Aaron Copland described his friend and colleague Irving Fine as belonging to what he called the American "Stravinsky school," and indeed much of Fine's early work shows the influence of Stravinsky as well as Hindemith. A tonal language that is basically dissonant characterizes these early works. In later works, such as the String Quartet (1952) and the Fantasia for string trio (1956), Fine worked to integrate elements of serialism into his earlier tonal approach. Although he continued to experiment with serial technique, Fine's late works show more of an interest in contrapuntal and rhythmic organization. In addition to his work as a composer, Fine was a well-known teacher and conductor. He also wrote articles and reviews, which were published in such journals as Modern Music, Notes, and Musical America as well as in the New York Times.
Fine lived most of his life in and around the city of his birth. After attending the public schools in Boston and Winthrop, MA, he studied composition with Hill and Piston at Harvard University, earning a B.A. in 1937 and an M.A. in 1938. He went on to study in Cambridge, MA, and in Paris with Nadia Boulanger, as well as studying orchestral conducting with Serge Koussevitzky at the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood in Lenox, MA. Fine taught in the music department at Harvard from 1939 to 1950, where, in addition to his teaching duties, he conducted the Harvard Glee Club. In 1950, he became a professor at Brandeis University in Waltham, MA. Also, during the summers from 1946 to 1957, he was on the composition staff at the Berkshire Music Center. Over the course of his career, Fine received two Guggenheim Fellowships, the National Institute of Arts and Letters Award, a Fulbright Research Fellowship, as well as many other awards and grants. At the time of his death, in addition to serving as professor of music at Brandeis, he was the chairman of the Brandeis School of Creative Arts.