is to be an original composition of scope and
substance and an original theoretical or analytical essay. The
dissertation is supervised by the faculty and approved by a
committee named by the Graduate Division. The final copies should
conform to the requirements described by the Office of Graduate
Length of study
Typical time to complete the Doctor of Philosophy degree is five
years. Candidates must be in residence for at least six quarters.