Harold Blumenfeld, professor emeritus of music in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, died Saturday, Nov. 1, 2014, from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. He was 91.
Born Oct. 15, 1923, in Seattle, Blumenfeld studied at the Eastman School of Music from 1941-43. During World War II, he served as an interpreter in the U.S. Army Signal Corp, and was present at the liberation of Ohrdruf, the first Nazi concentration camp liberated by U.S. troops.
Blumenfeld remained in Europe after the war, deploying his language skills to help identify former members of the Nazi Party. He then resumed his studies at the University of Zurich and at Yale University, earning both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree from Yale, in 1948 and ’49 respectively. Over the next four summers, he trained as a conductor with Robert Shaw and Leonard Bernstein at Tanglewood, summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
In 1950, Blumenfeld joined the faculty of Washington University, where he taught until his retirement in 1989. From 1960-71, he directed the Washington University Opera Studio and, from 1962-66, also directed Opera Theatre of St. Louis. An active music critic, he regularly wrote for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Opera News and other publications.
Blumenfeld’s own compositions include “Fourscore: An Opera of Opposites” (1986) and “Breakfast Waltzes” (1991), both with librettist Charles Kondek, as well as vocal settings of works by Harold Hart Crane, Derek Walcott, Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine, Rainer Maria Rilke and Osip Mandelstam.
Bluemenfeld was the first composer to devote extensive attention to the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud, beginning with a setting of “Being Beauteous” (c. 1980) and culminating in the two-act opera “Seasons in Hell” (1996), which traces Rimbaud’s adolescent adventures and disastrous fortune-seeking in Africa.
In 2001, Blumenfeld and Kondek completed “Borgia Infami,” an opera based on the notorious Renaissance family. In 2007, Blumenfeld recorded “Vers Sataniques,” based on Baudelaire’s “Flowers of Evil,” with the National Radio Orchestra of Poland.
The Department of Music in Arts & Sciences will host a memorial celebration in spring 2015. Memorial contributions can be made to the university’s Gaylord Music Library, which holds Blumenfeld’s papers, at Campus Box 1061, One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, Mo., 63130.