Edward Tarr, renowned trumpeter who delved into past, dies at 83

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Edward Tarr, renowned trumpeter who delved into past, dies at 83
Edward Tarr in an undated photo. He was a virtuoso on the trumpet but also a scholar and champion of the early, valveless version of the instrument. Photo: Tarr family.

by Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- Edward H. Tarr, a trumpeter and musicologist who became one of the world’s eminent authorities on the instrument, resuscitating long-forgotten repertory and leading the way in historically informed performances of baroque and romantic brass music, died March 24 in Germany. He was 83.

The cause was complications of heart surgery, his wife, Irmtraud Tarr, said. He died in a hospital near Rheinfelden, the town in southwestern Germany where he lived.

Tarr left his mark on every aspect of the trumpet world. As a player he set new standards of lyricism on an instrument long associated with military bravado. As a scholar he hunted for rarities in European archives and created performance editions of hundreds of newly discovered works. He advised instrument makers, curated a trumpet museum, wrote seminal books, edited historical treatises and taught players who went on to become leading concert artists.

For a brief period Tarr dipped into the European avant-garde. He commissioned a work for trumpet and tape, “Morceau de Concert,” from Argentine-born German composer Mauricio Kagel, and he is among the dedicatees of “Spiral,” by modernist Karlheinz Stockhausen. Tarr in 1970 was one of 20 musicians who took turns performing that piece a total of 1,300 times inside the German pavilion at the World Expo in Osaka, Japan.

Tarr’s lasting passion was the recognition of the natural trumpet as a key to unlocking lost sound worlds. That early version of the trumpet — the kind that Bach and other Baroque composers wrote for — lacked the valves that the modern counterpart has. Those valves lend playability, power and range. Tarr willfully embraced the difficulty of playing without the improvements.

“Before Ed we tended to think that they must have been vile-sounding things,” British trumpeter John Wallace, in a phone interview, said of period brass instruments. “Because of him we came to understand that playing on the real, the natural, instruments was actually essential to understanding baroque and classical music to the full.”

Tarr embraced the dual role of the scholar-performer, immersing himself in theoretical texts from the 17th and 18th centuries to shape his playing. Musicologist Steven Plank said that Tarr’s trademark expressivity and elegant phrasing were rooted in historical ideals.

“There’s a kind of vocality that comes along with period tonguings, which he was very adept with,” Plank said. “He was strong in articulating the idea — and this is something period sources make clear — that the trumpet is of two natures, one being the martial instrument of war and the other actually a very sweet and lyrical instrument.”

A video from the 1980s shows Tarr playing Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 on a modern instrument. His tone is radiant yet sufficiently slender to mesh equitably with the solo oboe and violin.

Edward Hankins Tarr was born on June 15, 1936, in Norwich, Connecticut. His father, Donald Tarr, was a Methodist minister; his mother Ruth (Wilkinson) Tarr was a teacher who led and sang in a choir. He was 6 when his class was introduced to various musical instruments. He later told his wife that when the teacher held up a trumpet, his own hand rose up as if by reflex, and he blurted out, “That’s mine!”

Tarr received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Oberlin College in 1957 and a master’s in trumpet performance from Northwestern University in 1959. His main teachers, Roger Voisin of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Adolph Herseth of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, represented the brilliant and muscular American brass sound that was the envy of orchestras around the world.

Tarr in 1959 obtained a scholarship to travel to Basel, Switzerland, to study with Leo Schrade, a musicologist and early music specialist. The move marked a pivot toward the past, and Europe, that would shape the rest of his life.

He earned a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of Hamburg in 1987. By then he had already established himself as an authority on historical trumpet playing; he would go on to publish more than 70 articles in the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. His book “The Trumpet,” published in German in 1977 and in English in 1988, became the definitive guide to the instrument’s history.

Landmarks in Tarr’s reconstruction of that history included his editing of the first critical edition of a youthful work for trumpet and orchestra by Verdi. The score, which assigns to the instrument all the melodic panache of an opera singer, was discovered in 1996 inside the upholstery of a chair in the composer’s hometown, Busseto, Italy.

Research in Portugal in the 1970s yielded the glittering music for trumpet ensembles of the Charamela Real, or royal stables. Tarr edited and published those discoveries and assembled period brass players from across Europe to play them.

Tarr taught trumpet at the Basel Music Academy from 1972 to 2001. He also served on the faculties of the conservatories of Cologne, Karlsruhe and Frankfurt in Germany and Lucerne, Switzerland, and acted as visiting faculty member at universities in Europe and America.

From 1985 to 2004 he was the director of the Trumpet Museum in Bad Säckingen, Germany, near the Swiss border. He settled in Rheinfelden, a nearby village, with his second wife, concert organist and psychologist Irmtraud Tarr, who became his duo partner beginning in 1980.

His first marriage, to Madeleine Fiorese, ended in divorce. He is survived by two children from that marriage, Natalie, and Philip, a virologist and baroque timpanist, as well as four grandchildren.

The Tarrs had also taken in a young man, Jörg Richter, who was mute and autistic. Irmtraud Tarr coaxed him back to speech, and Edward Tarr taught him to carve trumpet mouthpieces out of wood, which are now much sought after by players.

© 2020 The New York Times Company

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