Music department’s Franklin specialized in Bach and the Baroque

Man standing in front of books

Department of Music Professor Emeritus Don O. Franklin, who served for four decades, including a dozen years as chair, died May 31, 2021, at 82.

“Don set the tone for what it meant to be a professor and a responsible colleague in the department,” recalled former chair Mathew Rosenblum, in a written remembrance on the Music department website. “He set the standards for teaching and scholarship through example and his students and colleagues loved him.”

Beginning in 1970 and retiring in 2009, Franklin was a “pillar” of the department and its musicology concentration, noted a department release about his death. He was a leading Bach scholar and president of the American Bach Society for four years, as well as a founding editor of its Bach Perspectives publication. In 2018, Bach scholars from around the United States published “Compositional Choices and Meaning in the Vocal Music of J.S. Bach” in Franklin’s honor.

In 1991, Franklin co-founded the department’s 16-year Bach and the Baroque series, which featured a period-instrument ensemble. He also led the Heinz Chapel Choir for his first five years at Pitt, expanding its repertoire and taking the group on their first international tour.

His 40 years at Pitt included visiting professorships at Hochschule der Künste in Berlin, Germany; University of Louisville; Indiana University, Bloomington; and University of Augsburg, Germany. He also earned several international fellowships.

Born in Willmar, Minn., he attended North Park College in Chicago for two years, then completed his B.A. at the University of Minnesota and a master's degree and a Ph.D. in historical musicology from Stanford. There, he began conducting Bach’s works and studied harpsichord with pioneering Dutch keyboardist Gustav Leonhardt.

As a frequent collaborator with Chatham Baroque, Franklin conducted performances of J.S. Bach’s “St. John Passion” in 2011 and Henry Purcell’s “The Fairy Queen” in 2016.

Franklin’s many publications focused on tempo, proportion and dimension in Bach’s music, as well as compositional procedure and musico-theological structure in late 18th-century liturgical music. He presented papers regularly at baroque music conferences throughout North America, Great Britain and Germany.

“Don could tell fascinating stories of how the music department functioned when it was housed in the Cathedral of Learning, and the challenges of moving to the Holland residence, the renovated oldest building on campus (which it still occupies),” recalled another former chair, Deane Root, in the written remembrance. “He worked hard on attracting a diverse series of Mellon professors to work with Pitt’s students. 

“Don was quiet, reserved and deeply committed to furthering the careers of his students and junior colleagues,” Root recalled. “Through his Bach and Baroque series he gave them opportunities to engage in public musicology by writing program notes, presenting on public radio, editing music and lyrics for performance and performing on period instruments and with vocal ensembles. He extended that work beyond campus — still involving music department students — through engagements with early-music groups in Pittsburgh and the Calvary Episcopal Church in Squirrel Hill, not far from his home.

“In many ways, Don’s persona set the tone for the music department as a whole.  His work was based on solid research, applied not only in scholarly communication media but to a wide range of public activities. He was understated, modest in acknowledging his own accomplishments, but excitedly enthusiastic about the successes of his associates.”

“I am very grateful for the enduring scholarship he has left us,” added Rosenblum, “and for the many ways in which he inspired our students, faculty and staff. He helped to create the solid foundation on which our department rests today.”