I first met Dr. Leaver as a high school senior, visiting his then academic post, Westminster Choir College. I had read his program annotations for Bach programs for years and was delighted to make the acquaintance of this most learned man and musicological rock star. Dr. Leaver’s charm and wit are legendary, as is the depth of his scholarship. I had the privilege of studying hymnody and psalmody with him (alas, I could never fit his Bach Cantatas class into my schedule, to my ever-living regret!), and his enthusiasm was infectious (as were the chuckles about his wry observations). Every time his name is brought up among my circle of Westminsterites, we recall his quip about the name of the beautiful Vaughan Williams hymn tune, Down Ampney: “Sounds rather like something you’d say to your dog!” In Dr. Leaver’s telling, the stories of our great hymns and psalms were thrilling to discover. We also recall the excitement of all the organ and sacred music majors when Paul McCreesh’s infamous Praetorius Lutheran Mass for Christmas Morning recording was released, not least because Dr. Leaver’s scholarship and research made such an exacting liturgical recreation possible.
If you’re interested in early music, particularly as relates to that of the Lutheran church, you’re sure to have encountered the dazzling breadth of Dr. Leaver’s scholarship on the topic, from Martin Luther’s liturgical maxims to the architecture of the Mass in B-Minor. His CV is absolutely enormous, full of books and journal articles, and all of his fellow top-tier Bach scholars cite him in their work. His program annotations for the Bach Choir have been so illuminating and engaging. Much of what I know about Bach’s music has come from his insightful and perceptive mind.
Dr. Leaver will be offering this year’s Distinguished Scholar Lecture, and I can’t wait to hear his compelling combination of erudition, wit, and genuine and infectious enthusiasm on the topic of 120 Years of Bach in Bethlehem. The wonderful pianist, Daniel Martin Lewis features an extended interview with Dr. Leaver on his blog, and gave us his kind permission to use his excellent portrait of Robin above.