SIGURD M. RASCHER
February 25th 2001 saw the end of an historical epoch in saxophone history, with the death of Sigurd Manfred Rascher at age 94. He died in his home in Shushan, New York, a small town in upstate New York. Sigurd M. Rascher was a "classical saxophonist" who refused to accept anything less than excellence in his playing, and teaching. Even into his 80s he continued to teach workshops on occasion to his devoted followers.
THE NEW YORK PHILHARMONIC
In 1939 Rascher arrived in the United States to solo on saxophone with the New York Philharmonic under the baton of Sr. John Barbirolli at Carnegie Hall. November 11th, 1939 Sigurd M. Rascher became the first solo saxophonist for the New York Philharmonic (NYP), a feat that occured after more than 3,500 concerts given by the NYP. Shortly thereafter, he also soloed with the Boston Philharmonic under the baton of Serge Koussevitsky. Rascher's solo efforts continued in Washington, D.C., and at Town Hall in New York City during the Spring of 1940. Mr. Rascher's last saxophone solo performance was with the Vermont Symphony on the eve of his 70th birthday. "Sigurd Rascher went into semi-retirement in 1973, at age 73 yet still continueing his outings as a teacher and lecturer. His later seminars and workshops occurred at distinghished institutions such as the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, Union College, Yale, and the University of Mississippi. In 1992 he traveled to Berin, Germany where he directed a workshop at the Academy of the Arts in Berlin. In 1993 he conducted a saxophone orchestra of 75 players in southern Germany, where he spent his childhood years."
A PERMINENT MOVE TO AMERICA
In 1941 Rascher made the decision to live perminently in the United States, when his wife Ann Mari, and young son Staffan, joined him. They located shortly thereafter in Shushan, New York where he lived the rest of his life. As the War effort hastened, music teachers in local schools were called into service. Rascher was asked to fill in as a teacher in the public schools of Greenwhich and Granville, New York, as well as at the local Washington Academy.
THE EUROPEON CONNECTION
After World War II, Rascher was invited to concertize in Europe where he traveled months on end soloing with orchestras. As time moved on Rascher's reputation grew quickly in the United States to include soloing with university bands. Years later he was awarded the Band Masters of America Award for distinguished artists, which was just one of many career awards he received. Virtually every saxophonist in America learned how to play saxophone in elementary school using a Belwin beginner book that featured Sigurd Rascher in the forward of the book with a fingering chart.
Rascher's influence as a player attracted American composers to write for his beloved instrument the saxophone. It was a continuence of activity that had its roots in Europe. Perhaps it should be noted that Mr. Rascher also actively sought out computers to write new repertoire for the saxophone.
RASCHER SAXOPHONE QUARTET
In 1969 Mr. Rascher founded the Rascher Saxophone Quartet with his daughter, Carina. After more than 30 years the Rascher Saxophone Quartet is still performing and inspiring new works for the saxophone under the leadership of his daughter Carina Rascher. Other members of the quartet include Harry Kinross White, Bruce Weinberger and Kenneth Coon. The Rascher Quartet has appeared in the United States at Carnegie Hall and Washington D.C.'s Kennedy Center for Performing Arts. They have also performed at London's Royal Festival Hall, Vienna's Musikverein and Amsterdam's Concertgebouw. Sigurd's vision to inspire composers to write for the saxophone lives on with more than 200 composers having dedicated works to them, including Luciano Berio, Philip Glass, Sofia Gubaidulina and Charles Wuorinen.
HIS ANTI NUKE MOVEMENT
Mr. Rascher, together with his friend and neighbor, Winfred Huppuck, supported and motivated the anti-atomic reactor movement during the 1960s and 70s. He took time to study the physics and statistics behind nuclear energy, which only served to fuel his energy.
CLOSE TO NATURE
Sigurd Rascher was close to nature. In later years particularly, he enjoyed working in his garden and shared his love for outdoors with his wife. The serenity of growing things near his home presented him with great opportunities for contemplation.
Mr. Rascher is survived by his wife, Ann Mari Rascher; son, Staffan and his wife, Patricia; daughters, Kristina, Carina and Astrid; grandchildren, Annika, Sven and Malena; sister, Brigid Nosal with husband, Gregory; and family and brother, Michael Rascher.
