Yale Bulletin and Calendar

June 15, 2001Volume 29, Number 32Two-Week Issue

Richard F. French

Richard French, musicologist
who supported music libraries

Eminent musicologist and educator Richard F. French, professor emeritus at the School of Music and the Institute of Sacred Music, died after a brief illness at Yale-New Haven Hospital on May 18. He was 85.

"Richard French's intellectual and artistic integrity, his love of teaching, and his dedication to the institutions he served won him the affection and admiration of generations of musicians and scholars," said Music School Dean Robert Blocker. "We have lost a great friend who made a measurable contribution to the School of Music and to music at Yale."

Mr. French was born in Randolph, Massachusetts, on June 23, 1915. He graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire, in 1933 and received his S.B. and A.M. degrees from Harvard University in 1937 and 1939, respectively. After a tour of duty in the U.S. Army Air Force, he returned to Harvard as assistant professor of music from 1947 to 1951. A loyal alumnus, he established the Richard F. French 1933 Fund for Music Performance at Phillips Exeter and initiated the first endowed professorship in the United States in the field of music librarianship -- the Richard F. French Librarianship Chair --
at Harvard's Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library in 1988.

Between 1957 and 1961 Mr. French was vice president and director of publications at Associated Music Publishers. For 11 years beginning in 1963 he was the Robert S. Tangeman Professor of Sacred Music at Union Theological Seminary in New York. As president of the New York Pro Musica Antiqua from 1961 to 1981, he led a revival of interest in early music performance practice in the United States. From 1977 to 1987 he was a member of the selection committee for the American Musicological Society's Noah Greenberg Award for outstanding contributions to historically aware performances. Also a devoted supporter of contemporary music, Mr. French was a member of the International Society of Contemporary Music, U.S. Section, and of the League of Composers.

Professor French joined the Yale faculty when the Institute of Sacred Music was established in 1973. At Yale he exercised a formative influence on the School of Music's Doctor of Musical Arts (D.M.A.) program. After retiring in 1985, he continued to teach courses and serve on the school's D.M.A. committee through the 2000­01 academic year. He also directed the doctoral studies program at the Juilliard School from 1987 to 1993, and served as a member of Juilliard's graduate faculty through the 1998­99 academic year.

Professor French was known for his expansive range of musical knowledge and expertise. At various times he taught theory, conducting, bibliography, the history of Renaissance and Baroque church music, and music of the 18th century. His classes on the life and works of Franz Liszt and Heinrich Schutz, the Haydn string quartets and Mozart operas were popular at the institutions where he taught. He wrote extensively and translated from Russian "A Book about Stravinsky" by Boris Asafyev. He described himself as "someone who was able to ask questions that haven't been asked that have to do with creativity -- i.e. bringing into existence the things that hadn't been or hadn't been noticed so you could then pay attention differently to other things."

Concordia College awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1998 and the Yale School of Music bestowed its two highest honors upon him: the Samuel Simons Sanford Medal in 1991 and the Gustave Jacob Stoeckel Award in 1999. The Music Library Association (MLA) awarded him the MLA citation in 1999 in recognition of his extraordinary support of music libraries.

Memorial services for Professor French will be held on the Yale campus and at Juilliard in the fall.


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