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In memoriam: Richard Rephann, 82

Richard Rephann

Richard Rephann, harpsichordist and director emeritus of the Yale Collection of Musical Instruments, died peacefully at Arden Courts Memory Care Community in Hamden, Connecticut, on 29 December 2014. A victim of Alzheimer's disease, he was 82.

The elder son of Clarence Franklin Rephann and Thelma Louise Hamill, Richard Thaddeous Rephann was born on February 9, 1932 in Frostburg, Maryland. As a teen, he attended the Johns Hopkins University Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore, where he studied piano under Mieczyslaw Munz and Alexander Sklarevsky.

His long association with Yale University began in the fall of 1961, when he became a harpsichord pupil of Ralph Kirkpatrick. Following the completion of a master's degree in 1964, he received faculty appointments as Instructor in Harpsichord Playing in the School of Music and Assistant Curator of the Collection of (Historical) Musical Instruments. In 1968, he became Director of the Collection (a post he held for 37 years), while being appointed full Professor (Adjunct) of Organology and Harpsichord Playing in the School.

The keyboard gallery in the Collection of Musical Instruments

During his tenure, the Collection's home--a former fraternity building at 15 Hillhouse Avenue--was transformed into a facility for conserving, studying, and presenting to the public the rich holdings of a growing collection. Rephann raised funds to have architects and contractors transform the fraternity's dining area, billiard room, and ballroom into effective gallery spaces for exhibitions. A climate control system, which is crucial to the preservation of old and highly sensitive objects, was installed and gradually updated as technology in this field evolved.

In 1967, Rephann initiated an annual series of concerts presenting music from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. Now the longest-running series of its kind in this country, it presents some of the most distinguished soloists and ensembles of the “early music” movement in concerts that often feature restored instruments from the Collection's holdings. These concerts have been recorded since the early 1980s, initially by Yves A. Feder of Killingworth, Connecticut, and more recently by the recording studio of the Yale School of Music, making the museum's series one of the most well-documented early music series in existence.

Rephann's career as a harpsichordist was diminished by his career as a museum director. Nonetheless, he appeared annually in performances at Yale and at other colleges and universities. His fascination with and daily proximity to historical instruments allowed him to experiment with repertoire suited to harpsichords of different national schools—Italian, Flemish, French, German, and English. In his later years, he identified with the music of Johann Jakob Froberger, Louis Couperin, Jean-Henri D'Anglebert, François Couperin, and Jean-Phillipe Rameau. Although he never recorded for commercial release, many of his live performances are now part of the museum's archive.

A devoted teacher, Rephann maintained a studio of Yale pupils who now hold positions as organists and harpsichordists in churches, universities, and colleges around the world in New York, Boston, Providence, Washington, DC, Buffalo, Chicago, San Francisco, Tacoma, Helsinki, Hong Kong, Kobe City, Seoul, and Montreal; Birmingham, AL; Fort Collins, CO; DeLand, FL; Mount Prospect, IL; Pittsburg, KS; South Hadley, MA; Gladstone, NJ; and Arlington, TX .

During the 1960s and 1970s, while riding the crest of an early-instrument-revival wave, Rephann came into contact with performers and builders from all parts of the globe, including Fernando Valenti, Gustav Leonhardt, Luigi Tagliavini, Albert Fuller, Douglas Allanbrook, Igor Kipnis, Edward Smith, Blandine Verlet, Egbert Ennulat, Idar Karevold, Lola Odiaga, Preethi da Silva, William Christie, Mark Kroll, Alan Curtis, Christopher Hogwood, Trevor Pinnock, William Porter, Davitt Moroney, Scott Ross, Boyd Jones, Frank Hubbard, Friedrich von Huene, William Dowd, Carl Fudge, Eric Herz, Sheridan German, Martin Skowroneck, John Brombaugh, Noel Mander, Frank Rutkowski, Robert Robinette, William Hyman, Walter Burr, Keith Hill, Wally Zuckermann, David Way, Malcolm Rose, Thomas McCobb, and Rodney Regier.


