WILBUR A. PRICE '49
Emeritus Professor of Pianoforte
By Joseph Schwartz
In preparing this Memorial Minute, I spent some time looking at the programs that Bud played over the years. It was a fascinating and illuminating exercise, and it became quite clear that one of Bud's main interests as a pianist and musician was the music of the 20th century. Over the years Bud tackled some heavy stuff for the piano, including the entire Ludis Tonalis by Hindemith (a sort of 20th-century version of the Well Tempered Clavier), the 12 etudes of Debussy, Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit and Stravinsky's Petrouchka suite--all strong evidence of the prodigious technique which Bud possessed. I recall one particular recital of monumental proportions. It began with the Stravinsky Concerto for Two Pianos and continued with the Concerto for Two Pianos and Percussion by Milhaud and ended with the Bartok Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion. It was an impressive display of consummate skill and artistry.
Bud began his musical studies in 1922 at the age of six in his home town of Albion, Nebraska, with his aunt who had attended the Oberlin Conservatory during the turn of the century. Twelve years later he entered the Conservatory not as a pianist, but as a violin major. He did not graduate, but instead went to New York to continue his violin studies at the Juilliard School where he worked with Hanz Letz. World War II interrupted his studies, and it wasn't until 1946 that Bud continued his musical education, this time back at Oberlin and this time as a piano major. I recall his saying once that he loved the violin but it was "too damned hard to play." He finished his degree in 1949 under the tutelage of Frank Shaw, the dean of the Conservatory, and a legendary piano teacher. When he graduated he received two distinct honors: the Faustina Hurlbutt Prize, given to the outstanding senior performer, and an offer to join the faculty of the Conservatory.
Bud's contribution to the musical life of the Conservatory was not limited to solo playing. In fact his real love was in collaborative playing and it was as a collaborative pianist that he made his largest contribution. Not a year went by during his 34 years on the faculty without Bud accompanying someone or playing chamber music. I remember particularly Bud's numerous recitals with Bob Willoughby, professor of flute. They were a good team, well matched in temperament and technique, playing together with clarity, vitality and rhythmic precision. Their re-citals were almost always the first recitals of the year. I thought that was a pretty smart move, since there usually was a larger audience at the beginning of the school year, before people became saturated from the over-abundance of recitals. One year I made it a point to play a recital before they did. They never said a word to me about this, but I seem to recall Bob and Bud giving me some strange looks that fall!
Bud was chairman of the piano department for a number of years and I recall how easy he made it for the rest of us. He made it a point to do as much of the nitty-gritty stuff as possible by himself, and to call meetings of the department as infrequently as possible. We were very grateful. He kept meticulous records and minutes of our meetings and ran it all with a thorough but light touch.
It was always a pleasure to be around Bud. There was something boyishly affecting and good natured about him, always ready with a smile and kind word. He and his wife Betty were generous to a fault and the annual New Year's party they hosted was the event of the year during an era where parties were a common occurrence in faculty life. (How we all managed to make it back from Kipton without incident is another example of life's small miracles!)
Bud maintained a lifelong pursuit of knowledge. He liked to read books and listen to recordings and amassed an impressive collection of both at his home in Kipton. His collection included books on art, music, poetry, philosophy, architecture and psychology, and also included a mini library on two of his lifelong passions, vintage cars and thoroughbred horses. Among his favorite recordings were the Schubert sonata recordings by Artur Schnabel, whose artistry Bud admired above all other pianists, and the jazz renditions of Art Tatum whom Bud considered to be the equal in technical brilliance of Vladimir Horowitz. Bud retired in 1983 and spent his remaining years quietly at home with his loving wife Betty, his books, and recordings, and piano. He died on September 26, 1996, at the age of seventy-nine. As a last gesture of affection for the school which meant so much to him, he directed that his piano be donated to the Conservatory, where it now sits in Kulas Hall.