Thomas Rajna is gone but his music remains

Dr Thomas Rajna.

Acclaimed Claremont composer, Dr Thomas Rajna, has died at the age of 92, but his music will live on through the ages.

His death on Friday July 16, at Vincent Pallotti hospital, followed a fall the day before in which he broke his hip and femur, according to his wife, Ann.

“He was busy at the kitchen making a snack, then I heard a big bang, and then when I got to the kitchen he was on the floor.”

He had suffered several health setbacks recently and had been going deaf but had continued to compose and play music on his piano, she said.

“He could hardly move around, though when he played the piano, he came alive, and when Daniel, our son, came to visit he would give him a small concert in the house,” she said.

Dr Rajna’s love for music had its roots in Budapest, Hungary, where he was born. As a boy, he was taught piano by Livia “Lili” Simon, who herself had been trained by the Hungarian composer Béla Bartók.

He studied at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest, where he won the Liszt Prize in 1947.

He later settled in London and studied at the Royal College of Music.

He performed at the Royal Albert Hall under conductors Carlo Maria Giulini, Colin Davis and John Pritchard, also becoming a frequent broadcaster at the BBC. In 1963, he was appointed as Professor of Piano at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

He made several commercial recordings over the years, including the complete piano solo works of Igor Stravinsky, the piano part of Stravinsky’s Petrushka with the New Philharmonia under Erich Leinsdorf, and Béla Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta with Sir Georg Solti and the London Symphony Orchestra. In 1994, he completed Video Games for Orchestra and his opera, Amarantha. His other works include Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra, Suite for Violin and Harp, Tarantulla and Valley Song, an opera based on the play by Athol Fugard.

Dr Rajna and his family moved to Cape Town in 1970 after being recruited by the late Lamar Crowson, the head of the SA College of Music at UCT at the time.

He taught music at UCT and performed at the Baxter and Artscape theatres and the Cape Town City Hall (“Acclaimed composer, teacher turns 90,” Southern Suburbs Tatler, December 20, 2018).

Louis Heyneman, the CEO of the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra (CTPO), said Dr Rajna had been a brilliant musician.

“When he turned 80, the CTPO had a concert in his honour at the Artscape where he played his own piano concerto compositions,” he said.

Mr Heyneman, himself a piano player, said he and Dr Rajna had always had interesting discussions about music.

Dr Rajna is survived by his wife, Ann, a son, Daniel, daughters Jessica and Trilby, and two grandchildren, Finn, 14, and Felix, 2. His son, David, died in 1996.

Ms Rajna said Daniel was organising a concert in memory of his father.

She described her husband as an amazing man. “He really just did his own thing when it came to music.”