Longtime resident of Princeton and Skillman, Claudio Spies, Professor of Music, Emeritus at Princeton University, died peacefully on April 2 at his home in Sonoma, California, just one week following his 95th birthday. He had come to Princeton in 1970 with his family, and moved to Sonoma in 2013 to live with his eldest daughter, Caterina. Claudio was a prominent composer and music theorist engaged at the forefront of 20th Century music during a time of dramatic change. He was considered a leading expert on Igor Stravinsky, with whom he enjoyed close friendship and collaboration for nearly 30 years, and facilitated the premiere of one of Stravinsky’s last major works, ”Requiem Canticles“, at Princeton’s McCarter Theater in 1966. Claudio’s own compositions were performed often at Princeton as well as in several other venues both nationally and internationally.
Carlos Claudio Spies was born on March 26, 1925, in Santiago, Chile, of German-Jewish immigrant parents. He came to the United States in 1942, at age 17, driven by a passion to study music; and he attended the New England Conservatory of Music and the Longy School of Music. After earning undergraduate and master’s degrees from Harvard, he taught at Harvard, Vassar, and Swarthmore before joining the Princeton faculty. Following his retirement from Princeton in 1998, he continued to teach at The Juilliard School until he was 85. Claudio became an American citizen in 1966.
As a scholar, Claudio wrote a series of seminal articles on the serialism of Stravinsky, and subsequently a number of important articles on Schoenberg, Berg, Brahms and others. He was fascinated by language, and spoke five of them fluently while continuing to study others. His compositions often combined his multi-lingual and musical talents, setting to music, the poetry of Celan, Enzensberger, Yehuda Halevi, May Swenson, Shakespeare, Dylan Thomas, Paul Auster, and others.
He set works in English, Spanish, German, Old Italian, Hebrew and Latin.
At Juilliard, Claudio created it’s first course in the study of manuscripts. He always loved perusing original manuscripts with handwritten notes, for insights into the composers’ thinking. His excitement about these studies was captured nicely by an interview he gave for a New York Times article in 2009: “There’s hardly a page in which there isn’t something to stimulate a musician’s imagination. Even the color of the ink.” Claudio also referenced discovering an adjustment Mozart had made within an opera to have the most critical word in a phrase coincide with the highest note, and said “That’s a glaringly lovely case, and the difference is a gleaming composition lesson. Seeing that, one smiles for a full week.”
Claudio was pre-deceased by his beloved daughter, Tatiana, and former wife, Emmi Vera; and is survived by his children Caterina (Myron Reece), of Glen Ellen, California; Michael (Claudia) of New York; Leah (Alex Winck); and Susanna, both of Los Angeles; as well as grandchildren Jake, Elijah, Ben, Olivia and Julia.
A memorial service will be planned at a future date.