Rensch, Roslyn (1923-2021) | University of Illinois Archives

Name: Rensch, Roslyn (1923-2021)

Historical Note:

Rosyln Maria Rensch (June 12, 1923-November 6, 2021)  was born in Detroit, Michigan. After the Rensch family moved to Evanston, Illinois in 1929, her mother Maria Damm Rensch encouraged her two daughters, Roslyn and Gloria, to learn a musical instrument. Her mother, who had been born into a musical family, was taught to play piano, harp, and cello in her family's band during their concert performances in England in the late 1890s. Maria took her family to musical events in Chicago and after hearing a solo recital by Alberto Salvi, encouranged Rosyln to play harp. Rosyln began studying harp with Salvi soon after. While a high school student, Rosyln performed in weddings, played for local society dinners, and gave solo recitals on the harp at such venues as Chicago's Wurlitzer Building and the Lyon and Healy Building. She graduated from Evanston Township High School in June 1941.

She completed her bachelors degree in harp performance, where she continued her studies with Alberto Salvi, at Northwestern University in 1945. While a student at Northwestern she was an active member of the international music sorority, Sigma Alpha Iota. For six weeks following her graduation, she studied at the Juliard School of Music with Marcel Grandjany. Soon after she began a masters degree in harp performance at Northwestern. While completing her degree, she became the principal harpist for the Chicago Civic Orchestra, a position she would hold for six years. After graduating in 1948, she returned to Juliard to perform in a summer orchestra conducted by Walter Hendl. She published her first book, The Harp, in 1950.

In 1953 she enrolled in Northwestern University's musicology program in order to write a more detailed history of the harp. During her first year as a musicologist, she met Dr. Paul Nettl, Dr. Bruno Nettl's father, who encoraged her to complete her degree at Indiana University. She began her studies in musicology with Dr. Nettl and Dr. Willi Apel in 1954. In 1955, she was invited by Fritz Reiner to perform in the CSO's production of Wagner's Gotterdamerung. In the spring of 1954, she took a faculty position teaching harp at the University of Illinois and transferred to the musicology program at the University of Illinois. Since her research data primarilly consisted of iconographic depictions of the harp, she decided to complete a masters degree in art history at Illinois in 1957. Since the University of Illinois did not offer a PhD program in art history at the time, she transferred once again to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to enroll as a PhD student in art history in 1958. Her dissertation, completed in 1964, entitled "Symbolism and Form of the Harp in Western European Manuscript Illuminations of the Ninth to the Sixteenth Century," was an iconographic and organological account of the history of the harp.

In 1965, she became a faculty member of Idiana State University in Terre Haute. In 1969, she published her second book,The Harp, Its History, Technique, and Repertoire. She was granted tenure in 1970 and served as a professor of harp and art history at Indiana State until 1988. Between 1967 and 1988 she was the principal harpist in the Terre Haute Symphony Orchestra. In 1970, she married Philip H. Erbs, the vice-president of the Wrigley Gum Corporation. Between 1977 and 1980, she served as the vice-president of the American Harp Society and from 1983-1987 she helped establish the World Harp Congress. After retiring in 1988, she moved to St. Simons Island Georgia to live with her sister Gloria.  She passed away in Brooklyn, New York on November 6, 2021.

Sources: Charles W. Lynch III and Ann Yeung, "Roslyn Rensch: The Harpist and the Harp," The American Harp Journal,(Summer 2010): 46-53. Brooklyn, New York obituary (November 6, 2021).
Note Author: Nolan Vallier

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