December 21, 2006
Daniel Pinkham, 83, Composer and Organist, Dies
By DANIEL J. WAKIN
Daniel Pinkham, a prolific composer, organist and fixture on the Boston classical music scene who taught at the New England Conservatory for nearly a half-century, died Monday at the home of friends in Natick, Mass., the conservatory said. He was 83 and lived in Cambridge, Mass.
The cause was chronic lymphocytic leukemia, said his partner, Andrew Paul Holman.
The breadth of Mr. Pinkham’s music-making was striking. As a harpsichordist, he was active in the beginnings of the early-music scene in Boston in the 1950s and ’60s. He was in charge of music at King’s Chapel in Boston, which in 1713 became one of the first American churches with a pipe organ. He performed as an organist and harpsichordist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He was a conductor.
But above all he wrote countless pieces of music, including symphonies, stage works, a large body of choral works and songs, and some 50 chamber pieces.
“He was one of the very few organ composers who were also mainstream composers, writing for just about any idiom possible, in the tradition of J. S. Bach,” said Barbara Owen, an organ historian and librarian at the American Guild of Organists. “He never forgot his fellow organists toiling away in small churches, and wrote a lot of lovely pieces that were accessible and likable and have been played by organists all over the country.” That accessibility was common to much of his music.
Mr. Pinkham is also survived by a brother, Christopher Pinkham, of Brookfield, N.H., Mr. Holman said.
Mr. Pinkham was born in Lynn, Mass. His great-grandmother was Lydia E. Pinkham, who gained fame for her Vegetable Compound patent medicine, a solution of herbs, roots and 18 percent alcohol aimed at curing “female complaints.” Mr. Pinkham often told the story of Mae West, who after drinking her first bottle said, “I feel like a new man.”
He attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass. It was there that he heard the Trapp Family Singers, and was deeply affected. “Here, suddenly, I was hearing clarity, simplicity, thin textures,” he said in a 1981 interview with The Boston Globe. “It shaped my whole outlook.” He attended Harvard College and studied with Walter Piston and Aaron Copland. Other teachers included Wanda Landowska, the harpsichordist, and E. Power Biggs, the organist. He also studied composition with Nadia Boulanger.
In 1958 he became music director at King’s Chapel, and a year later he joined the faculty of the New England Conservatory, where he taught composition, music history and harmony.
Much of his church music was written for King’s Chapel, and he often wrote the texts himself. The church’s minister, the Rev. Earl Holt, pointed out on Mr. Pinkham’s death that one of his lines, from “Uncommon Prayers,” read, “And, at our journey’s end, grant, O God, a gentle landing.”
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company