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Karl Haas, 91; Radio Host Popularized Classical Music With Knowledge and Humor

Obituaries

February 08, 2005|From a Times Staff Writer

Karl Haas, a pianist, conductor and musicologist who blended knowledge and humor to bring classical music to millions through his syndicated radio program "Adventures in Good Music," has died. He was 91.

Haas died Sunday at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich., of unspecified causes.

The commentator's charming, German-accented baritone voice was instantly recognizable by listeners to his hourlong program, which was produced by WCLV-FM in Cleveland and syndicated throughout the United States, Australia, Mexico, Panama and over Armed Forces Radio. In Los Angeles, he was heard on KMZT-FM (105.1) and KUSC-FM (91.5).

Haas, always instructive but never condescending, attracted a wide range of listeners. He liked to tell his concert and lecture audiences about specific fans, such as a farmer who said he listened faithfully while driving his tractor.

Adept at hooking audiences, Haas coined clever themes for his programs -- "Haydn, Go Seek" about lesser-known works of the composer; "Working Up a Lather" about operas featuring barbers; and "Nonintoxicating Fifths" about various composers' fifth symphonies.

He could also explain musical technicalities to listeners with no formal musical training. "If I'm talking about sonata form I may say it is like coming into a party," he once explained for the Chicago Tribune. "You get acquainted with the people, then you have your main conversation, then someone says something that is slightly off-key, and so on."

Born in Germany, Haas earned a doctorate in music literature from the University of Heidelberg. He fled the Nazis in 1936 and settled in Detroit, later studying piano with Artur Schnabel.

Haas founded the Chamber Music Society of Detroit and worked as a conductor and pianist, performing a weekly piano recital with commentary in French on Quebec radio. That show led to an offer to present a daily music and commentary program, which began in 1959.

His show, distributed widely since 1970, is still heard in reruns, although Haas stopped creating segments two years ago.

Haas earned two George Foster Peabody Awards for excellence in broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Humanities' Charles Frankel Award in 1991. He was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame and Museum in Chicago in 1997.

He is survived by sons Jeffrey and Andrew; a daughter, Alyce; and two grandchildren. Haas' wife, Trudie, died in 1977.

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