Alfred Whitford (Fred) Lerdahl (born March 10, 1943, in Madison, Wisconsin) is the Fritz Reiner Professor of Musical Composition at Columbia University, and a composer and music theorist best known for his work on pitch space and cognitive constraints on compositional systems or "musical grammar[s]." He has written many orchestral and chamber works, three of which were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for Music: Time after Time in 2001, String Quartet No. 3 in 2010, and Arches in 2011.
Lerdahl's influences include Elliott Carter, late Sibelius, early Schoenberg, Bartok, and Stravinsky. Lerdahl has said he "always sought musical forms of [his] own invention," and to discover the correct form for the expression. His spiral form (implying both change and repetition), "in which a simple and stable musical idea is expanded on," has been described as a "recurrent motif of interweaving patterns."
Lerdahl studied with James Ming at Lawrence University, where he earned his BMus in 1965, and with Milton Babbitt, Edward Cone, Roger Sessions, and Earl Kim at Princeton University, where he earned his MFA in 1967. He then studied with Wolfgang Fortner at the Hochschule für Musik in Freiburg/Breisgau in 1968-69, on a Fulbright Scholarship. Lerdahl was awarded an honorary doctorate from Lawrence University in 1999, and previously taught at the University of Michigan, Harvard University, and the University of California at Berkeley. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Lerdahl's maternal uncle was the noted astronomer Albert Whitford.
Notable students of Fred Lerdahl include composers R. Luke DuBois, Jason Freeman, Mark Gustavson, Huck Hodge, Arthur Kampela, Paul Phillips, and Dalit Warshaw.