Composer Newlin, Former Child Musical Prodigy, Dies at 82

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Dika Newlin, a composer and musicologist who was deeply influenced by the avant-garde master Arnold Schoenberg and brought his style into the punk rock era, has died. She was 82.

Newlin, a child prodigy who was still on the musical cutting edge 70 years later, died July 22 at a Richmond nursing home, according to Sabine Feisst, a professor of musicology at Arizona State University.

"I don't know any other artist who had such a unique career and who was so diverse," Feisst said in a telephone interview.

Newlin taught at several universities, finishing her academic career at Virginia Commonwealth University, where she worked from 1978 to 2004.

At age 11, Newlin composed a symphonic work, "Cradle Song," which was performed by the Cincinnati Symphony. A few years later, in 1941, the work was performed in New York with another prodigy, 11-year-old Lorin Maazel, at the NBC Summer Symphony podium.

But Newlin was best known for her writings and correspondence with Schoenberg, the Austrian composer who moved beyond the traditional musical scales with his 12-tone composition method. He came to the United States in the 1930s and died in 1951, and Newlin was one of her few surviving students.

She had studied with Schoenberg at UCLA after graduating from Michigan State University at age 16.

Newlin translated several of Schoenberg's writings from German to English. Her journals about her experiences with him were published in 1980 as "Schoenberg Remembered: Diaries and Recollections (1938-76)."

"She was a very gifted student, very much appreciated by Schoenberg," Feisst said. "When he talked about gifted American composers, he always mentioned her name."

A composer of several operas and chamber works, Newlin began exploring popular music in the mid-1980s. Inspired by her college students, she sang and played keyboards in a band called Apocowlypso. More recently she performed as a flame-haired punk rocker and performance artist, singing works such as "Murder Kitty," composed solely of meows.

"Even in her punk-rock period, she refers to Schoenberg in that she uses the motifs in his works, or quotes from text in his works," Feisst said.

Her career also included appearances in alternative films, including a 1995 horror film called "Creep" and a short documentary titled "Dika: Murder City."

A memorial service will be held in the upcoming months, she said.