Twin Cities-based composer and pianist Hiram Titus lived mostly in his imagination.
“His tire may need air and his oil may be low, but he wouldn’t notice those things,” said his brother, classical guitarist Anthony Titus. “But give him an idea for a piece of music, and he would be fully there.”
Titus, 66, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease, died Monday at Fairview Southdale Hospital after suffering cardiac arrest.
He left a legacy of music, including scores for “A Christmas Carol” at the Guthrie Theater and “The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins” at Children’s Theatre Company. He composed for TV movies such as “Alice in Wonderland” and “Puss in Boots” and for the 1987 film “The Little Mermaid.” He also created operas.
“Hiram had an unbelievable ear, extraordinary sensibility and a daunting breadth of imagination,” said Children’s Theatre artistic director Peter Brosius, who worked with Titus on Dr. Seuss’ “The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins,” which toured Japan. Brosius called it “a Seussian masterwork that requires originality, heart and sophisticated humor to work. He matched that.”
Playwright Barbara Field first worked with Titus in 1974, when she adapted “A Christmas Carol.” Titus’ compositions were used in that show for more than a decade. The two became frequent collaborators, creating “Jack,” a musical based on “Jack and the Beanstalk,” “Rosina,” an opera based on characters from “The Barber of Seville” and “The Marriage of Figaro,” and the musical “Skinflint,” based on Moliere’s “The Miser.”
On Saturday, she had dropped off a script at Titus’ Minneapolis home for their latest project, a successor to “Rosina.”
“Hiram had a great sense of the theatrical power of music, its timing and ironies,” she said. “It’s a devastating loss.”
Hiram Edson Titus Jr. was born in Minneapolis. His father was a portrait painter and his mother, Madeleine, was a music teacher whose career included stints at Macalester College and the MacPhail Center for Music.
At 12, he studied piano with Dominick Argento, the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, and at 14, he was a soloist with the Minneapolis Symphony (now the Minnesota Orchestra). He won a Van Cliburn Scholarship to the National Music Camp in Interlochen, Mich.
Two years later, he moved to Chicago to follow music teacher Guy Duckworth, a University of Minnesota professor who had transferred to the University of Chicago.
After graduating from Oberlin College, he became composer-in-residence at the Children’s Theatre.
“He was trained as a concert pianist but realized that improvisation was more creative,” his brother said. “He felt that improvisation gave him more latitude.”
Besides his brother, survivors include his sister-in-law, Kay Titus, a nurse at Fairview Southdale who was on call the morning he died, and nephews Christopher Paul Titus of Miyagi, Japan, Adam Joseph Titus of Eagan and John Anthony “Jack” Titus of Moorhead, Minn.
Services are pending.
“Hiram was very modest about his talent,” said Philip Brunelle, founder of the choral group VocalEssence, who worked with Titus on “Rosina” and other pieces. “But he was certainly an important gift to the Twin Cities and beyond.”