John Donald Robb (June 12, 1892 – January 6, 1989), professor emeritus of music and dean emeritus of the College of Fine Arts at the University of New Mexico, was responsible for the growth of fine arts at UNM in the l940s and l950s and, in turn, for the impact that UNM had in the fine arts throughout the state. Robb, a composer of stage, classical, and electronic music, is also known as a collector of folk music. He was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota and died in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Robb had a first career as a lawyer. Educated in eastern schools, Robb graduated from Yale University in l9l5. He taught in China for one year and served in the armed forces for two years during World War I (l9l7-l9l9). After completing his legal training at Harvard Law School, Robb practiced law in New York City and in Europe from l922 to l94l. Musical activities and studies, particularly the art of composition, were, however, Robb's constant avocation.
In l941 Robb began his second career as professor of music and head of the Department of Music at the University of New Mexico. He became acting dean of the College of Fine Arts in l942, and was appointed dean in l946. He retired from this position in l957. While at UNM, Robb was instrumental in the ultimate building of the Fine Arts Center and the establishment of a folk music archive. He was also active as a composer, while continuing to build support for contemporary music throughout the state.
During his retirement years, Robb was active primarily as a composer and lecturer, although Robb's long-time interest in law and politics prompted him to run for Congress in l960. During l962 and l963, he taught composition as a visiting professor at the National Conservatory of San Salvador under a grant from the Secretary of State, and he also made a music tour of Central America, conducting the national orchestras of Venezuela, Guatemala, and El Salvador. In later years, Robb appeared as guest conductor of various American symphony orchestras, and made several record albums featuring folk and electronic music.
Robb had been intensely interested in music since his teenage years. During his years as a lawyer, he composed music and played the cello, meeting informally with friends every week to play string quartets. He began the study of composition with Nadia Boulanger in l936 and he participated throughout his life in master classes with such leading American and European composers and teachers as Roy Harris, Paul Hindemith, Darius Milhaud, and Horatio Parker. His more than 200 compositions range from solo instrumental and vocal music to music for small and large ensembles, operas, musical plays and dances. He was also a pioneer composer of electronic music, beginning in the l950s.
Always fascinated by folk music, Robb made recordings in the field and transcribed over 3, 000 songs and dances from areas as diverse as Nepal, South America, and the American southwest. This collection forms the nucleus of the more than 25, 000 items that comprise the John Donald Robb Archive of Southwestern Music. One of the most extensive collections of southwestern music and oral histories, the Robb Archive is housed in the University of New Mexico's Center for Southwest Research.
Robb published numerous articles on both legal and music subjects in national and regional journals and newspapers. The first of his two books, Hispanic Folk Songs of New Mexico, was published by the University of New Mexico Press in l954. In l970 he received a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation for the preparation of a book of Hispanic folk music of the Southwest. This work resulted in the publication in l980 by the University of Oklahoma Press of Hispanic Folk Music of New Mexico and the Southwest -- a Self Portrait of a People.
Robb received numerous honors in his lifetime. Among them was the Award for Achievement and Excellence in Music bestowed in l975 by the New Mexico Arts Commission. In l980, the UNM Alumni Association, recognizing Robb's legacy, honored him with the Bernard D. Rodey Award. In l986 the University of New Mexico granted him an honorary doctorate degree. The l989 UNM Composers' Symposium was dedicated to the memory of Robb, whose leadership and sponsorship had been in part responsible for the international scope and success of the annual symposium.
John Robb and his wife Harriet Block Robb were married in l92l. Nearly seventy years later, and within ten days of each other, John and Harriet Robb died in January l989. They were survived by three children: Priscilla McDonnell, John Robb, Jr., and Nancy Briggs, and their families.
Die Harmonie der Welt (The Harmony of the World) is an opera in five acts by Paul Hindemith. The German libretto was by the composer.
The title of the opera is taken from Harmonices Mundi by the astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571–1630) who is the subject of the opera. Hindemith used the planetary system as a metaphor for his own musical arrangement of the chromatic scale.The opera was completed in May 1957, and first performed on August 11. Hindemith had previously composed a symphony of the same name in 1951.
This symphony was created out of Hindemith's fascination with the life of astronomer Johannes Kepler, and the title is a German translation of Kepler's Harmonices Mundi (1619), famous for explaining Kepler's Third Law of Planetary Motion. In this book, Kepler also explored theories of physical harmonies in the movement of the planets and provided a scientific explanation for the idea of the Harmony of the Spheres. Though it might have seemed far-fetched, Hindemith was fascinated by the mystical side of it, which is an aspect of his creativity that is often shown in other great works by the composer.
