Eldon Ross Obrecht was born in Rolfe, Iowa on June 9, 1920. His father ran a movie theater, which provided some of his early musical experiences. His first piano lessons were given by the pianist who supplied the music for the silent films, a Mrs. LaChance. When movies with sound came to the theater, he was forced to find a new teacher. He began to study with Amy Ireland.
In 1933, the superintendent of schools in Rolfe decided that the school needed an orchestra. Obrecht was chosen to play one of the two double basses brought back from Des Moines. His early lessons were from Karl Spotvoldt, Sr., a member of Karl King's band who traveled from town to town giving lessons for thirty-five cents per half hour.
Upon graduation from high school in 1936, he sent a letter to the University of Iowa (then the State University of Iowa) in Iowa City, Iowa, to inquire about the possibility of studying music. The director of the school, Philip Greeley Clapp, having become familiar with Obrecht through high school music competitions, offered Obrecht a scholarship that helped make it possible for him to attend the University.
He began to study composition with Philip Greeley Clapp while an undergraduate, then continued as a graduate assistant at Iowa to earn his Master's degree in composition in 1942, with the Sextet in E Flat serving as his thesis. Maxine Schlanbusch was also a graduate assistant at Iowa. In 1943, she and Obrecht were married. They have four daughters, each of whom has some tie to music, as performer or teacher or both.
During World War II Obrecht joined the Navy Pre-flight School Band in Iowa City. Near the end of the war, he was transferred to the Philippines.
Obrecht spent the first part of 1946 in Boston studying with Ludwig Juht. It was his desire to find out if he could play in a professional symphony. This was determined when he was accepted into Washington D.C.'s National Symphony Orchestra. He performed there during the 1946 summer season and the 1946-47 season during which Clapp offered him the opportunity to return to Iowa to attain his doctoral degree and to serve as a teacher. He joined the faculty of the University of Iowa in the fall of 1947.
The Symphony in C, on Shelley Motives of 1950, was his doctoral thesis. This piece was performed by the University Orchestra under Clapp on Wednesday, April 19, 1950. The soprano part, in the two movements that are settings of poems by Shelley, was performed by Maxine Obrecht.
As a student and graduate assistant, Obrecht had attended Clapp's two-year History and Appreciation of Music course several times. As an instructor, he had also occasionally taught the course in summers when Clapp was away on vacation. This surely aided him in preparing to teach the program upon Clapp's death in 1953. Obrecht then took over the music appreciation classes and with them the WSUI radio broadcasts that Clapp had begun in 1920. He broadcast the lectures with musical examples from records and with guest faculty and advanced student performers until 1972, when the University's schedule and the WSUI¼s schedule came into conflict. After the School of Music decided that courses in music appreciation and music history should be separated, with the appreciation classes reserved for non-majors, Obrecht renamed the course "Masterpieces of Music."
During his tenure at the University, Obrecht taught studio double bass, music appreciation, music theory, and composition. He also collaborated with a colleague, Tom Turner, in writing a book on musical form and analysis. As can be seen in the bibliography of his music, only one of his compositions before 1965 uses the double bass as soloist. Until then he had avoided writing for double bass so as not to be stereotyped as someone who could write for only one instrument. He then decided that he knew the double bass better than any other instrument and needed music to perform. In 1965 he composed the first diversion. The diversions began as relaxation from larger works and figured prominently in a number of faculty double bass recitals that he performed in the 1970's and 1980's, Diversion I being used as a break from the Symphony No. 3.
Obrecht retired from the University in 1990, but remained as the double bass professor until 1992. Obrecht was known for many different talents. As a performer he served as the principal bassist with the Quad City Symphony Orchestra (with time off for World War II, the National Symphony, etc.). As a composer he wrote three symphonies, a concerto, and many other works. As a teacher he launched many students into careers, not all of which ended in music, and taught many non-musicians through his music appreciation classes and their broadcasts. Whatever hat he was wearing, he was always known for his positive attitude.
This biography of Eldon Obrecht was written by Mario Chiarello as part of his DMA essay. Liben Music Publishers is grateful to Mr. Chiarello for allowing it to be used.To Family Album Catalog Information
Back to Family Album Feature Presentation