Obituary: Roger Wagner

Roger Wagner, conductor, born Le Puy France 16 January 1914, Founding Director Roger Wagner Chorale 1946, Los Angeles Master Chorale 1964-85, Director Laureate 1985-92, died France 17 September 1992.

THE ROGER WAGNER Chorale, Fred Waring's Pennsylvanians, the Robert Shaw Chorale and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir were the major forces in US choral music when I was growing up in the 1950s. The good citizens of Fairmont, West Virginia, like many small towns across America, usually squeezed just about enough money out of their annual kitty to persuade one of these popular touring groups to make a detour. It was always a thrilling occasion. Once a year in the shabby high-school auditorium, world-class professionals somehow transformed the hall's reluctant molecules to sonic starbursts over the same stage where our weedy voices had been. My music teacher was always breathless when we flocked to see what she thought. In the afterglow of their visit, the chorus enrolment always swelled.

The Roger Wagner Chorale was founded in 1946 and, like Shaw's and Waring's groups, toured with a happy combination of serious music and popular arrangements of folk tunes and other genres.

Roger Wagner was born in Le Puy, France (south of Lyons), but moved to Dijon when his father was appointed organist at the cathedral. In 1921 his father decided to emigrate to the US and became organist at St Brendan's Church in Los Angeles. Roger Wagner was a boy soprano soloist in his father's choir and also began to study piano and organ. At the age of 12 he became organist and choirmaster at the Church of St Ambrose and shortly after began studies for the priesthood at a Santa Barbara seminary. His voice finally settled as baritone but his real talent lay in conducting and as an organist.

In 1932, when he was 18, he returned to France to study organ with Marcel Dupre, the famous organist who was once Widor's assistant, and who, a few years earlier, had caused a sensation by playing 10 recitals of Bach's complete organ works from memory. During that period he also did extensive study and research into early music in the Dijon/Lyons area. He began research on the music of the 16th-century Flemish composer Josquin Despres, for which he later received a Ph D from the University of Montreal. In 1934, while studying in France, he was drafted into the French army and served two years. During this time it became apparent that he was not only a gifted musician but also a fine athlete. He was chosen to compete for France in the Decathlon during the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

Wagner returned to Los Angeles in 1937, and became organist and choirmaster at St Joseph's Church. He studied philosophy at the University of Southern California, and in the 1940s studied conducting with Bruno Walter and Otto Klemperer, and orchestration with Lucien Caillet, Igor Stravinsky and Arnold Schoenberg. During the Second World War he became a US citizen and in 1945 was appointed supervisor of youth choruses for the City of Los Angeles Bureau of Music. As the new supervisor, he began training a chorus of some of the best young voices in Los Angeles, which led directly to the founding of his chorale.

The Roger Wagner Chorale set new standards. It began to be much in demand, touring extensively in the US, Canada, Latin America, Japan, the Soviet Union and the Middle East, as well as giving frequent concerts in the Hollywood Bowl and backing tracks for Hollywood film-scores.

In 1965 Wagner founded another ensemble, the Los Angeles Master Chorale and Sinfonia, from which he retired in 1985 and became Conductor Laureate. He was Director of Choral Music at UCLA (from 1959), Conductor of the Choir at Radio France (1977-79), and earlier had been Head of the Choral Department at Marymount College, Los Angeles (1951-66).

He published numerous chorale arrangements and recorded over 60 LPs for Allegro, SPA, Lyrichord, Capitol, EMI and Decca, winning a Grammy Award for the LP Virtuoso. In 1966 he was made Knight Commander of St Gregory by Pope Paul VI.

The Los Angeles critic Don Ray once described Roger Wagner as 'an astounding combination of vitality, dedication, poetic and intellectual depth, and chutzpah'. He will be fondly remembered for the rich choral sound he achieved with his groups, their enviable precision and versatility, and his extraordinary musicianship.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Recruitment Genius: Project Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This privately-owned company designs and manuf...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources Officer

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen at th...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - London - £40,000 + Bonus

£36000 - £40000 per annum + Bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...