Robert Starer began studying the piano at age 4 and continued his studies at the Vienna State Academy. After the 1938 plebiscite in which Austria voted for annexation by Nazi Germany, Starer left for Palestine and studied at the Jerusalem Conservatory with Josef Tal. In World War II he served in the British Royal Air Force, and in 1947 he settled in the United States. He studied composition at the Juilliard School in New York with Frederick Jacobi, then with Aaron Copland in 1948 and received a postgraduate degree from Juilliard in 1949. Starer became an American citizen in 1957.
Robert Starer taught at the Juilliard School, Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York where he became a distinguished professor in 1986. He was married, had one child, Daniel, and resided in Woodstock, NY until his death. He lived with writer Gail Godwin for some thirty years; the two collaborated on several librettos.
Starer was prolific and composed in many genres. His music was characterized by chromaticism and driving rhythms. His vocal works, whether set to English or Hebrew texts, were particularly praised. He composed the score for Martha Graham's 1962 ballet Phaedra. He also wrote four operas, The Intruder (1956), Pantagleize (1967), The Last Lover (1975), and Apollonia (1979). Notable concertos include Violin Concerto which was written for Itzhak Perlman and recorded by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Seiji Ozawa, conductor, and his Cello Concerto, commissioned by Janos Starker and recorded by Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra, Leon Botstein, conductor.
One of Starer’s better-known pieces is "Even and Odds" for young pianists.
He is also known for his pieces entitled "Sketches in Color", as well as his sight-reading training manual, "Rhythmic Training."
He died on April 22, 2001 in Kingston New York.
- Music Information Center Austria
- Gaylord Music Library Archived 2009-06-25 at the Wayback Machine Necrology:2001
- Starer, Robert. (1987) Continuo – A Life in Music. Random House, New York. ISBN 0-394-55515-5.
- Butterworth, Neil (2013). Dictionary of American Classical Composers. Routledge. p. 231. ISBN 978-1136790249.
- Jaques Cattell Press (Ed.): Who's who in American Music. Classical. First edition. R. R. Bowker, New York 1983.
- Darryl Lyman: Great Jews in Music. J. D. Publishers, Middle Village, N.Y, 1986.
- Stanley Sadie, H. Wiley Hitchcock (Ed.): The New Grove Dictionary of American Music. Grove's Dictionaries of Music, New York, N.Y. 1986.