Searching Basements and Attics During Cold War, Established Database of Works of 18th Century Composers

Jan LaRue, a musicologist and emeritus professor of music at New York University, died on Sunday, October 17, in Rye, New York, succumbing to pneumonia and complications arising from a stroke suffered in January 2003, said his wife, Marian Green LaRue. He was 86.

For more than 50 years, Professor LaRue was a passionate investigator of the classical idiom of Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven, as well as the many lesser-known composers of the 18th century, research which led to the establishment of a huge database of the works of the great and minor composers of that period. With these data, collected from libraries, archives, private basements and attics in countries often deemed inaccessible because of the Cold War, LaRue and his research assistants scoured Europe and Russia in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s: he was a Fulbright Research Fellow in 1954-56 and a Guggenheim and American Council of Learned Societies Fellow in 1964-65, collecting materials for his thematic identifier catalogue by locating symphonies, concertos, and other works by the great masters and their contemporaries, recording thematic incipits, scoring, source locations, and composer attributions. Using this information, he identified many new sources for works of the major composers of the period 1700-1800, corrected many thousands of misattributions, and supplied composer names for many previously anonymous works. The first volume of his “Catalogue of 18th Century Symphonies” containing nearly 17,000 entries, from Abel to Zumsteeg, was published by Indiana University Press in 1988. His work on watermark identification in the 1950s and 60s is still considered the cornerstone of all such work in the discipline of musicology.

Professor LaRue was born in Sumatra, where his father, the noted botanist Carl LaRue, was doing work with the variegated coleus. After graduating from Harvard in 1940, where he was a classmate of Leonard Bernstein’s, he received an M.F.A. from Princeton University in 1942 and taught at Wellesley College from 1942-43 before entering the Army and serving in the Pacific theater. Rising to the rank of Captain, his time spent stationed on Okinawa led to the some of the first investigations of native music there, and the completion of one of the earliest American Ph.D. dissertations on an ethnomusicological subject, the Okinawan Classical Song (Harvard, 1952). He returned to Wellesley to teach, and in 1957 joined the Department of Music in the Graduate School of Arts and Science at New York University, where he remained until his retirement in 1988. While at NYU, LaRue served as Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Science and Chair of the Department of Music. He was President of the American Musicological Society from 1967-68, and was named an honorary member in 1998. A long-standing member of the editorial board and planning committee of the International Musicological Society, he edited the Congress Report for the New York Congress in 1961 and was the author of several important festschriften in honor of major American and European scholars of music, among them Otto Erich Deutsch (1963) and Gustave Reese (1966). Until his death, LaRue was a Member of the Salzburg Mozarteum, the Central Institute for Mozart Research in Austria, and in 2003, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

One of the earliest converts to the use of computers in music research and for musical editing, LaRue’s Guidelines for Style Analysis (W.W. Norton, 1970; 2nd edition, Harmonie Park Press, 1992) was recently translated into Spanish (2003). He was the recipient of an important festschrift on his 65th birthday, and a volume of his collected writings was published in 2001 by the Journal of Musicology in honor of his 80th birthday.

LaRue’s first wife, Helen Robison, died in 1998. He is survived by his second wife, Marian Green LaRue, and two daughters from his first marriage, Charlotte Isaacs of Wellesley, and Christine Honig of Durango, Colorado, and four grandchildren, Robert and Catherine Isaacs, and Ben and Lynn Honig. A memorial service is planned for Sunday 31 October 2004, 2 p.m. at Christ’s Church, Rye, New York, with interment at Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts on Wednesday 3 November at 1.30 p.m.

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