Musicologist Mary Rasmussen dies

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 01/29/2008 - 16:18

With sorrow I inform our fellowship of the death of Mary Helen Rasmussen, Professor emerita of Music at the University of New Hampshire, on 26 January in Durham, New Hampshire.  She was 77 years old and had suffered from cancer, intermittently but eventually finally, since the early 1970s.

Mary was a splendid colleague and a treasured friend of many of us, a "true polymath," as the minute on her retirement described her in 1997.
We knew her as a self-taught musicologist of remarkable ability and accomplishment and amazing versatility, skilled in many areas of music-making and a tireless researcher in a wide variety of areas.  She graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a bachelor's degree in 1952 and then went to the University of Illinois, receiving a Master of Music in low brass performance in 1953 and a Master of Library Science in 1956.  For two years, she taught public school in Gorham, New Hampshire, and was always proud that of all the music faculty at UNH, where she was appointed in 1968, she was the only member to have actually taught in the New Hampshire school system.
That Mary never received a doctorate was of no consequence to her productivity and learning.  She was the recipient of a Fulbright award and grants from the Ford and Guggenheim foundations.  She was a regular contributor to the CMS and to AMS meetings locally and nationally, and lectured at many different institutions, including Harvard, Boston University, and the University of Wisconsin.  On the UNH faculty she taught several historical courses but also directed the string methods program, finding time to become a decent cellist who performed regularly, and achieved a statewide renown as a skilled repairer of stringed instruments.

Mary published articles and reviews in a number of different journals, but also became her own publisher.  She founded /Brass Quarterly/ in 1957, merging it soon with /Woodwind Quarterly/, and the combined journal continued until 1969.  From the 1970s she became increasingly active in the field of musical iconography and collected photographs from all over the world.  Her magnum opus, /Musical Subjects in Western European Art/, was the focus of more than two decades of effort, but it remains unfinished.

A memorial service for Mary is in the planning stage, to occur sometime in the spring.

Mark DeVoto
formerly Associate Professor of Music and the Humanities, the University of New Hampshire, 1968-1981


Submitted by Marjorie B. Cohn (not verified) on Tue, 02/05/2008 - 19:38


The finest memorial we could make for Mary would be to find a home for her musical iconography archive. Please let me know if you have any suggestions. I have already tried the Getty Research Library with no luck, but perhaps a musical organization might be interested? Jerry (

Submitted by Sabron Reynold… (not verified) on Sat, 05/24/2008 - 18:51


Checking for news of Mary Rasmussen, who uncharacteristically failed to respond to my 2007 holiday greeting, I came upon this online notice and fine tribute. Mary and I were fellow students in the University of Illinois library school and kept in annual touch for 60 years. Because we stopped to visit around 1980 when we passed through Durham on a family vacation, I can picture the iconography files in the house which she struggled to maintain, and I, too, hope her files find a home. I am sorry she was unable to complete, to her satisfaction, the project to which she devoted so many years, but I note that in 1998 she reported receiving the Christopher Monk award from the Historic Brass Society “in recognition of pioneering scholarly research in brass music.” I will miss receiving new batches of wry comments on her interface with the local, academic, and medical communities. I will continue to remember and tell a Mary Rasmussen anecdote now and then.

Submitted by Josephine Roccuzzo (not verified) on Thu, 01/15/2009 - 21:13


As a former music student at UNH of both Mary Rasmussen and Dr. DeVoto, I was very sad to learn today of Mary's death last year. She was my string methods teacher, and her passion and energy were enthralling. She led the class in an impromptu outdoor performance of Bach one spring, and herded us all to Symphony Hall to hear the (then unrecordable) "sheen" of live strings in Shubert's Unfinished. I also remember an outing at her house, where, hammer in hand, she carried on with an ambitious renovation project. Like dear Dr. DeVoto, Mary was generous with her wisdom and enthusiasm, and I will cherish those memories all my life.

Submitted by Mary Elizabeth Ryan (not verified) on Thu, 02/19/2009 - 19:40


I was just thinking about "Mary Raz," a lifelong friend of my mother Lorraine Ryan, who passed away ten years ago, and came upon this notice of her death. I was suddenly overwhelmed with memories, all indelibly laced with Mary's cantankerous, brilliant, profoundly loyal character. Once you were her friend, you stayed that way. She might not approve of you, but that was that. (She once clomped into our house, noticed all of us hunched over our soup bowls, noses buried in books as was our habit, and sniffed, "Rampant Ryan Rudeness.") She taught Durham kids tennis in the summer and took us to our first string quartet concert in which I believe she played. She was refreshingly herself. I never saw her in a skirt in an era when ladies wore gloves and pearls to the bus depot. She lived with her parents, then by herself, filling her house with instruments, musical scores, her archives. She was literally "at home" with her scholarship. I was surprised to learn she was only 77 at the time of her death. To us, Mary Rasmussen seemed like some ageless colossus. All I could think was that Gideon had better look out, because Mary will have something to say about his horn playing.

Submitted by Elizabeth Knie… (not verified) on Tue, 03/03/2009 - 19:24


Mary was one of the first friends I made back in 1965, when my (then) husband and I first moved to Durham. We lived across the street from Mary's parents and used to play billiards with Mary on Sunday mornings in the basement of her folks' home. Our friendship continued over the years, though there were long stretches when we weren't in touch. Along with many othere, I'm sure,I'll never forget picking my way through the piles of papers, books, and musical instruments on Woodman Avenue when I dropped by. Busy as she was with her teaching, research, instrument-building and musicianship, Mary always had time to have a cup of tea and talk a while. The last time I visited, she dug up a bunch of chives and gave them to me for my herb garden. They are a lasting memorial of her generosity of spirit.

Submitted by Will Hinkley (not verified) on Fri, 04/16/2010 - 17:07


I never knew Mary at UNH because I was long gone by the time she returned to teach in 1968, but I knew her much earlier. From 1952 until 1954 she taught in Gorham, NH, which is my home town. Her duties required her to move between two buildings (not too far apart)and her instrument of choice was a cello. There is no graceful way to carry a cello and she got teased about that. We will never forget her.