Richard Trythall (1967 Fellow, 1971 Resident), a composer and pianist who was an important figure in the American Academy in Rome’s musical history, died on December 21, 2022, at the age of 83. Trythall came to Italy for his three-year Rome Prize Fellowship in 1964 and was connected to the Academy in some capacity ever since. He was the music liaison for several decades, starting in 1970, overseeing public programming before the Arts Director position was created in 1996. Trythall also served as an inaugural Advisor between 2010 and 2016, when that program began twelve years ago.
Trythall was a Fellow during an interesting time for the music scene in Rome. An early portable synthesizer—the Syn-ket, or Synthesiser-Ketoff, named for its inventor Paolo Ketoff—was constructed and played at AAR when he was a Fellow. (The Academy celebrated the anniversary of that moment in 2015). Martin Brody, a composer, 2002 Resident, and Andrew Heiskell Arts Director from 2007 to 2010, worked with Trythall on a ten-year-long series of residencies and concerts with the Scharoun Ensemble of the Berlin Philharmonic, which concluded in 2018. The two also worked on Music and Musical Composition at the American Academy in Rome (2014), a book edited by Brody that included Trythall’s essay “A History of the Rome Prize in Music Composition, 1947–2006.”
Born in Knoxville, Trythall received a bachelor of music at the University of Tennessee in 1961 before earning an MFA from Princeton University two years later, aided by a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship. He also studied at the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin under a Fulbright-Hays Fellowship (1963–64). During his third year at the Academy, Trythall began teaching music at St. Stephen’s, a private American high school in Rome. He founded the school’s instrumental program and directed the St. Stephen’s School chorus. He also taught twentieth-century music theory at New York University’s campus near Florence.
Trythall completed many commissions for compositions, including those from the Fromm Music Foundation, the Dorian Woodwind Quintet, and the Gruppo Percussione Ricerca. For his efforts he won a Guggenheim Fellowship (1967–68). As a concert pianist, Trythall won first prize in the Kranichsteiner Competition for Interpreters of Contemporary Piano Music, held in Darmstadt, Germany, in 1969. He also accepted the Naumburg Recording Award in 1973.
Trythall performed and recorded for over fifty years. His works for orchestra, smaller ensembles, solo piano, and magnetic tape were heard across Europe and the United States. The Ballet Company of the Municipal Theater of São Paulo staged his percussion work Bolero, as did ballet companies in Italy, South Africa, and the US. Records and compact discs containing his compositions and performances can be found on numerous labels, including Atopos, Centaur, Composers Recordings Inc., Decca, Minstrel, Musicaimmagine, ReR Records, and Thorofon. Trythall often played solo piano with the Rome Radio Orchestra. These concerts emphasized twentieth-century American music—works by Charles Ives, George Gershwin, Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, Scott Joplin, Jelly Roll Morton, and more—alongside his own compositions.
In 1995 he organized and presented a week-long American Country Music festival that took place at Rome’s Palazzo delle Esposizioni. In 2000 he was artistic director of the Euro-America Festival held in Acquasanta Terme (near Marche, Italy). An active educator, Trythall was a faculty member at the State University of New York at Buffalo (as a creative associate with the Evenings for New Music ensemble, 1972–73), the University of California, Davis (1976), St. Mary’s College in Rome (1995–98), the University of California Center in Rome (2005), and the New York University program at Florence (2008–10). He was also the long-term chair of the Arts Department of St. Stephen’s School, where he had taught since 1966.
The staff of the American Academy express our deep sorrow at Richard Trythall’s passing, and our gratitude for his lasting contributions to music at AAR.