Robert S. Cohen | composer



music theater

wind ensemble

chamber ensemble

percussion ensemble

Various Reviews

Variants for B-flat clarinet and bass clarinet is such a rich and effective pairing of instruments, it’s no wonder many composers and arrangers have created great music for this partnership. From the orchestral palette of Stravinsky (Le Sacre du printemps) to the quirky George Martin arrangement of the Beatles (When I’m 64). In recent times, composers have also been writing for these instruments in chamber music and as a compelling duo combination. This new work by Robert Cohen, dedicated to Guido Arbonelli and Natalia Benedetti, is a welcome addition to the oeuvre.

The context and inspiration for the music is highly topical based on the COVID-19 pandemic. From the score, here are the composer’s notes and introduction to the work:

This work is my musical interpretation of my feelings surrounding the Covid 19 pandemic.

1 Alpha – dread of the coming pandemic.

2. Delta – panic over the worst of the variants.

3 Omicron – sadness and sense of loss even though the new variant is less lethal.

4 Zeta – an imaginary final cold-like variant that allows us to exuberantly resume a normal life.

The work is approximately 12 minutes in total, but it could also work effectively as individual movements in a duo recital. It is a technically challenging work that would work well for both college majors and professionals alike. It doesn’t involve the use of advanced contemporary techniques but does draw on the flexibility and fluidity of both instruments. The composer makes effective use of the extended low register notes of the bass clarinet (requiring a low C instrument). While the title and context of the piece is somewhat ominous, the work itself is colorful, varied and fun to play. I particularly enjoyed the instruction for the last movement, “Spirito con ironia e sarcasm.”

Take that, COVID!

– Paul Roe, The Clarinet, September 2022


Robert Cohen’s new work Sibling Rivalry adds nine minutes of entertaining and evocative material to the clarinet duo repertoire, depicting an often-contentious musical competition between the two performers. The title cleverly manifests itself in the particular nature of the competitive strategy devised by Cohen, whose use of imitation, phasing, and variation recalls minimalist influences. Sharp dissonances punctuate musical “shoves” as the performers perpetually seek to outdo one another, yet the overall harmonic content of the piece should prove accessible to audiences, and the presentation of the material provides a rare sense of fullness to this instrumentation.

The first movement commences with a series of rapid repeated notes, passed back and forth between the performers. The pattern quickly ruptures as each performer seeks higher ground, and breaks down completely through the middle of the movement, where wider intervals dominate the aural landscape and the performers alternate between progressively longer motives. A recapitulation eventually culminates in a muddy soup of dense chromatic imitation, racing toward the final augmented unison that embodies this fractious relationship. Cohen calms his actors in the second movement, weaving variations of a languorous song over and through a four-bar ostinato. He interrupts this indolent surface several times with individual bars of aggressive activity, and just when it seems that the two parts will settle into a final and peaceful resolution, they move instead to a very dissonant major seventh. The third and final movement most closely resembles classic minimalist works, as additive and sequential variations in one part slowly change the context of more constant repeated figures in another.

Sibling Rivalry was written for Italian clarinet duo Guido Arbonelli and Natalia Benedetti, who premiered the work over a live feed from Perugia, Italy, on May 29, 2020.

– Matthew Nelson, The Clarinet, March 2021


Dream Journal for woodwind quintet is by ROBERT S. COHEN, an award-winning composer of diverse choral, theatrical and instrumental works who resides in New Jersey outside New York City. The image of Sigmund Freud on the cover of the score and each part of this marvelous, medium-difficulty quintet sets the context for each of the four movements. “Hunted,” the Allegro agitato first movement, takes place in the mind, not in the field, and features an interlocking staccato eighth-note ostinato divided between bassoon, horn and clarinet in alternating measures of 5/8, 2/4, 3/4 and 3/8. Layered above is a sustained minor ninth between flute and oboe that ends in a three-note flourish. Cohen uses great economy of material as the music develops in interesting ways. The movement ends emphatically.

“Just Out of Reach,” a 3/4 Lento doloroso, which makes direct reference to an idea in Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams, uses a steady, pulsing, repeated quarter-note low B-flat to offset the Erik Satie-like semplice dyads in the higher instruments. At the midpoint a harmonic shift introduces increased counterpoint between the instruments without the pulsing ostinato. The introspective movement ends with the three highest woodwinds in an open chord with no third. “Into the Bottomless Pit” captures the essence of the unattainable through motoric, high-speed triplets interlocking in Bartókian minor seconds. Ripping tritones in horn and bassoon enhance the agitation. The minor seconds idea is expanded into layers of descending chromatic lines – lower and lower. The accented intensity finally subsides, molto ritardando, with clarinet, horn and bassoon reaching their lowest registers and the bassoon having the conclusive last word, piano, on a low B-flat.

Your dreams and subconscious will come to the fore in the Molto tranquillo 6/4 final movement, “Floating on the Wind.” This touchingly beautiful music has a little something for everyone: triadic harmony deepened with gentle dissonance, flowing rhythm, expressive use of phrasing and dynamics and the suggestive space to open the mind of performer and listener to new ways of feeling and thinking. Highly recommended.

– Gregory Barrett, The Clarinet, December 2019


ROBERT S. COHEN’s Calder’s Circus is a work for wind quintet (flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn) by American composer Robert S. Cohen. The piece is inspired by the circus sculptures of Alexander Calder permanently on exhibit at the Whitney Museum in New York City. The four movements are titled "Big Top Parade," "Rigolout the Strong Man," "Lion Lullaby with Mouse" and "Doze Friggin' Clowns." As the title promises, the music is reminiscent of circus music. The parts are relatively easy to play {undergraduate college level), humorous and very audience friendly. The movements contain attractive, fun, and fresh melodies, excellent instrumentation exchanges and blends, and the piece is ideal in length {around 20 minutes).

Cohen earned an A.B. in music from Brown University where he studied with Ron Nelson, and an M.A. in composition from Queens College. He has written for chorus, orchestra, chamber ensemble, dance and theatre, and has received numerous awards and commissions from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, the American Music Center, the New York Composer's Circle Award, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and others. His works have been performed in venues such as Carnegie Hall, Severance Hall and Symphony Space. His website describes his interest in both musical theater and concert music, as well as in multimedia genres. He draws his musical ideas primarily from 20th-century symphonic repertoire, choral and theatrical music, as well as minimalism.

Cohen has published with well-known companies such as Edition Peters, Hal Leonard and Shawnee Press, and through his own Leapfrog Productions (including this wind quintet). This wind quintet is published in the more-or-less attractive form of loose, copied pages from a computer printer, and the score is bound with a plastic comb-style spine.

The composer sent me an audio recording of Calder's Circus. Meanwhile, this quintet is not yet available on YouTube, making it a great case for clever musicians to hurry and be the first one to post it on there. A very worthwhile endeavor for an excellent work. 

– Michele Gingras, The Clarinet, June 2017