Remembering Richard Rephann

March 4, 2015

Richard Rephann, 82, harpsichordist and director emeritus of the Yale University Collection of Musical Instruments, died on December 29, 2014, in Hamden, Connecticut. Born February 9, 1932, in Frostburg, Maryland, Rephann attended the Johns Hopkins University Peabody Conservatory of Music, where he studied organ with Arthur Howes and piano with Mieczyslaw Munz and Alexander Sklarevsky. He earned a teaching certificate in piano in 1953 and then supported himself by working in hobby shops, playing piano for ballet classes, and teaching in both public and private schools. Returning to Peabody, he completed a Bachelor of Music degree in piano in 1959. 

In 1961 he became a harpsichord student of Ralph Kirkpatrick at Yale University. During those early years at Yale, he served as organist and choirmaster at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Wallingford, Connecticut; in the summers between 1962–65, Rephann worked for Frank Hubbard, learning much about harpsichord design and construction. After hours, Hubbard helped him build a single-manual Italian instrument that is currently being re-voiced in the workshop of Frank Rutkowski. Harpsichords were not the only building fascination for Rephann, however. He was also a classic car enthusiast, owning classic cars—such as the Triumph TR3 pictured—and building models of them as well. 

After completing his master’s degree at Yale, in 1964 Rephann was appointed to the Yale University School of Music as instructor in harpsichord playing and as assistant curator of the Collection of Musical Instruments. He served as director of the collection from 1968 to 2006 in addition to holding the rank of full professor (adjunct) of organology and harpsichord playing in the School of Music. In 2006 he was awarded the Morris Steinert Award, the museum’s highest honor, in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the development of the collection, its role in the university, and its presentation to the New Haven community for more than forty years.

Located in a former fraternity house, thanks to Rephann’s financial and collections development oversight, the Collection of Musical Instruments was transformed into a facility for the scholarly study, exhibition, and conservation of historical musical instruments. Early in his tenure, Rephann instituted an annual concert series of music from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century. According to the Yale University website, it is now the longest-running series of its kind in the country, often presenting instruments from the collection in performance. In addition, Rephann began having these performances recorded in the early 1980s, making the series one of the most well-documented early music series in existence. 

Rephann commenced a restoration and conservation program in the late 1970s with an endowment from George P. O’Leary and worked with leading conservation experts to create guidelines for the restoration of the collection’s instruments, particularly the string and keyboard instruments. He brought full-time conservators to the museum staff in 1982, guiding the laudable “de-restoration” of instruments that had experienced injudicious repairs in earlier years. These instruments now maintain integrity as historic artifacts while sounding as close as possible to the intent of their original sound. Laurence Libin, emeritus curator of musical instruments at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, noted: 

Richard’s chief curatorial interest was in historical keyboard instruments, for which he wisely advocated conservation or conservative restoration and careful documentation over repair or renovation. By thus maintaining the integrity of the Yale collection, he best served the interests of organologists, musicologists, instrument builders, and historically minded musicians.

 

Rephann demonstrated the value of the collection as an academic resource. For his “Art of Continuo Playing” and “History of Keyboard Instruments” courses, the museum functioned as a laboratory in which students could study the development of musical instruments in their cultural contexts. Many students utilized historical instruments in the collection in recitals; this sort of use was one of Rephann’s goals for the courses. Recognizing the inherent interdisciplinary potential of the instruments, he also encouraged professors throughout the university to utilize the collection for special presentations dealing with the course subject matter, often with demonstrations or performances as part of the presentation. Former student Paul Jacobs, now chair of the organ department at the Juilliard School, notes:

Richard was, in every regard, a consummate gentleman. As a teacher and mentor, students witnessed a spirit of generosity, wisdom, and kindness. The benefit of Richard’s friendship—beginning in those highly formative years as a student—has continued unceasingly to influence my musicianship and worldview. He will be deeply missed.

 

The collection tripled in size under Rephann’s leadership, funded to a large extent through his own development initiatives but also through the board of advisors, and associates of the collection, a museum membership organization Rephann established in 1977. Publications involved checklists and catalogues of the Yale collection, and also the Pedro Traversari Collection in Quito and the Schambach-Kaston Collection of Rare Strings and Bows, now in Tokyo.

In many ways, the Collection of Musical Instruments was Rephann’s chief focus, yet he appeared regularly in harpsichord performances around the country. He particularly liked to work with repertoire he thought was especially suited to the nationalistic idiosyncrasies of Italian, Flemish, French, German, or English harpsichords, and in his later years felt acute affinity for the music of Johann Jakob Froberger, Louis Couperin, Jean-Henri D’Anglebert, François Couperin, and Jean-Phillipe Rameau. Recordings of some of his live performances are contained within the museum archives. Rephann was also a studio teacher whose students are now organists and harpsichordists around the world. Former student Corey Jamason, now professor of harpsichord and director of historical performance at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, writes:

Richard Rephann was one the most elegant musicians I have ever known. Incapable of making an unpleasant sound or violent gesture, his performances of French baroque music were models of refinement and sophistication and his performances of Froberger were without equal. His touch at the instrument was always utterly controlled and his ornamentation always exceedingly tasteful and appropriate. Although perhaps not well known among the general public, he was nonetheless one of the greatest harpsichordists in the second half of the twentieth century. He was an incredible teacher, always patient, but he also had extremely high expectations for his students.

 

Rephann is survived by his wife, Susan E. Thompson; daughter, Lola Voysest Rephann of Jersey City, New Jersey; brother, Oliver Rephann of Simpsonville, South Carolina; brother-in-law, Rev. Kirk E. Thompson of Saint Johnsbury, Vermont; sisters-in-law, Claudia R. Thompson of Wooster, Ohio, and Julia A. Thompson of Friday Harbor, Washington; nephews, James Thaddeous Rephann and Evan Thompson Keefe; nieces, Anne Marie Rephann Moore, Cameron Thompson Exner, and Laurel Thompson Exner; his first wife of seventeen years, Lola Odiaga of New Haven; and his colleague of thirty-five years, Wm. Nicholas Renouf of Guilford.

A memorial concert will be scheduled during the coming year. Contributions in Rephann’s memory may be sent to the Yale University Collection of Musical Instruments (www.collection.yale.edu) or to the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Unit (www.alzheimers.yale.edu).

Photos courtesy of Susan E. Thompson.

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