[back to top of page]
Sigurd M. Rascher (1907-2001)
Superlative musical legacy forged by uncommon character
By Ronald Caravan
Standing at center stage facing the two dozen or so summer workshop students assembled as a large saxophone ensemble before him, the master teacher's wispy white hair and roughened reddish complexion were among the few evident signs of his advanced age on that July day in 1986. He had just finished sharing some very special insights relevant to the saxophone, music, and life itself - conclusions that had crystallized in his mind only recently. Pausing for a moment, his eyes seemed fixed on nothing in particular now as he tilted his gaze downward toward his conductor's stand. Drawing the fingers of his right hand tightly together and slowly tapping his fingertips against his forehead, he spoke in his characteristic perfect English still inflected somewhat by his German heritage. "Sometimes," he said, "you wonder why it takes so long."
It was one of those rare and particularly precious moments in one of Sigurd Rascher's summer saxophone workshops, yet a moment quite common to his character. Approaching his 80th birthday with a lifetime of superlative accomplishments long since assuring his enduring legacy, personal pride was so thoroughly masked by genuine humility that he did not even hesitate to allow such youthful students a glimpse into his own soul as a student for life, nor was he too proud even to scold himself a bit for "taking so long sometimes" to ascertain a certain relationship and add yet another element of truth to his profound wisdom.
The musical legacy of pioneer saxophone virtuoso Sigurd M. Rascher, who died February 25, 2001 at the age of 93, is well documented and quite well known. Those who developed personal relationships with Mr. Rascher came to understand that his superlative musical legacy was very much a product of the sort of uncommon character he demonstrated that day during his 1986 summer workshop at Syracuse University. He led a life of such devotion to the pursuit of intellectual and artistic truth, there was no capacity within him to allow pride to overcome integrity.
Trained originally as a classical clarinetist in Berlin, an instrument on which he achieved considerable skill, he told of how he took up the saxophone during the 1920s just to earn a little money playing in the night clubs around the city. Before long, however, he was urged by one of his music professors to try playing the music of Bach on the saxophone. His initial skepticism was soon replaced by a serious commitment to bring a new level of saxophone virtuosity to the concert stage, and to foster the development of serious literature for the instrument.
By the time Mr. Rascher arrived in the United States in 1939 for solo appearances with the New York Philharmonic under Sir John Barbirolli at Carnegie Hall and the Boston Symphony under Serge Koussevitzky, he already had major works dedicated to him by Jacques Ibert, Alexandre Glazounov, Lars-Erik Larsson, Frank Martin, and Paul Hindemith. With war looming in Europe, he could not return to his native Germany. Two years later, in 1941, his wife Ann Mari, of Swedish descent, joined him in the U.S. and they established their home in rural upstate New York, about 30 miles east of Saratoga Springs, where he resided for nearly 60 years until his death last February.
Sigurd Rascher's solo performing career spanned four decades and included appearances with major orchestras throughout the world. As he drew his solo career to a close, he formed the Rascher Saxophone Quartet with his daughter Carina in 1969. Although he retired from playing in 1981, the quartet, now based in Europe, continues a full-time performing schedule.
During his performing career as well as after his retirement, he maintained his involvement in teaching, most notably through summer courses and workshops held at such places as the Eastman School of Music, Union College, Syracuse University, the University of Southern Mississippi, Yale University, and the Academy of Arts in Berlin.
In addition to his performing and teaching career, he produced a variety of transcriptions as well as teaching materials for the saxophone. His principal legacy, however, lies in the legitimacy the saxophone achieved during the twentieth century as a vehicle for serious musical expression.
Prior to Mr. Rascher's emergence as an accomplished (though self-taught) saxophonist in the early 1930s, the instrument had little identity outside military bands, early jazz groups, or the American vaudeville stage. Although the saxophone had found its way into a sprinkling of orchestral scores since its invention around 1841 (perhaps most notably works by Georges Bizet, Richard Strauss, and Maurice Ravel), it had gained neither a substantial presence as an orchestral instrument nor a significant solo and chamber-music repertoire. By recognizing the need for quality repertoire, and by pursuing composers who could enlarge that repertoire, he did more to develop legitimacy for the saxophone in the concert hall than anyone had before him.
During the earlier decades of his career, many saxophonists resisted and even ridiculed his pioneering work in extending the upward range of the instrument beyond two and a half octaves. Composers, however, were more inclined to embrace this expanded expressive capability that Mr. Rascher had singularly fostered. By the time he performed in front of an orchestra for the final time, as soloist with the Vermont Symphony on the eve of his 70th birthday, his lifelong commitment to the saxophone's high register, coupled with the momentum provided by so many composers who used it, had served to establish the extended range as an essential element of modern artistic saxophone performance.
