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"The whole thing works out into rather a miracle," Elliot Forbes '41 said yesterday of the Beethoven string quartet Op. 131 Gesturing at the class during the last lecture of his 26-year Harvard career, he went on. "In a fugue, it isn't so much drama as eloquence. It's a kind of adventure."
Afterwards, Forbes said, "They were spellbound" by the music. He spoke about what he termed his "three loves": Beethoven the edited Thayer's Life of Beethoven, published in 1964), choral music, and harmony and counterpoint. He said he enjoyed teaching because it "combines my love of music with a love of people."
Forbes, who is retiring as Peabody Professor of Music this year, gave his final lecture in Music 12th, "The Works of Ludwig van Beethoven "Forbes, the music department's head tutor, also taught Music 2 this year.
Forbes said he chose to retire voluntarily at age 66 because "one gets the feeling in life that there's a right time to do things--it's a got feeling." Forbes added that he wants to make room for younger faculty. "It's important to build for the future," he said.
Harvard's mandatory retirement age is 70.
Other faculty members added that Forbes broke his hip this year and had to miss some classes, and this may have also figured in his decision.
"It's wonderful to teach with him," said course teaching assistant Robert D. Riggs. "He has a classic gentlemanly manner and a great enthusiasm and love for his subject, which comes through in his teaching," he added.
Students and faculty also emphasized Forbes's accessibility and willingness to teach students at all levels. "He is very accommodating to beginners," said Bumby Schnitzer '84.
She added that of the two sections of Music 128b. Forbes characteristically chose to teach the one for non-concentrators.
Forbes has taught many different departmental courses, ranging from specialized seminars to the survey Music 1. He also taught Music 2a and 2b this year, an upper level introductory course for non-concentrators.
"It's exciting," said Forbes, "because I'm teaching people who want to learn how to put notes on paper."
He added, "Every once in a while a student says, 'this is for real,' an avenue to music is suddenly opened, and they end up concentrating in the department."
Forbes has served at various times as department head tutor, chairman, and director of choral activities, conducting both the Harvard Glee Club and the Radcliffe Choral Society until 1970. He presided over three Glee Club tours and made three recordings.
His writing has dealt primarily with choral music and with Beethoven, both music and biography. He has also been general editor of the Harvard Radcliffe Choral Music Theatre.
Forbes's colleagues speak about him. "He's a devoted, dedicated teacher," said Professor of Music Loraine Vegorchian. She added that he spends a great deal of time with students, advising and encouraging them.
"You can't replace such a person," according to department chairman Christoph Wolff, adding that it was difficult to imagine the department without him.
"He has such a deeply coated connection with Harvard and knows it better than anybody else," Wolff added.
He said that Music 2 will be taken over by Peter Lieberson next year, a new assistant professor and composer. The department hired Lewis Luckwood, a Beethoven scholar, a few years ago partly in anticipation of Forbes's retirement, Wolff said.
"He spreads his enthusiasm all over the classroom. He is dedicated as a teacher and brings out the best in students," Wolff added.
Paul A. Hoffman '85, a Music 12th student, said he enjoyed Forbes's combination of history and analysis.
"Often, when he begins a class, he takes a historical approach, then bam he switches into the analytical made," he said.
Forbes said he took seriously the music department's dual role as training professionals while providing exposure for musicians who go into other fields. "At least they can learn to feel at home with the stuff of music," Forbes said.
Forbes said he plans to remain visible at Harvard and will advise students and work on a book, whose subject he declined to speak about. He also plans to travel.
Forbes graduated from the College in 1941 received his M. A. here in 1947 and then taught at Princeton until 1958, when he returned to Cambridge as professor of music. He was appointed Peabody Professor of Music in 1961 and served as department chairman from 1972 until 1976.
In an earlier Music 2b lecture, Forbes, seated at the piano tried to communicate his excitement for the music, saying "see If you don't share with me a certain wonder."
In talking about the quartet yesterday, he said, "After you listen to the first part, and it's moving and serious, what do you do next? Then the sun comes out.
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