A Brief History

In 1884, the newly founded University of Southern California opened the Department of Music, the first professional school at the four year-old college. The first students could choose to study either voice or piano, a far cry from the 16 degree-granting programs now in existence.

As Los Angeles grew, the School of Music grew with it. The school’s close association with the fledgling Los Angeles Philharmonic helped enhance its reputation, eventually drawing nationally- and internationally-renowned artists to the faculty, including:

  • Harpsichord virtuoso Alice Ehlers
  • Atonal pioneer Arnold Schoenberg
  • Swiss composer Ingolf Dahl (whose collection resides in the USC Archives)
  • Cellist Gregor Piatigorsky and
  • Violinist Jascha Heifetz

As musical luminaries continued to gather around Thornton’s light, students were drawn to the school in increasing numbers as well, producing alumni such as:

  • Marilyn Horne
  • Classical guitarist Christopher Parkening
  • Conductor Michael Tilson Thomas and
  • Film composers such as James Horner, David Newman and James Newton Howard

In 1999, philanthropist Flora L. Thornton became the school’s benefactor with a naming gift of $25 million, at the time the largest such contribution to an American school of music. Today, the USC Flora L. Thornton School of Music boasts a stellar faculty, a highly accomplished student body, strong ties with local music industry and entertainment firms and a group of alumni that perform in concert halls around the world. What started as a one-room department in a tiny backwater called Los Angeles has grown into one of the foremost schools of music in the country.

Learn more about giving to the Thornton School.