Today, November 12th, marks the fourth anniversary since Allan Blank’s passing. So, in remembrance of Dr. Blank, I am sharing his obituary, which appeared in the November 17, 2013 edition of the Richmond Times-Dispatch by Ellen Robertson.
“Composer Allan Blank always started his day with music.
At his Bon Air home, “he got up very early in the morning — 5 or 5:30 — and would play his violin for an hour, and then he would compose,” said John T. Patykula, assistant chairman of the Virginia Commonwealth University Department of Music.
When he retired in 1996 from VCU, where he had taught music composition since 1978, it was so he could have more time to compose, Patykula said.
Mr. Blank, whose many projects included an opera based on the Thomas Hardy novel “Jude the Obscure,” died at home Tuesday night of complications from the effects of a brain tumor. He was 87.
As a teacher, Mr. Blank would dissect his students’ compositions “note by note. He would ask, ‘Why are you putting that note there? Why are you putting that chord there?” recalled Patykula, VCU area coordinator for guitar. “One of the guitar students would write a piece. Allan would see the initial composition and, after he helped craft the piece, it turned into a very fine piece of music.”
David B. Niethamer, adjunct professor of music at Longwood University, VCU and the University of Richmond and former principal clarinetist with the Richmond Symphony, noted that Mr. Blank was a careful musical craftsman.
“He would take little germs of ideas and build them into bigger pieces. You had to figure out what the bricks were all about and at the end you had an edifice. He was like Beethoven, taking small musical motives and building and changing them in ways that propelled the pieces forward.”
His music was general in scope, and he tended to write for combinations of instruments. “He liked to find unusual combinations of instruments,” Niethamer said.
Mr. Blank wrote for all instruments — the string bass, which does not have a large solo repertoire, a lot of music for the clarinet and woodwinds, and a large amount of vocal music.
“He was always interested in new things and trying new ideas,” said Francile Bilyeu, a retired VCU flute professor who had played some of his flute duets and flute choir pieces.
“He was very particular about the way his pieces were performed. If he came to a rehearsal, you knew it was going to be intense.”
A native New Yorker, Mr. Blank trained at venues including the High School of Music and Art; the Juilliard School of Music; Washington Square College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1948; the University of Minnesota, where he earned a master’s degree in 1960; the University of Iowa; the Tanglewood Music Center; and Columbia University, where he completed a teachers certification program.
He had been a violinist with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the Gershwin Concert Orchestra and the National Orchestral Training Association.
He taught in various high schools and universities before coming to Richmond, where he accrued a following “interested in anything he had to say, regardless of the format or what he had to say,” Niethamer said.
“While he may not generally have been well-known, he was a well-regarded composer in the classic music world and had commissions around the world,” as well as honors.
The American Composers Alliance website recently listed more than 200 of his compositions, not counting many others still in manuscript form.
There are no immediate survivors, and no service is planned.
Mr. Blank, who was Jewish, was the widower of Margot Dreyfuss Blank, a Jewish Holocaust survivor and painter-photographer who died in his arms in 2007 after an illness.
“To say they were devoted just approaches it,” said Harold “Hal” Carle, a friend and former colleague at VCU. “He was one of a kind — a hell of a musician, off the chart there. She was a painter. Their house was chock full of music, manuscripts, CDs, lots of paintings and photographs.”
More recently, Old Dominion University held a concert honoring his achievements and the Richmond Chamber Players Interlude Series included “Duo for Violin and Piano” and “Diversions for Solo Clarinet”.
As long as musicians keep playing, Allan Blank will always be remembered.