Richard Ellsasser

Richard Ellsasser

Richard Ellsasser (September 14, 1926 - August 9, 1972) was an American concert organist, composer, and conductor who was primarily active during the 1940s, 50's and 60's. Born in Cleveland, Ohio on September 14, 1926, the young Ellsasser was a musical prodigy who studied piano and organ, first with his father, and later with Winslow Cheney and Albert Riemenschneider. Ellsasser also studied with Joseph Bonnet. At the age of seven, he toured the eastern United States as an organist with various symphony orchestras. He made his New York organ debut in 1937. At the age of 19 he became the youngest person in history to have played, from memory, all 250+ organ works of J. S. Bach.

Ellsasser later went on to study at Oberlin College, Baldwin-Wallace Conservatory (from which he obtained his Bachelor of Music degree), the School of Theology at Boston University, and the School of Religion at the University of Southern California (where he earned a Master's Degree in Theology). Ellsasser also earned a Doctorate from Boston University.

For many years, Ellsasser was Minister of Music at Wilshire United Methodist Church in Los Angeles, California, where he later created and directed a series of music festivals. In later years, he became Minister of Recitals at the First Congregational Church in Los Angeles. NBC featured the young organist on the air with the production of "The Ellsasser Show." Mr. Ellsasser, who had perfect pitch, was also gifted in the art of improvisation and often included an improvisation as part of his concerts. This was typically in the form of a submitted theme in a sealed envelope.

A prolific recording artist, Ellsasser made numerous "private label" recordings during the 1950s for MGM Records, primarily at the Hammond Castle Museum in Gloucester, Massachusetts. He also recorded several albums for Kapp Records.

During the 1960s, Ellsasser became a faculty member at the National Music Camp in Interlochen, Michigan.

In 1967, Ellsasser recorded two albums for Nonesuch Records at the Hammond Castle Museum. Shortly after completing these recordings, he suffered a stroke, which forced him into retirement. Ellsasser came out of retirement in January 1972 when he accepted a position as Minister of Music at the United Baptist Church of Jamaica Plain, MA (Boston); this was his last church position. Ellsasser continued to conduct workshops, accompany musicals and perform in a few concerts during the last year of his life. He died on August 9, 1972 in New York City, some six weeks prior to what would have been his 46th birthday.

Ellsasser is (presumed to have been) the composer of the famous Rondo in G for organ, falsely attributed to John Bull.


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