Nunc Dimittis

May 20, 2011

Robert M. Fischer died October 21, 2010. He was 95 years old. Born in Buffalo, New York, and raised in Pittsburgh, as a child he bicycled to weekly recitals by city organist Marshall Bidwell on the Skinner organ at Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland; he built his first instrument in the attic of the family home. He studied engineering at Carnegie Institute of Technology, and also studied organ with Caspar Koch and Arthur B. Jennings; he later earned a master’s degree in education, minoring in musicology, from the University of Pittsburgh.
During World War II he served in the Navy as an instructor in aircraft hydraulics; he married Catherine Keppel during this tour of duty. Fischer served as a sales representative for the Tellers Organ Company and then for Herman Schlicker, and later turned to building new organs of his own design. He built 17 new instruments and was involved in many relocations and rebuilds; he was also an early advocate of the American Institute of Organbuilders. Robert M. Fischer is survived by his sons Robert and Eric, and daughter Catherine.

Henryk Mikolaj Górecki died November 12 in Katowice, Poland at the age of 76. Górecki’s early interest in music led him to study clarinet, piano, violin, and theory. His compositions included works in a dissonant, modernist idiom, and later in a simpler style. His best-known works are his Second and Third Symphonies, whose scoring includes solo voices. Górecki’s keyboard works include a Harpsichord Concerto (opus 40, 1980), and Kantata for organ (opus 26, 1968). Henryk Mikolaj Górecki is survived by his wife Jadwiga, daughter Anna Górecka-Stanczyk, a pianist, and son Mikolaj Górecki, a composer.

Composer Lee Hoiby died March 28 of metastatic melanoma. He was 85 and lived in Long Eddy, New York. Born in Madison, Wisconsin, he studied piano with Danish pianist Gunnar Johansen, pursued a master’s degree at Mills College in Oakland, California, and subsequently studied composition with Gian Carlo Menotti at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Menotti arranged for the successful premiere of Hoiby’s first opera, the one-act The Scarf, at the inaugural Spoleto Festival in 1958.
Known for his traditional, lyrical style, Hoiby composed in the solo piano, chamber ensemble and orchestra genres, but was most acclaimed for his vocal works. Hoiby composed over 100 songs, adapted the Tennessee Williams play Summer and Smoke (1971, to a libretto by Lanford Wilson), and composed several one-act operas, including Something New for the Zoo (1979), The Tempest (1986), and This Is the Rill Speaking (1992).
His choral music includes the Christmas cantata A Hymn of the Nativity, the oratorio Galileo Galilei, works for chorus and orchestra on texts of Walt Whitman, Jacob’s Ladder, for mixed chorus, organ, and brass quintet, composed for the rededication of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in 2008; And The Waters Flow, for mixed chorus, children’s chorus, bass, harp and organ; and The Christmas Tree, for SATB chorus a cappella and with orchestra.
Hoiby had just completed work on an operatic setting of Romeo and Juliet, with a libretto by Mark Shulgasser adapted from Shakespeare. Lee Hoiby is survived by his partner and longtime collaborator Mark Shulgasser.

Sophie Toppin, age 90, died January 3, 2011 in Smithtown, New York. A native of Floral Park, New York, she earned a BA degree from Brooklyn College, a master’s degree from Columbia Teachers College, and a certificate in church music from the Guilmant Organ School. Toppin began her 61-year career in church music at age 19; she served 41 years at the First Presbyterian Church of Levittown, New York. Active in the AGO, Toppin served twice as dean of the Nassau chapter. She sang for many years with the Long Island Choral Society and served on its board of directors, also chairing its young artist competition. Sophie Toppin is survived by three children and two grandchildren.

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