In the late 1970s, the Collection received an endowment from George P. O'Leary (Yale, PhD Physics, 1969) that enabled Rephann to launch an extensive program of conservation and restoration which continues to the present. Consulting with some of the foremost experts in the field of musical instruments--Lloyd Adams, Laurence Witten, Andrew Petryn, Jacques Francais, Hugh Gough, Frank Hubbard, René Morel and Andrew Dipper, he established guidelines for the restoration of string and keyboard instruments in particular. In 1982, Frank Rutkowski and Robert Robinette were appointed as Conservators to the museum. They subsequently initiated an ambitious project of “de-restoration” aimed at correcting the many mistakes made in previous clumsy and misguided efforts to repair keyboard instruments and make them playable. Their removal of unnecessary accretions, consolidation of all existing original elements, and reapplication of historically appropriate materials have brought the instruments into a state of conservation that maximizes their integrity as artifacts and allows them to sound today as closely as possible to the way they were originally intended to sound.

The Collection became a valuable resource for the various musical curricula of the University under Rephann's direction. He regularly taught courses in the history of musical instruments, in which the Collection was used as a laboratory for students investigating the structure, morphology, and development of musical instruments in relation to their historical context. He encouraged colleagues in Yale's music departments and its College of Arts and Sciences to bring their classes to the museum for special presentations pertinent to the subject matter of a course, often involving demonstrations and performances on museum instruments. Scholars, performing musicians, and instrument makers from all over the world were (and continue to be) accommodated in their requests to closely examine instruments in the Collection.


During Rephann’s tenure, the Collection tripled in size. Its growth and many of its activities as a museum were funded through outside sources (chiefly individuals identified by the Director) as well as by the generous support of his Board of Advisors and of the Associates of the Collection, a museum membership organization that he established in 1977.

Rephann's publications include checklists and catalogues of the Yale Collection, the Pedro Traversari Collection (Quito), the Robyna Neilson Ketchum Collection of Bells, and The Schambach-Kaston Collection of Rare Strings and Bows (now owned by Suntory, Ltd., Tokyo). One of his last periodical articles, "A Fable Deconstructed," deals with the design, construction, and decoration of a two-manual harpsichord by Pascal Taskin, Paris, 1770, at Yale.

In 1984, Luther Noss, dean of the School of Music from 1954 to 1970, noted that the Collection had made "phenomenal progress...under Rephann's direction. The University recognized this in 1976 by granting the Collection ranking as a separate Department, with control over its own fiscal and managerial operations. This greatly increased its possibilities for further development, and Rephann has succeeded in building a strong body of outside support from among individuals throughout the country who have a special interest in this field."

In recognition of his outstanding contribution to the development of the Collection, its role in the University, and its presentation to the New Haven community for over forty years, Rephann was presented with the Morris Steinert Award, the museum's highest honor, upon his retirement in 2006.

Mr. Rephann is survived by his wife, Susan E. Thompson; daughter, Lola Voysest Rephann of Jersey City, NJ; brother, Oliver Rephann of Simpsonville, South Carolina; brother-in-law, Rev. Kirk E. Thompson of Saint Johnsbury, VT; sisters-in-law, Claudia R. Thompson of Wooster, OH, and Julia A. Thompson of Friday Harbor, WA; nephews, James Thaddeous Rephann and Evan Thompson Keefe; nieces, Anne Marie Rephann Moore, Cameron Thompson Exner, and Laurel Thompson Exner; his first wife of seventeen years, Lola Odiaga of New Haven; and his colleague of thirty-five years, Wm. Nicholas Renouf of Guilford.

A memorial concert will be scheduled during the coming year.

Robert Blocker, Dean of YSM, wrote: "The School of Music, Yale University, and the discipline of music owe a debt of profound gratitude to Richard for acquiring and preserving some of the world's most significant musical instruments, ensuring that they were properly housed, and opening these treasures to the public through public performances, teaching, and research. Richard's vision and determination secured for music and for Yale the privilege of acting as custodians of these irreplaceable instruments."

Contributions in Mr. Rephann's memory may be sent to the Yale University Collection of Musical Instruments, P.O. Box 208278, New Haven, Connecticut 06520-8278; or to the Alzheimer's Disease Research Unit, 1 Church Street, Suite 600, New Haven, Connecticut 06510 (