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Sigurd Rascher; Dean of Classical Saxophone

Obituaries

March 27, 2001|MIKE BOEHM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Classical saxophonist Sigurd M. Rascher, who devoted his life to redeeming his instrument from what he once bemoaned as its stereotype as an emitter of "vulgar, obtrusive sound," has died. He was 93.

Rascher, a prolific concert performer and an exacting but enthusiastic teacher who continued to give workshops into his mid-80s, died Feb. 25 at his home in Shushan, N.Y.

"The saxophone is the orphan among musical instruments," Rascher wrote in an essay posted by the Internet site, Classic Saxophone Online.

Starting in 1932, the German-born Rascher launched a 60-year campaign to give the saxophone a home in the world of classical music.

Rascher "influenced the development and literature of his instrument the way Casals did for the cello and Segovia for the guitar," Steven Ritter wrote in a 1999 album review in the American Recording Guide. "His sound is so spectacularly velvety and creamy as to astound first-time listeners."

Robert Haley, a former student, said, "He made it his life's work to give [the saxophone] back its classical heritage." Haley kept up a correspondence and telephone friendship with him until Rascher's health failed after a stroke several years ago.

Speaking Monday from Marietta, Ga., where he runs a clearinghouse for sheet music and information on classical wind instruments, Haley noted that Rascher got his start on the saxophone--an instrument the trained clarinetist knew nothing about--because he was offered a job playing in a Berlin dance band and needed the money. Haley said that Rascher later spoke of honing his saxophone mastery by candlelight in a potato cellar.

Rascher's career took off in 1932, when he performed a concerto written for him by Edmund von Borck. As part of his crusade for the saxophone, Haley said, Rascher often urged composers whom he liked to write for the instrument.

Rascher fled Germany for Sweden in 1933 after the Nazi regime declared the saxophone a degenerate instrument. It was invented about 1841 by the Belgian Adolphe Sax, but by the 1930s, it was most popular as a swinging voice of the jazz movement.

Rascher continued his career in Sweden, then made a triumphant American debut in 1939 as a soloist at Carnegie Hall with the New York Philharmonic. He brought his wife and son from Sweden and settled in upstate New York.

As a teacher, Haley said, Rascher wove strands from his two other passions--gardening and philosophy--into his saxophone workshops.

The Rascher Saxophone Quartet, which he founded in 1969 with his daughter Carina and two students, continues to perform from its base in Germany. Rascher's available recordings include "Bernstein Century--20th Century French Masterpieces," and Erland von Koch's "Concerto for Saxophone." Haley considers Rascher's out-of-print 1953 "A Classical Recital on the Saxophone," "an astounding recording [made] right at his prime," and said Rascher's estate is likely to reissue it and other performances.

Rascher is survived by his wife, Ann Mari, four children and three grandchildren.

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