Sunday, May 26, 2013

R.I.P. Harold Shapero 1920-2013

 Harold Shapero in Rome, 1962

My father, composer Harold Shapero, died on May 17, 2013 of complications from pneumonia, dementia, and just plain old age. He was 93. There have been obituaries in the New York Times, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, Gramophone Magazine and "Sequenza 21" online, and other blogs and publications. 

This is the obituary which will never appear in these prestigious publications, because it is too personal. But I grew up with him as his daughter and witnessed the struggles he went through.

The picture you see above (click on pic for larger view) was taken in 1962 when my father, mother, and I were living in Rome. This would make my father 42 years old at the time of this picture. We were arty American expatriates. There's my father, with his beret and wool coat and even a tie (he never wore a tie!), the composer and artist abroad, along with his cigarette (he smoked plenty before graduating to a professorial pipe) and his touristic binoculars in a brown leather case. I lived a privileged life, almost like a movie star's child, visiting ancient sites and exotic cities with mom and dad. But we were also like hippies, traveling and camping in a Volkswagen bus. 

We would make two more trips to Europe, in 1969 and 1970-71, Volkswagen bus and all. My father was a professor at Brandeis and the director of the electronic music studio, where I played the Buchla synthesizer and recorded numerous improvisations with my father on piano as well as with other instrumentalists. My father also served as consultant for an early version of an orchestral synthesizer. This "orchestron" was rendered obsolete by digital sampling and sound-morphing technology.

It was in the mid-70s that things started going wrong with my father. I had already noticed some of this in 1969. He had a genetic history of auto-immune problems and developed colitis, a debilitating intestinal disorder. He also had a tendency towards obsessive and compulsive behavior and what might be now thought of as mild Asperger's syndrome, as well as ongoing depression. Both the physical and mental problems intensified in the 70s and 80s as he grew older. Back then, there was no way of diagnosing or treating mental problems such as autism spectrum disorder or OCD. He would not consider any form of psychotherapy. My father was obsessed with saving money and finding bargains, and this theme came to dominate his life, even though we were always financially comfortable. There was also no good remedy for colitis, and modern anti-depressants hadn't been invented yet. He probably wouldn't have taken them anyway, even if they did exist. 

Writing music was always difficult  for my father and he claimed that while writing music he experienced many painful physical problems including worsening auto-immune symptoms, probably intensified by stress. It got to the point where he simply didn't want to go through the ordeal. 

My father is gone now and the best of his life is now preserved in his music. The music will take on an existence of its own and memories of the person will eventually fade away, leaving only stories and quotes. What I will say is that my father's music was created despite all these obstacles, and that behind the neo-classical elegance and musical erudition was a lot of pain.

I have spent the last two weeks in Boston dealing with family stuff, and I haven't made any new art in a long time. I need to return to my "normal" life and so it's back to work. Blogging resumes now and I hope I have some brighter things to share with you soon.

1 comment:

Anton Lukoszevieze said...

I've just discovered your father's music and it is wonderful. Very interesting to read your memories and thoughts about him, thank you.