Stanley Glasser, composer (1926-2018)


Stanley Glasser (1926-2018)

The death has been announced on 5 August of Professor Stanley Glasser, composer, academic and lately Head of Music and Dean of School of Humanities at Goldsmiths’ College. He was 92. Born in Johannesburg, Glasser was deeply influenced by the South African culture and this was wonderfully reflected in his folio of compositions.

Many former students across the globe will have fond memories of this charismatic, larger-than-life, dedicated and go-ahead figure whose life story is far more significant than can be recorded here.  As a former student, Stanley brought me up under the mantra “Goldsmiths breeds Heads of Department” and always encouraged us to test ourselves, to follow our star and not to be afraid of trying something new. At the end of my second year, SG invited me to accept a post in the Music Department with the brief to set up a Resources Centre once I had finished my Finals the following year - no respite here, just straight in. It became (unwittingly) the departmental nerve centre, administering everything from full-time and part-time degrees, the specialist teaching course, visiting lectures, University exams and viva voce, concerts, recitals – and, during the long vacation, to hosting hordes of American high school students on short music courses!  Music Week at the beginning of each academic year set the tone for the months to come. This was a series of concentrated rehearsals for a major concert at the end of the week, surrounded by lectures, recitals and much socialising - especially to make new students feel at home from the start.  SG (as he was known) allowed me to take the final concert and present it off-campus to a public audience in Greenwich’s Royal Naval Chapel, when it was still an active Naval College. The fine baroque church was perfect, we received a very warm welcome, it helped to raise Goldsmiths’ profile and encouraged the students to raise their performance game from the beginning of their College life. For smaller-scale concerts we performed at the Ascension Church in Blackheath and on one famous occasion by candle-light, because the electrics had failed!

Glasser had vision and he believed that all students should be fully acquainted with contemporary music, so this formed the bed-rock of the teaching.  As a composer himself, he encouraged many to write, have their music performed and several lecturers among the staff during his tenure were themselves distinguished composers – Jeremy Dale Roberts and Anthony Milner among them. In fact the whole teaching staff was, and remains so today, a Who’s Who of experts - including  under Glasser, John Tilbury, Cornelius Cardew, Keith Potter, Paul Steinitz, Frank Dobbins, Ian Bartlett, Michael Musgrave and Margaret Bent among them. All were given Research Days and all encouraged to further their own field of study. His vision extended to setting up the first ever Electronic Music Studio at an academic institution, one that now bears his name – the Professor Stanley Glasser Electronic Music Studio. I could go on; the rosta of his achievements at Goldsmiths, to which others will contribute in the coming weeks I am sure, has been central in helping to shape the Goldsmiths Music Department of today going forward.

There was another aspect of College life to which Stanley Glasser was single-mindedly devoted, at the expense perhaps of prized composing time. He was determined to do everything he could to secure School Status for Goldsmiths that would enable the College to offer its own degrees and expand in all sorts of complementary directions. Times in Higher Education and the needs of the students were changing significantly. He used his tenure as Dean of the School of Humanities to further the work to gain School Status with the Warden and Fellow Deans, and saw the task through to a successful conclusion with these colleagues before his retirement.

With funds provided by the Arts Council, London Bach Society commissioned a work from Stanley Glasser in 1971, a unique piece to be sung in Zulu to a text by South African librettist Lewis Nkosi. It was a choral entertainment entitled “The Chameleon and the Lizard” and given its première at Goldsmiths College. Complete with Steinitz Bach Players, bongo drums and a police whistle (which Stanley produced out of his pocket to give to Robert Howes the percussionist), Paul and LBS choir (1947-1989) toured the work across the USA in 1973 and on a British Council supported tour to Bulgaria in 1980, recorded it for BBC Radio 3, and performed it at the Queen Elizabeth Hall as part of the Society’s 40th anniversary season in 1987. Rapturous applause followed each public performance that drew significant numbers of Africans to the audience – the heart of Stanley Glasser meets a new side to Paul and the London Bach Society in one memorable work.

We send our deepest condolences to his wife – and copyist – Liz Glasser, their children and grandchildren….. and our thanks to Stanley Glasser for bringing such vivid colour into our lives. RIP SG.

Margaret Steinitz, Goldsmiths student 1970-73, Music Working Collection at GC 1973-1978

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3 Responses to “Stanley Glasser, composer (1926-2018)”

  1. Yvonne Williamson says:

    Many thanks for this, Margaret…..brings back happy memories from the years 1972 -1976….especially the mixed football….

  2. David Veasey says:

    The Chameleon and the Lizard was a truly memorable piece. A significant step for the LBS Choir a) to sing in Zulu and b) to move as Africans do when singing. I am not sure we quite achieved the latter.

  3. Susan Buckland/Higgins says:

    Thank you Margaret for this moving obituary of Stanley Glasser. My time in the music department (1972-75) was truely inspired by the opportunities Stan gave me to perform and develope as a flautist and academic. Not only did I further my career as a professional musician performing with many of the country’s leading orchestras I also taught at Cardiff University music department until my retirement in 2015. I do hope others will respond to your wonderful account of Stan’s life. So many of us owe so much to this wonderful man

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