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UC Berkeley Press Release

Composer and pianist Nin-Culmell, an emeritus music professor, dies at age 95

– Joaquin Nin-Culmell, an internationally known concert pianist and composer and an emeritus professor of music at the University of California, Berkeley, has died at the age of 95.

Nin-Culmell died on Wednesday, Jan. 14, at a Berkeley nursing home. He suffered a heart attack on Christmas night, according to his niece, Gayle Nin Rosenkrantz of San Francisco, and did not recover.

 Joaquin Nin-Culmell
Joaquin Nin-Culmell (UC Berkeley photo)


"Composing music and playing the piano was his life," said Ed Dugger, an emeritus professor of music at UC Berkeley in the College of Letters and Science, who was friends with Nin-Culmell for more than 30 years.

Rosenkrantz recalled that her uncle's Cuban mother and Spanish father, both musicians, married in Cuba but lived in Europe. When Nin-Culmell's mother, singer Rosa Culmell, took him to Europe when he was 15, after he'd been in New York for nine years, he dropped out of high school and immersed himself in music, said Rosenkrantz.

Nin-Culmell attended the Schola Cantorum and the Paris Conservatory, receiving a first prize in music composition there in 1934. He also studied in the early 1930s with Manuel de Falla, Spain's foremost composer. Nin-Culmell studied harmony, counterpoint and fugue, as well as musical composition.

The brother of writer Anais Nin, he contributed prefaces to her four-volume "Early Diaries."

Nin-Culmell moved to the United States in 1939. He taught at Middlebury College in Vermont for two years before joining the music department of Williams College in Williamstown, Mass. He stayed at Williams for a decade, before coming to UC Berkeley.

"He was a wonderful mentor at that time to all of the young faculty members," recalled Dugger. "He was exceedingly kind and helpful."

Nin-Culmell joined the UC Berkeley faculty in 1950. In addition to academic duties, he conducted the University of California Symphony orchestra and appeared as a pianist with numerous musical groups in the San Francisco Bay Area.

In 1952, he performed as soloist in his own "Concerto in C Major" for piano and orchestra with the San Francisco Symphony, under the direction of Pierre Monteux, and was the symphony's guest conductor in March 1953.

Some typical compositions included three Cuban folk songs for mixed chorus, 12 Catalonian folk songs for soprano and piano, and "Eight Variations on a Theme by Gaspar Sanz" for orchestra. But Nin-Rosenkrantz said that as he matured, his musical themes shifted from a regional flavor to the religious. He was commissioned by France to write music for the organ and composed "Symphony of Mysteries" for organ and choir.

St. Mary's Cathedral in San Francisco commissioned Nin-Culmell to compose music for its dedication Mass in 1971.

Nin-Culmell's career took him to concerts in France, Italy, England, Switzerland, Cuba, Spain and Denmark.

After Nin-Culmell's retirement in 1974, Dugger said, he continued to compose and play music and mentored many young pianists in the area, "essentially giving them free lessons."

He was a member of the International Society for Contemporary Music and the Composers' Forum and was elected to the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando in Madrid, as was his pianist father, Joaquin Nin. He also was elected to the Academy of Fine Arts of Sant Jordi in Barcelona and to the French Legion of Honor.

Three years ago, while Nin-Culmell was in Spain working on a cast for an opera he had written, he suffered a stroke, Dugger said. The event affected his eyesight and caused Nin-Culmell to cut back on his musical composition and playing.

Survivors include his niece, a nephew, Charles Thorvald Nin of Mexico City, and their children and grandchildren.

A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m., Thursday, Jan. 22, at St. Albert Priory, 6172 Chabot Rd., Oakland. Contributions can be sent to St. Albert Priory, 5890 Birch Rd., Oakland, 94618.

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