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Cornell Remembers Karel Husa

Monday, December 19th, 2016

Cornell and the Department of Music mourn the loss of Karel Husa, Kappa Alpha Professor Emeritus, who passed away at his home in Apex, North Carolina, December 14, 2016, at the age of 95.

Composer and conductor Karel Husa served on the Cornell University faculty from 1954 until his retirement in 1992. An American citizen since 1959, Husa was born in Prague on August 7, 1921. He studied at the Prague Conservatory and Academy of Music, and later at the National Conservatory and Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris. Among his teachers were Arthur Honegger, Nadia Boulanger, Jaroslav Ridky, and conductor André Cluytens.

Professor Husa was widely acclaimed during his career, and his stature in the composition world was international in scope. He was the recipient of several honors, including the Pulitzer Prize (1969), the Grawemeyer Award (1993) and, in 1995, the Czech Republic’s highest civilian recognition, the State Medal of Merit, First Class. He also received nine honorary doctoral degrees and numerous other composition prizes and fellowships. Commissions came from some of the major arts organizations in the country, including the Koussevitzky Music Foundation, the New York Philharmonic (twice), the Chicago Symphony, and many others. As a conductor he worked with major orchestras throughout Europe, Asia, and America, and as a guest conductor on many college campuses. Several of his works have entered the modern repertoire, led by Music for Prague 1968 (commissioned for wind ensemble by Ithaca College and later transcribed by the composer for symphony orchestra), with over 7,000 performances to date. Husa’s music has been frequently recorded on major classical music record labels.

Composer Roberto Sierra, Old Dominion Foundation Professor in the Humanities, notes that Husa was “one of the most distinguished and admired composers of the second half of the 20th century. At Cornell he taught generations of composers who became important figures in the American musical landscape.” Mark Davis Scatterday, Professor of Conducting and Chair of the Conducting and Ensembles Department at the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music, and Husa’s former colleague and mentee, remembers breaking down emotionally at a first performance of one of Husa’s iconic works – Apotheosis of This Earth – in a new arrangement that the composer also conducted. “I was not embarrassed by this moment,” Scatterday reveals, recalling it instead as a “changing point in my career.” Since that life-altering event, Scatterday has “always strived to experience this kind of true emotion” in his own musical work. Sierra adds that Husa “will be remembered for his great music and unique compositional voice.”

The Department of Music sends its best wishes to Professor Husa’s family and his many admirers.

The Cornell Chronicle Obituary