BU Today

Arts & Entertainment + In the World

CFA’s Gardner Read dies at 92

Prolific composer wrote nearly 200 works

Gardner Read, an influential composer and retired CFA faculty member, died in November at age 92. Photo by Fred Sway

Gardner Read, 92, a College of Fine Arts professor emeritus of music who composed nearly 200 pieces in his 70-year career, died on November 10 from complications of pneumonia.

Read taught in the school of music for 30 years, influencing many young musicians and helping them develop their own composition styles through his understated teaching methods. His colleagues describe him as a listener who truly cared about helping his students explore their own musical interests.

“He always adjusted his ideas to be as helpful as possible and did not try to remake students into clones of himself,” says CFA Professor of Music Joel Sheveloff, winner of the 2004 Metcalf Cup and Prize for Excellence in Teaching. “That can’t be said for all the composition teachers in America. It was one of his most important characteristics; it informed almost everything he did.”

Read was born in Evanston, Ill., and studied at Northwestern University and at the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester. A prolific and versatile composer, his works include an opera on the life of the poet Francois Villon and an oratorio based on Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet. He also wrote numerous books on instrumental techniques and orchestration.

Holly Mockovak, the director of the University’s music library, knew of Read’s work, but had not heard his compositions until a group of musicians performed his work at the Tsai Performance Center in 1998 in celebration of Read’s 85th birthday. “It’s something that rolls over you like the ocean,” she says. “If one were going to hear the music of Gardner Read, hearing it live on the first pass is certainly the way to go.”

Mark Kroll, a harpsichordist and CFA professor emeritus of music, has performed Read’s Fantasy Toccata for Solo Harpsichord at venues all over Europe. “The harpsichord has a limited palate of colors, but he really got some great sounds out of the instrument,” Kroll says. “There are a lot of contemporary pieces that I’ve tried, but I don’t play very often because they’re very hard but not very interesting. This had all the elements. It make the audience happy, and that’s really important.”

Read is survived by his daughter, Cynthia, of Ossining, N.Y.

To hear two of Read’s compositions, performed by pianist John McDonald and mezzo-soprano D’Anna Fortunato, click below. (Requires RealPlayerâ„¢.)

Four Nocturnes, Op. 23, “The Unknown God”

Nocturnal Visions, Op. 145, “I Hear an Army”