Obituary: Roger Durham Hannay (1930-2006)

Roger Hannay
Roger Hannay

Composer Roger Durham Hannay died January 27, 2006, from complications during surgery. He was 75.

Hannay was born in 1930 in Plattsburg, New York. He studied music at Syracuse University and Boston University, culminating in a doctorate from the Eastman School of Music in 1956. Following his Ph.D., he studied with Lukas Foss and Aaron Copland at the Berkshire Music Center in 1959.

In 1966, he became a professor of composition at the University of North Carolina, a post he held until 1995, where he also served as chairman of the Division of Fine Arts from 1979 to 1982. He became professor emeritus in 1995. Striving to make new music part of the fabric of life at UNC, he was the founder-director of the UNC New Music Ensemble, the Composer-Concert Series, and the Electronic Music Studio.

It Won't Be the Same River
It Won’t Be the Same River


Listen to "Joyous"
from Mode of Discourse

Capstone Records, 8684

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  • Actively composing throughout his career, he wrote nearly 120 works including ten symphonies, five operas, and numerous chamber music works. His chamber piece, Modes of Discourse for flute, violin, and cello, was recorded by the Mallarme Chamber Players on Capstone CPS 8684, a CD titled It Won’t Be the Same River. In addition, his compositions have been recorded on the Aucourant label. Hannay received grants and commissions from, among others, the North Carolina Symphony, ASCAP, the National Endowment of the Arts, and the American Music Center. His music has earned him reviews in the New York Times, Musical America, and citations in top musical resources such as the Baker’s Biographical and Grove dictionaries.

    A general overview of his music would reveal four distinct periods of musical exploration. From 1952 to 1954, his work in tonality expanded from dissonant sounds to use of the twelve-tone system. Beginning in 1954, he expanded his use of serial techniques to a more free form use including aspects of both atonality and tonality. In the mid-’60s, like many composers of the era, he turned to electronic effects and multi-media compositional techniques that often had social and political messages. In his final period, starting in 1970, Hannay’s music was infused with a new lyricism and a reinterpretation of music of the past.

    Hannay published a collection of biographical essays, My Book of Life, in 1997. An essay by Hannay, originally written in 1985 for a never-issued second edition of The American Composer Speaks, edited by Gilbert Chase, was published on NewMusicBox as “Composer, Interrupted” last year. An archive of Hannay’s life work can be found at the UNC at Chapel Hill Wilson Library, including correspondence, interview transcripts, and radio clips. His wife, Janet, and daughter, Dawn, a violist in the New York Philharmonic, survive him.

    A private burial will take place in Kew Gardens, New York, and a memorial concert will be held in February in North Carolina. According to the Durham Herald-Sun, contributions may be sent in Roger Hannay’s name to the North Carolina Symphony Endowment Fund to be applied towards commissioning new works by North Carolina composers.