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Recognizing Research Excellence: 1984

On March 21, 1984 University of Alberta Research Prizes for excellence in research and scholarship were presented to Gerhard Krapf and Norbert Morgenstern. The prizes are sponsored jointly by the University and the Association of Academic Staff of the University of Alberta.

The first thing that strikes the eye is the piano. A "baby grand," it fills half the office. But it is Gerhard Krapf's hands that tell his story. As he talks, his hands are in constant motion, fingers moving as over an invisible keyboard. And not surprising, for Gerhard Krapf, recipient of a 1984 University Research Prize has "made a living" using his hands.

An organist described by his colleagues as the "complete musician," Professor Krapf grew up in a house full of music. His father was a minister; church music an integral part of his life's work. From his earliest days, the young Krapf played both piano and organ and it was not long before his life came to revolve around bi-weekly organ lessons in a neighboring town, "two hours on the train each way." His teacher was a "fierce and dedicated man" who encouraged him (somewhat to his surprise and clearly to his delight) to study music at university. But the War intervened, and it was only after three years of service and three years in a prison camp that Krapf's commitment to music could be pursued.

Pursue it he did. Years of study, a successful university entrance exam, an exchange fellowship in California, teaching at a school for delinquent boys. And all the while, he wrote music and played the organ. In 1961, just months before his 40th birthday, Professor Krapf went to the University of Iowa. There he set up an organ department. "It was wonderful," he recalls, hands in motion. "It was such a challenge, to start from nothing and put together a nationally-recognized operation."

In 1977 the University of Alberta lured him from Iowa. Part of the challenge facing him was to oversee the installation of the University's new Memorial Organ. (Again the hands fly as he speaks: "It's such a wonderful organ!".) But the ongoing challenge facing Professor Krapf is his work as a composer, performer and scholar. His colleague and friend, Bob Stangeland, chairman of music, describes him as a man "vitally involved in all aspects of serious musical endeavor. A man who creates as a composer, re-creates as a performer, and analyses and articulates as a scholar."

How does a research prize come to an organist? To Gerhard Krapf the answer is a simple one. "Research, in the creative arts, is the creative process itself." With such a benchmark it is readily apparent why the peer-recognition award honors the organist. His published compositions, numbering more than 100, range from slight single works and collections of the same to more extended compositions in multi-movement forms. And, while the organ is Professor Krapf's specialty, his composition is not limited to its keyboard. Solo voice, choral ensembles, choral and instrumental combinations and strictly instrumental ensembles are all part of his portfolio. It is a portfolio that enjoys wide circulation and frequent performance not only in church services but also in concert halls and educational institutions around the world.

Performance is also an integral part of the creative process. Again Professor Krapf is prolific. He has presented live recitals (both sacred and secular) across the North American continent and in Europe, has performed as a guest artist over both Canadian and American radio networks, and has recorded both his own compositions (including his complete works for solo organ recorded at the invitation of the CBC for 15 half-hour tapes for broadcast) and the works of others.

Professor Krapf's reputation as a creative artist is completed by his scholarly achievements. His musicological publications have made a strong impact on the field of organ instruction and performance where they are considered as standard authoritative references. His book Bach: Improvised Ornamentation and Keyboard Cadenzas; An Approach to Creative Performance is considered an important piece of scholarly work and as such is currently being considered for translation.

Albert Schweitzer was an early influence in Krapf's life; Johann Sebastian Bach his life-long model. There is nothing about music that Bach cannot teach you," he declares, enthusiasm in his voice and hands. "He wrote oceans of wonderful music, sacred and secular. Knowing Bach allows you to appreciate music more fully."

Knowing Gerhard Krapf, composer, performer or scholar, surely does the same.  

Published Summer 1984.

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