Rob Morsberger was a musician of rare talent, writing and performing catchy, literate, eclectic and impeccably-crafted songs standing comparison to the very best of singer/songwriters. He was also a dear friend from Edinburgh University days, much loved and admired by many over his 53 years and very much in all our thoughts right now.
Some things we shared all those years ago still seem as clear as if they were yesterday. It was Rob who first brought Paul Simon without Art Garfunkel to my attention, and the early Simon solo work first heard in Rob’s Edinburgh flat that I still love best of all Simon’s output. I’ve no idea how many times I’ve played the tape of Randombach 3, an early dance score commission where Rob met the task of matching the rhythms of existing Bach movements with true style (shades of neo-classical Stravinsky and American minimalism but still above all Morsberger!) and recorded with Dick Lee and Will Schofield. While I recall him being justly proud of the first two movements, he seemed less satisfied with the concluding third (which he’d had to get finished comparatively quickly), but yet its lighter character with cheery clarinet theme for Dick still strikes me today as a fitting foil to what precedes it. And who could forget the gigs with Steve Kettley, with a Music Faculty concert of 8 December 1983 producing the uncomprehending Scotsman review comment ‘Steven Kettley and Rob Mossberger [sic] made improvisations for saxophone and piano, a form of dexterous doodling which is best listened to in small doses’ (but I could have listened to all night and think Rob, despite being a little perplexed and hurt by that bizarre assessment, might now find it funny in retrospect!). But, above all, my abiding memory of Rob back then has to be the camping trip we made to Glen Finnan in 1984 where we retreated unceremoniously after the ‘Night of the Midge’ (well, not just one midge!) to my aunt’s house at Spean Bridge…
While we didn’t see each other for many years after Rob moved to New York, we continued to correspond sporadically by post (remember that?) and I still have his letters, with one starting ‘Dear Ratfink [used affectionately, believe it or not!], I’m trying to do some composing right now, but as it is not really getting anywhere I’m taking a break to write to you instead’ and another (headed ‘ROBERT SECRET PRODUCTIONS’ and starting ‘Dear Pete – Ratfink 1’) announcing the birth of his first-born Ben, who’s now grown up but I’ve never met. And then we sadly drifted out of touch till I found him again (after years of regretful wondering) on Facebook in January 2011. But just months later he was diagnosed with the brain tumour that’s now killed him, responding with true grace and fortitude in a burst of creativity to get projects finished, tackle new ones while he still could and provide for his family.
His farewell Edinburgh concert of 5 December 2012 (at which Steve Kettley also played, Jenni Whiteside sang and I also caught up with the long-lost Antonia) and breakfast meeting with him, Jenni and Barbara the following morning are now treasured memories, and I remain grateful to my employers for letting me go and the snowy roads for staying clear enough to let me to get down from the Highlands for that and back without too much hassle. His songs remain both hugely enjoyable and deeply thought-provoking, with the inspiration behind some being obvious (the Stevenson reference of Modestine striking me on the way home from that trip), Rob having to point me in the right direction for others (my attempts to link ‘Natalia’ and ‘revolution’ having failed to pin down Alexander Herzen for Where is the Song) and some perhaps destined to remain forever mysterious now he’s no longer here to put me right.
So goodbye, Rob, and may your family and many friends take comfort from knowing there are people worldwide thinking of you and yours, with yet more surely about to start discovering your wonderful body of work.