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Douglas Allanbrook, 81, musician, composer and St. John's College teacher for 50 years


Douglas Allanbrook, an internationally known musician and composer who had taught at St. John's College for 50 years, died of a heart attack Wednesday at his Annapolis home. He was 81.

During a prolific career, Mr. Allanbrook maintained an energetic series of annual solo piano and harpsichord performances.

His compositions included seven symphonies, several large choral works including a Mass, four string quartets, chamber works, and two operas, Nightmare Abbey and Ethan Frome.

Leading American and European orchestras and chamber groups that have performed his works include the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Annapolis Brass Quintet, National Symphony Orchestra, Stuttgart Philharmonic and Munich Radio Orchestra.

Born and raised in Melrose, Mass., Mr. Allanbrook began studying piano at age 8, and within two years was playing Bach, Haydn and Czerny. He composed his first symphony, On the Death of a Beautiful White Cat, as a teen-ager.

After graduating from high school, Mr. Allanbrook taught music at a private girls school in Providence, R.I. He also began studying in Cambridge, Mass., with Nadia Boulanger, whose students included Aaron Copland, Virgil Thomson, Philip Glass and Walter Piston.

Drafted into the Army in 1942, he served as an infantryman with the 88th Division in the Italian campaign. His 1998 book, See Naples: A Memoir of Love, Peace and War in Italy, published by Houghton Mifflin, recounted his wartime experiences in which his division suffered a 75 percent casualty rate.

Discharged with the rank of sergeant and decorated with a Bronze Star, he enrolled at Harvard College, where he continued to compose and studied with Mr. Piston. He earned his bachelor's degree in 1948.

As a Traveling Fellow of Harvard University from 1948 to 1950, he resumed his composition studies with Ms. Boulanger in Paris. He was a Fulbright Fellow from 1950 to 1952, and studied the harpsichord in Italy at the Conservatorio San Pietro a Majello.

In 1952, he joined the faculty of St. John's in Annapolis. In addition to composing and performing as a harpsichordist, he taught music, Greek, French, mathematics and philosophy. At his death, he was semiretired.

"He was a man of the world who was very cosmopolitan," said Harvey M. Flaumenhaft, St. John's dean and friend of 35 years. "He also played a great role in the social and cultural life of the college. He counted among his friends those who were prominent in writing, literature, and music in this country and abroad."

In addition to his work at St. John's, he taught theory and counterpoint part time at the Peabody Conservatory of Music.

A 1995 article in the Harvard University Gazette described him as a "fluent composer with a sharp ear for color and a bold style that manages to be both dramatic and subtly nuanced. His music is vivid, imaginative and intensely expressive."

"Doug was an absolutely extraordinary teacher," said a former student, harpsichordist Richard Rephann of Mount Carmel, Conn., a member of the faculty of the Yale School of Music and director of the Yale Collection of Musical Instruments. "I'm a different person for having studied with him."

Mr. Allanbrook, who was scheduled to give a harpsichord concert at Yale in April, continued to maintain a vigorous concert schedule.

"When he played, he played with an intelligence that did not preclude passion. For Douglas, music was akin to breathing," said Elliott Zuckerman, a longtime friend who has been teaching at St. John's since 1961.

He was 6 feet tall and wore sport coats, ties and a broad-brimmed brown hat. In his book-crammed study with its black, upright Yamaha piano, on which sprawled his white cat, he read and composed.

Mr. Allanbrook was a member of the board of directors of Yaddo, the distinguished artists' community in Saratoga, N.Y.

His marriages to Candida Curcio and Wye Jamison ended in divorce.

Services are private. Plans for a memorial service at St. John's College were incomplete.

Mr. Allanbrook is survived by sons Timothy Allanbrook of New York and John Vincent Allanbrook of Oakland, Calif.; a sister, Jean Burns of Exeter, N.H.; and two granddaughters.

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