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Robert N. Cavarra, organist and musicologist, dies at 73

Emeritus professor Robert Cavarra poses before the Casavant Organ in the Music Building Concert Hall, March 1, 2004.

February 12, 2008

Leader in classical organ tradition in N. America

Robert N. Cavarra, professor of music and noted concert organist, who was a leading participant in the revival of the classical organ tradition in North America and brought international acclaim to Colorado State University as a center for organ scholarship and performance, died Friday, Feb. 8 in Denver, Colo. The cause was complications resulting from kidney failure.

Influenced especially by the organ designer and builder Lawrence Phelps, the modern classical organ movement combined the finest techniques of organ building with contemporary musical sensibilities. Under Prof. Cavarra's leadership, three world-class examples of this movement were realized in Fort Collins: the Casavant Freres organ at CSU (1969); the Lawrence Phelps Opus 1 organ at St. Luke's Episcopal Church (1973); and the Danish Marcussen and Son organ at the First United Methodist Church (1987).

Taught at CSU from 1963-2000

Prof. Cavarra brought together acclaimed artists from throughout the world for master classes and recitals on these instruments including E. Power Biggs (USA), Marie-Claire Alain (France), Luigi Tagliavini (Italy), Gillian Weir (England), Lionel Rogg (Switzerland), Bernard Lagace (Canada), and Anton Heiler (Austria). These events acted as a catalyst to expand appreciation for the arts not only at CSU but also throughout the Rocky Mountain region. He taught from 1963 until 2000 on the faculty of CSU's Department of Music, Theater and Dance. At his death, he was Professor Emeritus of Music.

As a student of both philosophy and music, Prof. Cavarra had a particularly comprehensive understanding of the art of the organ as a vehicle for developing a distilled aesthetic appreciation on many levels. As he explained to his students, his sense of musicality was shaped through his philosophical studies at the Gregorian College in Rome, where he also served as organist for the North American College. Moreover, the close relationships he cultivated with both colleagues and students in the organ world meant that his musical understanding was shaped as much by living room discussion, as he put it, as the formal work of the recital hall. As such, he was known as a prodigious Italian cook and host.

Starting performing publicly at age 12

Robert Nicholas Cavarra was born on February 23, 1934, in Denver to Alfonso Cavarra and Mary Bianco. His life-long pursuit of music began in his childhood, and by age 12 he was performing publicly. As a recitalist, Cavarra toured widely, including concerts in Denmark, Sweden, France, England, Canada, Mexico and the United States. To promote the art of the organ into the twenty-first century, he and his wife Barbara founded an international non-profit foundation, "Pro Organo Pleno XXI."  As a recording artist, he released CDs through the Musical Heritage Society, and he was a major figure in the beloved "Christmas at CSU"  series of recordings. He was also a published composer and noted solo and ensemble performer on the harpsichord.

Cavarra was responsible for installation of Wurlitzer organ at CSU

In addition to the classical organ, Prof. Cavarra was responsible for the installation of a Wurlitzer theater organ at CSU, and sponsored numerous workshops on theater organ music. He was organist at St. Joseph and St. Pius X Roman Catholic Churches and St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Denver; and St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church, St. Luke's Episcopal Church, and the First United Methodist Churches in Fort Collins. He also taught music at Loretto Heights College and St. Thomas Theological Seminary in Denver, as well as at the University of Wyoming.

Cavarra is survived by his wife, Barbara; a daughter Karla of New Haven, Conn.; three sons, Christopher of Chicago, Ill., Stephan of Atlanta, Ga., and Matthew of Denver, Colo.; and five grandchildren.

Memorial Service Feb. 15 in Fort Collins

A memorial service will be held Friday, Feb. 15 at 11 a.m. at St. Luke's Episcopal Church, 2000 Stover Street, Fort Collins. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Organ Program Support Fund c/o The CSU Foundation.

Contact: Jayleen Heft
Phone Number: (970) 491-2655

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