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Daniel Pinkham, American Composer, (1923-2006)

Here’s an obituary written by Carson Cooman.

American composer Daniel Pinkham passed away on the morning of December 18, 2006 in Natick, Massachusetts, USA after a brief illness.

Pinkham, one of America’s most active and well-known composers of music for the church, was born in Lynn, Massachusetts, USA on June 5, 1923.  He studied at Harvard University and Tanglewood with Walter Piston, Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber, Arthur Honneger, and Nadia Boulanger.  As an organist and harpsichord he studied with Wanda Landowska and E. Power Biggs.

For over forty years, Pinkham was music director at Boston’s historic King’s Chapel, where he led one of the premiere church music programs in America.  Until his death, he served as senior professor of musicology at the New England Conservatory where he founded their program on early music in the 1950’s.

His catalogue as composer included our symphonies and other works for large ensembles, cantatas and oratorios, concertos and other works for solo instrument and orchestra for piano, piccolo, trumpet, violin, harp and three organ concertos, theatre works and chamber operas, chamber
music, electronic music, and twenty documentary television film scores.

His work has been performed by ensembles ranging from the New York Philharmonic to small parish choirs.  He was named Composer of the Year in 1990 by the American Guild of Organists and had been awarded six honorary doctorates.

His final completed composition, “A Cradle Hymn” for mixed choir and string quartet was premiered on December 17th and 18th by the Harvard University Choir in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA for the 97th Annual Harvard Carol Services.


Comment from Deb
Time: December 18, 2006, 4:22 pm

“His work has been performed by ensembles ranging from the New York Philharmonic to small parish choirs.”

Oh my…. I sat in church (read “small parish choir”) yesterday in the choir and listened to a brass (trio) and organ absolutely slaughter his “Gloria” – hmmmm…. I was wishing we were singing it instead -except the organist still wouldn’t have gotten it right…. but then again – neither did the trumpet player. Counting seemed to be beyond them. If he were already gone I’m sure Mr. Pinkham would have been doing the proverbial “rolling over”. Well – he will be missed.

Comment from jodru
Time: December 18, 2006, 4:59 pm

Just played his Christmas Cantata last week. Managed to count and avoid slaughter…

Comment from Steve Layton
Time: December 18, 2006, 5:04 pm

I’ve always loved the Concerto for Solo Harpsichord and Celesta from that old CRI LP.

Comment from David Rakowski
Time: December 18, 2006, 5:50 pm

Oh my. I had no idea.

Dan was one of the funniest people on the planet. I could buy a house if I had a nickel every time a Boston musician began a conversation with “Dan Pinkham told the most AMAZING joke the other day.”

I took medieval & Renaissance music history with him in 1977. It was a marvelous course, made all the moreso by the fact that he exempted three of us from the final exam, myself included.

The last time I saw him — about five years ago — he picked up on a conversation we had had in 1980 as if we had never stopped talking. That was the sort of mind he had. I’ll miss him, too.

Comment from Tom Myron
Time: December 18, 2006, 6:26 pm

John Grimes told me to expect this news a couple weeks ago. It was my pleasure to work with Dan when the PSO commissioned, premiered & did a live TV broadcast of the 3rd Organ Concerto.

But what I will really remember is the first time we met, about 16 years ago. Charles Fussell introduced us and before I could utter a word Danny said, “So young, so talented. I hate you.” Not only did he mean it as high praise- he actually made it sound that way. That’s what real composers have- a sound. R.I.P.

Comment from Richard Buell
Time: December 18, 2006, 8:39 pm

When approached about writing something that would be performed on the same program with the Beethoven Ninth, he asked: “Before or after?”

Comment from Kit Emory
Time: December 19, 2006, 12:49 am

I just think of his transition from spiked leather (that belt buckle!) to dapper gentility. So many of us were blessed to have studied under him, to have sung his works, to have enjoyed his humor and to have beheld the marvelous, wicked twinkle in his eye. America has lost a significant composer and a beautiful person.

