Donald Martin Jenni passed away June 21, 2006 of mestastatic bone cancer. He was 68 years of age. Born October 4, 1937 to Katja Malkova (Catherine Malek) and Francois (Frank) Jenni, in Milwaukee WI, he lived there throughout his primary and secondary education. At 17 he moved to Chicago, where he took a Bachelor's degree in music at DePaul University and a Master's in Humanities (medieval studies) at the University of Chicago. He completed his doctorate (music composition) at Stanford University in 1966, returning to Chicago in the position of Assistant Professor of music theory, history, and composition at DePaul, where he remained until invited to join the faculty of The University of Iowa (Iowa City) School of Music in 1968, as Associate Professor of composition and theory. He was promoted to the rank of Full Professor 6 years later and taught at Iowa until his early retirement in 1999.
Jenni played the piano from very early on and began to compose music in his childhood. Before graduating from high school in 1954 he had published several works for the piano, voice, brass ensemble, and orchestra. Several of these won national awards. By the time of joining the Iowa faculty, Jenni's music had begun to be published by the American Composers Alliance. At Iowa, Jenni composed many compositions for performance by the school's Center for New Music as well as other performing groups. In 1974 he signed a contract with Associated Music Publishers.
His interest in the Western Middle Ages specialized in the fields of medieval music, both secular and Gregorian, and in the study and practice of Western monasticism. His annotated translation of the 13th-c. abbot Ogier of Locedio was released this year by Cistercian Publications. Since 1996 a claustral oblate of the Benedictine monastery of Christ in the Desert (Chama, NM), he composed an English chant office for that community. Upon retirement from Iowa in 1999, he moved to Chama to become the monastery's choirmaster.
Born into a polyglot family--his father was born in Paris and raised in Switzerland, his mother's family were immigrants from Hungary and the Czech Republic--he grew up in a family that spoke French, German, Swiss, Danish, Slovak, and Hungarian. With this foundation he acquired knowledge of some dozen languages, and he traveled extensively to practice them.
In the 1990s he began to do research in South Indian Classical music, attending the Karnatic music festival in Madras (Chennai) annually. During his last semester at Iowa he offered a course in that musical tradition that was cosponsored by the departments of music and Asian Studies.
In 2002 he moved to New Orleans and took up residence in The Carol Condominium in the Lower Garden District. He quickly became an enthusiastic Orleanian.
Never married, he became in 1996 the legal guardian of a Gambian (West African) youth whom he had been sponsoring through the Christian Children's Fund. He brought Sulayman Sambou to Iowa and enrolled him at Regina High School. Upon completion in 1999, Sulayman entered Mount Saint Clare College, and, in 2003, earned the MSW at the Jane Addams College of Social Work at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Sulayman married Aleshia Thoene of rural Illinois in New Orleans in 2004, and the couple moved here a year later.
The Center for New Music at the University of Iowa in Iowa City will mount a special memorial concert of Jenni's music on Sunday, September 24, 2006 at 8:00 pm in Clapp Recital Hall. See http://www.uiowa.edu/cnm for more information.