Randolph Henning Hokanson carried his high musical standards from the concert stage to the University of Washington classroom, inspiring generations of young pianists and concert audiences alike, and continuing to teach and perform well after retirement.
A perfectionist at the keyboard and a musician who never lost his sense of wonder, Randolph Henning Hokanson carried his high musical standards from the concert stage to the University of Washington classroom. He inspired generations of young pianists and concert audiences alike.
Mr. Hokanson, who died Oct. 18 at the age of 103, was an emeritus professor at the University of Washington, but few retirees have had as musically active a retirement. At 92, in 2007, he performed a series of lecture/demonstrations on Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier” to a packed house at Sherman Clay in Seattle, where his former student Judith Cohen observed, “He is still playing as fast and beautifully as ever.”
In celebration of his 100th birthday in June 2015, Mr. Hokanson performed a remarkable solo and duo recital with the violinist Marjorie Kransberg-Talvi, including music by Chopin and Mozart.
Of the 100th birthday recital, pianist and UW faculty member Craig Sheppard marveled that Mr. Hokanson was “still in full possession of his faculties in every respect. He explained the pieces to the audience, and played them beautifully. His passing will leave a big gap in our community.”
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The fifth of 11 children of a Swedish immigrant family in Bellingham, Mr. Hokanson became a regular piano recitalist in Seattle and Victoria by 15. After high school, he traveled to London to study with the eminent pianist Howard Samuel. His experiences there are recounted in Mr. Hokanson’s 2011 memoir, “With Head to the Music Bent: A Musician’s Story,” which includes accounts of his student days in England, where he hobnobbed with George Bernard Shaw, Dame Myra Hess and Edith Wharton. It also tells of his World War II experiences when his ship was torpedoed en route to France, where he served as an interpreter for the Signal Battalion. Mr. Hokanson delayed his escape from the sinking ship in order to salvage precious music manuscripts below decks.
After the war, Mr. Hokanson made his New York concert debut in 1947 and performed both as a touring recitalist and orchestral soloist under such conductors as Sir Thomas Beecham, Pierre Monteux, Arthur Fiedler, Milton Katims and Stanley Chapple. Throughout his career he was a frequent soloist with the Seattle Symphony, the CBC Chamber Orchestra of Vancouver, and the Bach Festivals of Carmel and Mount Angel.
Mr. Hokanson joined the UW music faculty in 1949. His musical autobiography is preserved in a nine-CD recorded anthology, “The Pianism of Randolph Hokanson: The University Years (1949-1984).”
“Randy had a lively and curious mind,” said pianist Robin McCabe, his colleague at the UW School of Music, “and he was truly a lifelong learner, a passionate consumer of life, in the best sense. His musicianship was enlivened by his energy and warmth, and his devotion to teaching guided and encouraged appreciative students over many generations.”
As a teacher, he was known for the ability to explain how music works and how composers create. After his retirement, Mr. Hokanson released in 1989 a series of educational recordings for pianists and teachers called “At Home with Beethoven.” In 1987, he gave a highly regarded post-retirement series of classes for the UW Extension, “The Piano in Concert,” that traced the entire history of Western piano repertoire.
Mr. Hokanson married his wife, the composer Dorothy Cadzow Hokanson and fellow UW faculty member, in 1952. She died in 2001.
“I continue to play because I love music so,” Mr. Hokanson said in an interview at 90. “It has been the sustaining force in my life. I’d just go down the drain without it. It was such a savior after my wife died.”
In 2003, Mr. Hokanson released a new recording called “Character Pieces of the Nineteenth Century,” demonstrating his fluent technique and interpretive skill in works of considerable difficulty by Liszt, Brahms and others.
In later years, he turned his creative energies to composing. When Mr. Hokanson died, he was still at work on a song cycle based on poems by Tennyson and Dickinson.
Mr. Hokanson is survived by his brother, Fred Hokanson of Tacoma, and sister, Barbara Aymar of Connecticut, and many nieces and nephews.
Memorial gifts can be made to the School of Music at the University of Washington.