Allen Dwight Sapp, Jr. was born in Philadelphia on 10 December 1922. He was educated at Harvard University, studying composition with Walter Piston and Irving Fine (A.B. 1942), and subsequently engaged in private lessons with Aaron Copland and Nadia Boulanger on a J.K. Paine Fellowship (1942-43). During World War II Sapp served as a cryptanalyst, and following the war served as Chief Cryptanalyst and Chief of Code Research of the Civil Censorship Division, European Theater. He returned to Harvard for graduate work in 1948, and served on the faculty there from 1950 to 1958. Sapp’s music of this period employs serial techniques (introduced in his Suite for Piano and Piano Trio of 1949), but generally within a modal, neoclassic, and broadly lyrical context.
After a brief tenure at Wellesley College (1958-61), Sapp was appointed Chairman of the Music Department at the University of Buffalo (later, State University of New York at Buffalo) in 1961. Together with Lukas Foss (Music Director of the Buffalo Philharmonic), Sapp founded the Center of the Creative and Performing Arts at SUNY-Buffalo, transforming Buffalo into one of the major centers for experimental music in the 1960s and 1970s. Among the musicians associated with the Center who proceeded to have notable professional careers were George Crumb, Richard Dufallo, Don Ellis, Vinko Globokar, Henri Posseur, Terry Riley, Frederic Rzewski, David Tudor, and Paul Zukofsky. Sapp also held several important leadership positions in arts organizations, most notably as Executive Director of the American Council for the Arts in Education (1972-74) and Project Arts/Worth (1971-74).
In 1975 he accepted the offices of Provost of the Division of Communication and the Arts and Director of Cultural Affairs at Florida State University, but in 1978 resigned to become Dean of the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. He relinquished administrative responsibilities there in 1980 to assume a post as Professor of Composition, devoting his energies fully toward teaching and composition. After nearly two decades of relative inactivity in composing, Sapp created more than 60 works in the 1980s and early 1990s. Some of his later works break away from classical formal models, using a higher degree of experimentalism and an expanded dramatic range.
On January 4, 1999, Allen Sapp passed away at his home in Cincinnati.
For more information, consult Allen Sapp: A Bio-Bibliography (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996).