Hindemith started thinking of writing an opera about Kepler in 1939, and he kept mentioning the project in his letters throughout the war years. Hindemith probably created full structures and portions of the opera before he began writing them on paper. However, in 1951, the composer offered Paul Sacher the premiere of a "preview suite" of his future opera to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Basel Chamber Orchestra.The symphony was first performed on January 25, 1952, by an expanded Basel Chamber Orchestra under the baton of Sacher. Even though Hindemith had stated on more than one occasion that the symphony was drawn from musical fragments of the opera of the same name, the opera would not be completed until 1957, six years later than the symphony's date of completion. In fact, Hindemith only began a serious endeavor to complete the libretto for the five-act opera in 1955, which he finished on September 1, 1956. This was also the case of Hindemith's Symphony: Mathis der Maler, which was also finished years prior to the opera's completion.
More than any musician of his era, pianist John Aaron Lewis
(1920–2001) aimed to blend Bach with bebop, to infuse jazz with some
of the forms and “respectability” of classical music, taking it from
nightclubs to concert halls – which he did to worldwide success for four
decades as musical director of the Modern Jazz Quartet. Referring to
the pianist’s use of fugues and other Baroque forms, English critic Max
Harrison said that Lewis had “succeeded where all others have failed in
grafting a number of classical devices into the technique of jazz without
doing violence to the spirit of the music.”
Born in 1920, Lewis was raised in New Mexico, learning piano
from a young age via classical music and, later, dance bands. Encouraged
after making friends with drummer Kenny Clarke in the army, Lewis moved
to New York in 1945, earning a master’s degree at the Manhattan School
of Music and entering the bebop scene alongside Clarke. The pianist joined
Dizzy Gillespie’s band and played on historic Charlie Parker recording
sessions; he also worked with saxophonist Lester Young, who had starred
in the well-honed Count Basie bands that were a formative inspiration
for him. As pianist and arranger, he figured prominently in the Miles
Davis nonet’s influential Birth of the Cool sessions of 1949. Lewis established
the Modern Jazz Quartet in the early ’50s, seeking to blend blues-inflected
improvisation with polyphonic arrangements in an airy, chamber-jazz style;
once solidified in 1955, the lineup of vibraphonist Milt Jackson, bassist
Percy Heath and drummer Connie Kay ran until 1974 and then again from
1981 to 1993. (The group reunited occasionally with different drummers
after Kay’s death in ’94.) The foursome recorded for Prestige and, most
successfully, Atlantic Records; they collaborated with the likes of Sonny
Rollins and symphony orchestras, filling formal halls first in Europe,
then North America and Japan. Although some critics tired of the band’s
tuxedoed academicism and ever-dulcet sound – its “music identifiable from
the first bar even if it drove some hardcore jazz fans into the nearest
bar,” as The Guardian put it – the MJQ enjoyed a duration and popularity
exceedingly rare for a small jazz ensemble.
As a pianist, Lewis was known for his soft touch, blues feeling
and subtle swing, as well as a predilection for understatement and economy
— believing that improvised solos should be “at the service of the
melody.” Along with composing extended suites and film scores for the
MJQ, Lewis wrote such hit tunes for the band as “Django,” which became
an instant, oft-covered jazz standard. He also created a soulful, shimmering
arrangement of Ornette Coleman’s modernist ballad “Lonely Woman,” as well
as versions of classical pieces by Bach, Villa-Lobos and Rodrigo and entire
albums devoted to Duke Ellington and Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. Beyond
the group, Lewis composed several works aligned with the jazz-meets-classical
Third Stream movement in the 1950s, prime among them Three Little Feelings,
a mini-concerto for Miles Davis. He helped establish the Lenox School of
Music in Massachusetts, a vital incubator for ambitious jazz talent in
the late ’50s. Lewis was music director of the Monterey Jazz Festival from
1958 to 1982, and he directed the American Jazz Orchestra, a pioneering
jazz repertory ensemble, from 1985 to 1992. After Jackson’s death ended
MJQ reunions in 1999, Lewis recorded a widely praised album of solo piano,
Evolution. He passed away two years later. Veteran critic Leonard Feather
appreciated the MJQ’s “devotion to affirmative values of order and reason
— melodic invention, harmonic beauty, subtlety of rhythmic pulse,”
a summation that could serve as a motto for Lewis’s art. —Bradley
== From the Steinway website
|[From my interview with Alexander Toradze...]
Toradze: In Russia, I would play many times on pianos with broken strings or broken keys. Many times I would have to put a piece of rubber in-between strings so they wouldn't sound. It's a pitiful situation.
BD: An 85-key piano! [The standard paino has 88 keys.]
Toradze: You're lucky if you got that! I would frequently have to play big concerts on upright pianos. I don't want you to hear irony in my voice. It was a pain! Such a rich country with phenomenal culture, but good pianos (which are not simple things) don't exist unless you're in a major hall in a major town.
© 1988 Bruce Duffie
This conversation was recorded on the telephone on April 16, 1988. Portions were broadcast on WNIB in 1992 and again in 1998. This transcription was made in 2022, and posted on this website at that time. My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.
To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here. To read my thoughts on editing these interviews for print, as well as a few other interesting observations, click here.
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Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001. His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests. He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago. You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.