Throughout the middle decades of the twentieth century, a preponderance of the significant new saxophone solo and chamber repertoire would appear with the familiar dedication to Sigurd M. Rascher, products not just of his ongoing commitment to motivate some of the world's finest composers, but also in part the result of genuine close friendships he developed with so many. Among them were Larsson, Glaser, and von Koch in Sweden; Jacobi, Dressel, and Genzmer in Germany; Haba, Macha, and Reiner in Czechoslovakia; and Benson, Brant, Cowell, Dahl, Erickson, Husa, and Hartley in the United States. And it is not without significance that among all the pieces written for and dedicated to him during his life, not one was commissioned. He inspired new music, he never needed to purchase it.
Unlike other modern wind instruments, which evolved over the course of time and through the efforts of numerous craftsmen, the saxophone came about as the result of the conception and execution of one individual - nineteenth-century inventor Adolph Sax of Brussels. Similar to the uniqueness of its invention, the saxophone gained artistic legitimacy after 1930 as the result of the conception and execution of a single individual - Sigurd M. Rascher. Such is the true measure of his considerable legacy.
Those of us who were privileged to know him and work with him also gained something unique - the rare opportunity to glean much from a man of true greatness. While there remain many who will miss him personally, the musical art in general and saxophonists in particular will continue to profit from the fruits of his singular accomplishments for generations to come.
Ronald L. Caravan is a member of the faculty of the Syracuse University School of Music, Syracuse, N.Y., where he teaches applied clarinet and saxophone and directs the saxophone ensemble.
[back to top of page]
REMEMBERING SIGURD RASCHER
Dr. Lawrence Gwozdz
When I met Sigurd Raschèr for the first time, little did I know then what an impact he was to have had on my life. I had been playing the saxophone less than a year when he graced the band room of Niagara-Wheatfield High School in Sanborn, New York with a clinic that followed a recital in the adjacent auditorium. Though I cannot recall all of the titles, I clearly remember his voice of distinction announcing one of the works, "And next we will play for you a piece by a Japanese composer titled, Moonlight on the Ruins of a Castle."
This title was not received with the greatest enthusiasm by the student audience in the hall. Fortunately, I was prepared to hear greatness by my saxophone teacher at the time: the band director in the junior high school who brought the entire band to hear this performance and clinic. As the audience's groans subsided, I thought about the strange reaction of the students and how uncomfortable it must have been for this artist to hear it. Nevertheless, the music went on, and by the middle of the work I realized how much work I had left for myself as a young saxophonist. Here was a saxophonist nearing the age of sixty, who was playing more than a full octave above what I thought was possible on the instrument!
Yet the experience was not complete. At the clinic afterwards I was to get what I now consider to be his first words of encouragement to me. Following a forty-five minute session, Mr. Raschèr asked if there were any questions. Though there may have been a few inquiries from fellow students, my memory fails to recall them. I can only remember gazing at the gold-plated instrument from top to bottom, and noticing the sheen and one other uniqueness.
Soon the class was dismissed, but my curiosity finally prevailed. I approached the old grand piano upon which his opened case with propped saxophone sat, and noted that there was something different about his ligature. I asked, "Sir, why is your ligature upside down on the mouthpiece?" He came to me and in a declarative tone for everyone around to hear responded, "My dear boy, why didn't you ask this before? Someone else might have wanted to know this, too!" I replied sheepishly that I never thought of that and was a bit afraid to ask, since it might have sounded 'stupid.' That triggered another quick response from him. "No question is stupid. If you don't know about something, ASK!" Then the explanation came, "I wear the ligature this way because my reed works better for me with the screws on the top." Since he as willing to tell me this, I proceeded to ask about the kind of reed he used, and the short response was, "Vandoren."
For me Sigurd Raschèr was the finest example of an 'encourager.' As years passed with opportunities to benefit from his mind and spirit, I was able to play with much more energy, musical balance, and care, inspired by his mere presence in the room. After each episode, his words (whether of constructive help or supportive jubilation) propelled my desire to continue. I will never forget the warmth in his voice telling me during the workshop he gave at Yale University in 1992 (his last in the United States), "I am so glad that I was patient with you all these years. Look at what has happened."
This was not intended to become such a personal account. Yet, how can it be avoided? I cherished this relationship that grew from mere acquaintance to mentorship. At his 80th birthday celebration among friends, family and neighbors at his home in Shushan, New York, Mr. Raschèr introduced me to those present as one of his "musical grandchildren" and Harry White (my student at the time and collaborator in a surprise duo concert of new pieces for the occasion) as one of his "musical great-grandchildren." The vitality with which he did so was priceless. He also made a point of announcing the distance we had covered by car, and at the end of the evening requested that we return to give a repeat performance of the new music the next morning.
