IN MEMORY: Leonard G. Ratner 1916-2011

By Churgin, Bathia | The Beethoven Journal, Summer 2012 | Go to article overview

IN MEMORY: Leonard G. Ratner 1916-2011


Churgin, Bathia, The Beethoven Journal


THE WORLD OF CLASSIC MUSIC has lost one of its greatest and most original scholars and analysts, Professor Leonard G. Ratner, who died on September 2, 201 1, at the age of ninety-five. Born on July 30, 1 9 1 6, in Minneapolis, Ramer spent most of his life on the West Coast. He studied at Berkeley, where he earned an MA in 1939 and the Ph.D. in 1947 as Manfred Bukofeer's first Ph.D. That same year he started his teaching career at Stanford University, where he remained the rest of his life. A brilliant and inspiring teacher, he nurtured many outstanding musicologists, among them Janet M. Levy, Wye Jamison Allanbrook, and V. Kofi Agawu. Ratner s visits to Bar-Ilan University in Israel in 1976, 1982, and 1986 were memorable for both students and faculty. For the Ramers, it was a high point in their lives.

Ratner also studied composition, mainly with Frederick Jacoby and Arnold Schoenberg but also with Ernest Bloch and Arthur Bliss. Until 1 96 1 , he composed twenty-seven mainly chamber works that include a chamber opera. His skill as a composer is reflected in his harmony book, Harmony: Structure and Style (1962), and in many ofhis analyses. These show a special sensitivity to unusual rhythmic effects and include many harmonic and melodic reductions of important passages and themes.

Ratner published six books and several key articles that remain significant. The books include the remarkable music appreciation book Music: The Listener's Art (1957) and its offshoot The Musical Experience (1983), Classic Music: Expression, Form, and Style ( 1 980), Romantic Music: Sound and Syntax ( 1 992), and The Beethoven String Quartets: Compositional Strategies and Rhetoric (1995). In 1992 he was honored with a Festschrift, Convention in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Music, Essays in Honor of Leonard G. Ratner, ed. Wye J. Allanbrook, Janet M. Levy, and William E Mahrt (1992). In 1998 he was elected an Honorary Member of the American Musicologica! Society and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. It was in Music: The Listener's Art that Ramer first introduced references to topoiox topics. More extensively developed in the large chapter on "Expression" in his richly documented book on Classic music, the subject has become widely known in scholarship as "topic theory." We may add the crucial role played by Ratner s wife Ingeborg in assisting Ratner and in making translations from German eighteenth-century theorists, which are so important for establishing the theoretical basis for Ratner s harmonic and periodic emphases. It was to Ingeborg that Ratner dedicated his books on Classic music, Romantic music, and the Beethoven quartets.

Among Ratner s writings on Beethoven, the following are essential: 1. "Beethoven and the Classic Style," the final chapter in his book on Classic music dealing with the first movement of the String Quartet, Opus 59, no.

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IN MEMORY: Leonard G. Ratner 1916-2011
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