William Mayer, Wide-Ranging Composer, Is Dead at 91

Mr. Mayer also had to his credit a number of works for children. Perhaps the best known is “Hello, World!,” a musical tour of the world with text by Susan Otto in which voyagers learn how to say “Hello” in an assortment of languages. On a 1959 RCA Victor recording by the Little Orchestra Society, the narration was provided by a voice familiar to millions of radio listeners. The reader was Eleanor Roosevelt.

William Mayer: HELLO, WORLD! (Eleanor Roosevelt et al.) Video by noochinator2

William Robert Mayer was born on Nov. 18, 1925, in Manhattan. His father, John, worked in finance but was also an amateur violinist. His mother, the former Dorothy Ehrich, a writer, died when he was 11.

At 15 he attended the Taft School in Connecticut, and in 1944 he entered Yale. He finished two semesters before being drafted into the Army, eventually receiving counterintelligence training and serving in American-occupied Japan.

After his military service he returned to Yale and graduated in 1948 with a history degree. He then embarked on a different path, enrolling at the Mannes College of Music, where his teachers included the music theorist Felix Salzer and the composer Roger Sessions.

Mr. Mayer’s early output was quite a mixture. It included many of his works for children, among them “Bongo and His Baboon Drum,” another setting of text by Ms. Otto, which told the story of a boy whose drum is swallowed by a baboon. Burl Ives recorded it in 1954, releasing it as a 78 r.p.m. record, and included it on his children’s album “Capt. Burl Ives’ Ark.”

Mr. Mayer also experimented with musical-theater-style songs. Some of these were performed more than three decades later in Manhattan at a Merkin Concert Hall celebration of Mr. Mayer’s 60th birthday, prompting John Rockwell to write in The Times, “One wondered whether Mr. Mayer might not have made an even greater success had he turned in Stephen Sondheim’s direction, way back then.”

His more serious compositions were also drawing attention and soon dominated his résumé. In 1960, Eric Salzman, then a music critic for The Times and soon to become a noted composer in his own right, reviewed a Carnegie Hall concert in which Mr. Mayer’s “Piano Sonata,” he wrote, was “by far the most striking and inventive piece on the program, with its interesting chromatic textures, carefully shaped harmonic sounds and rhythmic variety.” (Mr. Salzman died on Nov. 12.)



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