The initials SMR, as they so often appeared on his sheet music and in his signature to friendly letters, seemed to bring with them a sense of authority. This authority belonged to a man who might have easily chosen a large city in this country for his home. Instead he made his home in a little village that is presently inhabited by little more than 750 citizens. Its name is derived from the town about 150 miles to the north of the head of the Persian Gulf where the prophet Daniel had one of his visions (Daniel, Ch. 8) and Nehemiah began his public life. Most of the events that occurred in the book of Esther took place in Shushan. This book has the remarkable peculiarity that the name of God does not occur in it from first to last in any form. It has, however, been well observed that "though the name of God be not in it, his finger is." The book wonderfully exhibits the providential government of God.
I believe that Mr. Raschèr's humble choice of residence was as historically based as his performance style. Those who knew him well were frequently reminded of his research into the life and work of Adolphe Sax and its direct relevance to his artistic decisions as a performer, teacher, and cultural leader.
Were it possible to title this tribute, I could use his very initials (SMR: Shushan Man Remembered). And that inimitable charm that was only his would likely cause Mr. Raschèr to utter in amazement, as I had heard often, "I never would have thought of that!" I am thankful for having had the privilege of my relationship with... SMR.
Lawrence Gwozdz Professor of Saxophone
The University of Southern Mississippi
[back to top of page]
REMEMBERING SIGURD RASCHER
A Tribute to Sigurd M. Rascher
by H. Ray Spires
Of all the teachers with whom I have had the pleasure of studying there is one whose influence on my musical and personal life has been most profound and enduring. That teacher was Sigurd M. Rascher.
When I attended music school at the University of South Carolina in the early seventies as a young aspiring saxophonist, I would listen to the Selmer Award Artists Series recording of Classical Saxophone Music. I was mesmerized by the sound and artistry of Mr. Rascher's saxophone. This country boy from South Carolina had never heard anything like this. You must understand I had only heard the saxophone sounds of Boots Randolph and Ace Cannon. I grew up on the music of Lawrence Welk on the television. To me, Rascher's saxophone sounded like something I had never experienced.
After several years of study, I met Buddy Deans, the saxophone professor at The University of Georgia. He told me of a Rascher workshop that was to be held at Union College in Schenectady, New York in the summer of 1972. I wrote Mr. Rascher to inquire about the sessions. Imagine my amazement when I received not a form letter but a personal card from the master himself instructing me in applying to the college for the workshop. I was on cloud nine! This famous artist had cared enough to write me personally.
I attended that workshop and was in awe of this man. He was such a wise and caring person, always willing to help students in any way, as long as we had the right attitude. I did on occasion witness him putting a haughty attitude in its place! Listening to him relate his experiences with the composers who had written works for him was very inspiring and made the pieces come to life for me! I will never forget how he told us of his first visit to Glazounov's apartment in Paris.
Later, I traveled to Columbus, Ohio to record with the Rascher Saxophone Ensemble with Mr. Rascher conducting. This too was a wonderful musical experience for me.
Mr. Rascher was a very humble man who was a real thinker. He had a great sense of humor, but no patience with, for example, publishers who changed the wording of a preface to an instruction book after he had carefully crafted it to mean exactly what he intended. Anyone who knew the man knows that he said exactly what he meant and meant exactly what he said!
Through the years I have cherished every correspondence I received from him. Usually, they contained answers to specific questions I had about the pieces I was studying. He would also tell me about his garden and the weather in Shushan.
I was able to attend several other workshops through the years with Mr. Rascher and the knowledge gained in them is still being passed on to my students. I will never forget sitting with him in his room late one night as he expounded on the finer points of the Borck Concerto I was studying at the time, or his session with me on the Glazounov Concerto.
I recently learned how Mr. Rascher's teaching had influenced Dr. John Corina, my oboe professor at the University of Georgia. He related to me that after seeing and hearing Mr. Rascher demonstrate, many years ago, the overtone series on the saxophone, he had incorporated the overtone series in his oboe playing and teaching for proper breath support and air pressure at the tip of the reed as required for the several ranges of the oboe.
Sigurd Rascher has passed from this life but his life goes on through his students and all those whom he influenced with his unselfish existence. I count it a great privilege to have come in contact with this great artist and master teacher.
[back to top of page]
Sigurd M. Rascher Memorial Scholarship Fund
Those wishing to, may remember Mr. Rascher by making a donation to the Sigurd M. Rascher Memorial Scholarship Fund for the support of promising young musicians graduating from Washington Academy, Salem, New York. Donations may be sent to:
S.M. Rascher Memorial Scholarship Fund
Shushan, NY 12873
[back to top of page]