In Remembrance: Alejandro Enrique Planchart ’60MusM Died on April 28 2019

Alejandro Enrique Planchart, one of the world’s leading musical scholars, died at age 83 in Santa Barbara, California, on Sunday, April 28, 2019, after a brief hospitalization. He was born in Caracas, Venezuela, on July 29, 1935, into a large, loving, and culturally prominent family. His father was Enrique Planchart Loynaz (1894–1953), poet and critic, and later head of the Ministry of Education and of the Venezuelan National Library; his mother was Maria Luisa Rotundo Blanco (1897–1952), a pianist and harpsichordist. He attended the Colegio America and Colegio San Ignacio in Caracas before being sent to Yale University to study composition, piano and harpsichord (’58MusB, ’60MusM), where his teachers included Ralph Kirkpatrick and Paul Hindemith. After obtaining his master’s degree and spending several years as a professional musician in New York and Connecticut, he undertook doctoral studies in musicology at Harvard under David Hughes. In 1959 he met Joan Mathews of New York, a graduate of the Brearley School (NYC) who was attending Sarah Lawrence College, at the Yale Summer School of Music in Norfolk. They wed in 1960 and during their seven-year marriage had one daughter, Marisol. Like her father, Marisol also attended Yale, graduating cum laude (1984) with distinction in French literature. She lives in Oregon with her plants.  

Planchart taught music theory and history at Yale (1967–75) and the University of Victoria (1975–76), and was visiting professor at Brandeis (1982–83) and Harvard (1989–90). His principal employment, from 1976 to his retirement as emeritus professor in 2002, was on the faculty of the University of California at Santa Barbara, where he taught in the music department (medieval, classical, and twentieth-century music history; historical notation; and occasionally, counterpoint and composition) and the history department (Latin paleography). He was also an intermittent performer and conductor for the UCSB Ensemble for Contemporary Music.

His first major publication, The Repertory of Tropes at Winchester (Princeton University Press, 1977), was a field-altering study based on his dissertation research into English liturgical music before the Norman Conquest. The subsequent four decades saw a profusion of well over 100 articles, encyclopedia contributions, essays, reviews, and lectures in the United States, Europe, and Latin America. The subjects of his inquiries spanned the field, from medieval chant repertories and early polyphony to composers and chapels of the early Renaissance, and reached beyond to later composers (Morales, Tartini, and Mozart). In his final years, Planchart completed his long-anticipated magnum opus, Guillaume Du Fay: Life and Works (Cambridge University Press, 2018), as well as the monumental Beneventanum Troporum Corpus, a 13-volume edition and study coedited with his colleague, John Boe.

His polymath musical interests ranged from the most arcane codicological and archival research to editions, analysis, and historical context, through to performance and composition. He composed vocal chamber music (including settings of James Joyce, e.e. cummings, Gertrude Stein, and Wallace Stevens), and a variety of chamber music, piano music, and four orchestral works. In 1963 he founded and directed the early-music ensemble Capella Cordina at Yale, producing many concerts and several pioneering recordings on the Lyrichord and Music Heritage Society labels. When in practice, he could sing across three octaves, and used his unusual range to teach each part to his student singers. The Capella enjoyed a second incarnation at UCSB, where Planchart inherited Karl Geiringer’s early-music instrumental group, Musica Antiqua, and created one additional early-music ensemble, Polyhymnia. With these, he introduced generations of students and audiences to the widest imaginable span of early music, including Gregorian and Beneventan chant, Ars Antiqua and Ars Nova, early and high Renaissance, through seventeenth-century operas to the works of Bach, Mozart, and Haydn.

Planchart’s professional recognitions included a 1987 Guggenheim Fellowship; the 2006 Howard Mayer Brown Award for lifetime achievement in the field of early music from Early Music America; the 2009 Arion Prize from the Cambridge (Massachusetts) Society for Early Music for his work on Du Fay; and the 2013 Medal of the City of Tours (Loire) and the Centre d’Études Supérieures de la Renaissance for service to French music of the Renaissance. In 2015 he was honored with an 800-page Festschrift, Qui musicam in se habet: Studies in Honor of Alejandro Enrique Planchart (edited by Anna Zayaruznaya, Bonnie J. Blackburn, and Stanley Boorman, and published by the American Institute of Musicology). In the same year, he was elected an honorary member of the American Musicological Society “for outstanding contributions to the advancement of scholarship in music.” Had he lived, he would have been awarded a British Academy prize later this year, both for lifetime achievement and in recognition of his last major publication, Guillaume Du Fay.

But these dry professional facts are only a small part of what made Alejandro so special to his students, colleagues, and friends. As a dedicated teacher and advisor, he spent countless hours in and out of the classroom investing in students, sharing his boundless cultural knowledge, and providing support and encouragement for scores of undergraduates and graduate students. Many of those hours were spent over a coffee in the on-campus cafe, or in a late-night diner enjoying a “filet, rare” or a hot-fudge sundae. He was famous for his colorful nicknames for his students, his fantastical, sometimes credulity-straining stories, and his chimerical transformations of American idioms. Who can forget his stories of navigating the rivers along the southern border of Venezuela with his uncle and getting shot in the shoulder by a Native poison arrow? Or as a child, befriending an emigré woman whose mother had been Brahms’s housekeeper? Or having Rachmaninoff visit the family home and give him an impromptu piano lesson on playing scales? Or writing musical arrangements for Elvis Presley, playing back-up percussion on Beatles tracks, and flying in a helicopter to the Woodstock Festival with Janis Joplin? Some of his more puzzling—but perhaps purposeful—idioms included “everybody and his chicken,” “out of the thin blue air,” “that’s a whole different ballpark of fish,” “ships abandoning a sinking rat,” “mouse-brown” (applied equally to a motet or to a performer), and the unforgettable “yesyesyesyesyes, but…,” all delivered in that trademark accent, one of so many things—like his bottomless supply of Kit-Kat bars—that made him unique and treasured by those in his life.

Alejandro is survived by his daughter Marisol, brother Enrique Aurelio Planchart (a mathematician and rector of the Universidad Simón Bolívar), three nephews (Enrique, Luis and Juan), a niece, Melicia, a large extended family in Venezuela, and second “extended family” of students and colleagues across the globe who will carry on his legacy.  Plans for a future memorial service will be announced.

—Submitted on behalf of the family.

Post a remembrance