Harvard mourns a classical voice

Harvard mourns a classical voice


norman lebrecht

November 14, 2020

David Elliott, the voice of Harvard’s radio station WHRB for 58 years, has died at 78.



  • Joel Lazar says:

    A stalwart and balanced voice for classical music in the Boston area for ages. And a dear friend, although our contacts were often widely spaced.

  • MacroV says:

    I studied in Boston in the mid-1990s and I totally fell in love with WHRB. Most announcers seemed to be Harvard undergrads who routinely butchered names – often hilariously – but I couldn’t have cared less, as the programming was great: Shows like “The 20th century string quartet,” or “orgies” during finals weeks (e.g. all Bruckner symphonies in all editions, or “A Weekend with the Viola.”). David Elliott was the one adult in the room who popped up periodically – and the one piece I’ll always remember him introducing me to was Willem Pijper’s “Merlijn.” I haven’t listened to WHRB in a while- I don’t know why since it’s available online – but despite the wretched announcers other than Mr. Elliott, it had the best programming. I think I saw him (or heard his unmistakable voice) once at Tanglewood; wasn’t quick enough to go say hello. RIP.

    • Greg says:

      Yes! I well remember the Mahler Orgies when I was student in Boston in the 80s. A group of us would bail on classes that day to listen to the cycle while enjoying pizza and beer. One of our music history professors actually gave us a bit of extra credit for sitting through the whole thing. RIP, Mr. Elliott.

  • Firing Back says:

    A kind, generous, encouraging and learned man. He will be greatly missed. RIP.


  • Jack Heller says:

    His historical opera excerpt programs after the Met broadcasts were outstanding He is missed by me

  • Christopher Purdy says:

    He was a kind and generous man and very, very knowledgeable.
    His love for music was evident over the airwaves.
    God bless him.

  • Sixtus says:

    He was a knowledgeable and gracious mentor to me when in ‘comped’ (tried out for a position) in engineering and classical music programming/announcing as a Harvard freshman in the mid 70s. Even at that time he was already, justifiably, a legend at WHRB. I recall him being a stickler for the pronunciation of composer names, and work titles, as they would be pronounced in their native languages.

  • Mather Pfeiffenberger says:

    David Elliott mentored me in the 1970s as well as hundreds of other Harvard-Radcliffe undergraduates during his 58 years at WHRB. His deep musical knowledge, high standards, and careful preparation in his programs were truly inspiring and his commitment to excellence is something I carry with me to this day. He introduced me to historic recordings by such greats as Willem Mengelberg, Artur Nikisch, Frederic Lamond, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Aksel Schiøtz, and Elisabeth Schumann, whom I, coming from a small Illinois town, would have never encountered otherwise.

    He made it possible for me to attend two tapings at WGBH of Leonard Bernstein’s Unanswered Question lectures in fall 1973, and to interview Aaron Copland at Harvard in fall 1977 as well as Harvard professor and composer Leon Kirchner on Scheonberg and Stravinsky in January 1978.

    Note this as well: https://www.therestisnoise.com/2020/11/for-david-elliott.html

    David Elliott truly changed my life and I cannot begin to express my gratitude to him. R.I.P., dear friend.

  • Arthur Lavin says:

    I was deeply fortunate to study with David Elliott from 1972-1975 while an undergrad at Harvard. David remains one of the great mentors of my life, introducing all of us to the love of music, the magic of the power of one note performed to its greatest impact, and love of life. In a world dominated by pursuit of a dollar but not of a value, David stood out as someone devoted to something of immense value, the world of great music, and how it informs and can elevate an entire life. Teaching music as music should be taught, not in a course, but in real life, listening to vast quantities, measuring performance and composition efficacy in your heart and mind, over countless hours, synthesizing what you learned in a program to be broadcast, so your thoughts and feelings go public, David invited thousands of students to the life of classical music over a 60 year span. But here’s the amazing part, he never spent a day not learning. He studied and loved music intensely for decades, and every day he learned more, which meant after some time, he was a true powerhouse of knowledge, wisdom, and depth that were staggering.

    You know competence when you observe someone has so much of it, they can relax and enjoy the field. And that’s when learning is at its best, when surrounded by acres of knowledge and wisdom, shared by a master who has mastered the field enough they can take real pleasure in learning and teaching.

    Take a look at these tributes, and who is making them. David’s commitment to the love of music touched people at their deepest core, changed lives, and changed millions of lives as these students became masters who shared this love of music with millions.

    Lastly, as an announcer at WHRB, at least in the ’70’s, we did an outstanding job studying proper pronunciation, it was a very high priority. So it cannot be left to the record that WHRB student announcing was inadequate. David led the way to teach us proper announcing and did a great job!

    So let us all take a moment to say thank you to David Elliott, a person whose devotion to his craft was total, and whose impact monumental, with great love and appreciation.

  • William Chapman says:

    David Elliot was a great supporter of Opera Boston and of the musical life of Boston. He will be sorely missed.

  • Mather Pfeiffenberger says:

    Here is The Boston Globe obituary for David Elliott, written by their classical music critic Jeremy Eichler: https://www.bostonglobe.com/2020/11/18/metro/david-elliott-extraordinarily-selfless-leader-harvards-whrb-fm-dies-78/?p1=StaffPage

  • Mather Pfeiffenberger says:

    The Harvard Crimson has posted an obituary for David Elliott: https://www.thecrimson.com/article/2020/11/24/david-elliott-obituary/

  • Mather Pfeiffenberger says:

    Harvard’s radio station, WHRB, will stream a memorial broadcast for David this Thursday 24 December 2020 from 8 am – 6 pm US EST. More details here: https://www.whrb.org/archive/david-elliott-memorial-orgy-schedule-and-details