Comment from David Spence
Time: December 19, 2006, 3:53 pm

Our choir, London Pro Musica (in London, Canada), recorded Pinkham’s Christmas Cantata on a CD called “Snow has fallen” a couple of years ago. When we first started rehearsing it I (a bass) thought it pretty odd stuff, but when the brass was added in it became quite another piece of music altogether.

How wonderful for him to have been capable of putting such imagination on paper- and for all of us to put it into practice!.

Pingback from Daniel Pinkham (1923-2006) –
Time: December 19, 2006, 4:17 pm

[…] Composer Daniel Pinkham died yesterday, December 18, 2006 in Natick, Massachusetts. He was 83 years old. A full biography can found by clicking here. Although I was saddened by the news of his passing, the mere mention of his name brings a smile to my face, particularly during the holiday season. […]

Comment from Matthew Guilford
Time: December 19, 2006, 4:30 pm

I have posted some thoughts and recollections on Daniel Pinkham and his Christmas Cantata in particular, on my site and blog,
located at

Comment from Leo Nestor
Time: December 19, 2006, 10:39 pm

We say farewell to a wonderful, prolific composer of diverse styles, a man of music and letters, a gentleman. We find comfort and continuity in the works we have and will perform. He leaves us much.

Comment from William Kuhlman
Time: December 20, 2006, 2:09 pm

As we reflect on our delightful encounters with Dan over the years at Chilton Street, at conclaves and gatherings and during his trips to the midwest with Andrew, we remember a kind, witty and gentle giant overflowing with “savoir-faire” and warmth.

He will be greatly missed but his prodigious legacy in composition will afford us many opportunities to “savour the sauce”.

Comment from John Holenko
Time: December 27, 2006, 1:15 pm

As a confused and overwhelmed freshman studying classical guitar at NEC in 1981, I had the opportunity to be coached by Daniel Pinkham on a few Handel arias with a fellow freshman vocal student. I couldn’t imagine why Dan would spend his valuable time working with two lowly freshman, but he was kind and patient, and most helpful. Being a guitarist, I came into contact with Dan and his music quite a bit in my 4 years at NEC, and then years after when I contacted him about working on some of his chamber music with guitar and he sent me a stack of beautiful music, some in his own hand. He was a true gentleman and a great musician, and one does not need to aspire to much more.

Comment from Conrad Susa
Time: February 15, 2007, 4:03 pm

When I was brought on board ECS by Thomas Dunn, Robert MacWiams treated us to a wonderful dinner upstairs in a Boston restaurant, and I finally met the fabled composer-raconteur, We were all glowing from the food and happy talk. As Robert MacWilliams was bringing the evening to a close, Dan asked how he could possibly repay his publisher for this “wonderful evening”? My, companion, the poet Jon Peterson, hitherto silent, spoke up and said, “Well Dan, you could always write us another hit!” No one laughed harder than Dan. Always generous, genuinely full of kindness, he will be deeply missed even as we continue to enjoy his music.

Comment from Daniel J. Kennedy
Time: February 20, 2007, 5:39 pm

We have certainly lost a wealth of knowledge here. Pinkham upheld high standards in the classroom, and was funny, even ascerbic with me when I went to NEC, telling me on a day I was unprepared for class, “Well then, why don’t you just go play in the street” (which was Huntington Ave. & not particularly safe)! He spearheaded Renaissance sonorities long before Arvo Part!

Comment from philip T. Ventre
Time: March 28, 2007, 10:42 am

I studied Renaissance and Baroque music with Dan Pinkham at NEC in the early 1960’s. I had two superb music history teachers at NEC, Dan and F. Judd Cooke. Their exemplary scholarship and passion for music inspired me to pursue a degree in music history. I have had the honor and privilege to perform and conduct Dan Pinkham’s music. Musicians and audiences love his music! Everyone – adults and children – are indeed blessed to have had the pleasure of hearing his music. His music will continue to delight and to inspire us.