David Britton; Music Teacher and Concert Organist


David Britton, a concert and church organist who taught music at Caltech, has died. He was 50.

Britton died of AIDS on Tuesday at his home in Altadena, the Caltech Division of Humanities and Social Sciences announced Friday.

He had been a fixture in the Southern California musical community for more than two decades.


“He is tellingly musical,” Times critic Walter Arlen wrote of Britton’s local debut in 1970. “He knows how to put together an interesting program and disposes of it with taste, facility and aplomb.”

Educated at the Eastman School of Music and the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, Britton came to Los Angeles originally to teach at Loyola Marymount University. He taught and performed at Caltech from 1977 until last year.

At Loyola Marymount, Britton proved able to work within a stringent budget, supervising the building of a harpsichord from a kit.

“We needed a harpsichord,” he said of the instrument, a forerunner to the piano, “but the demand wasn’t large enough to justify the school’s spending $2,000 for one.”

So the school spent $650 for the kit, and Britton and his students put it together.

A recording artist under contract to Delos Records, Britton had served as organist and minister of music at the Corpus Christi Church in Pacific Palisades since 1986.

His recordings include “Masterworks for Organ by Grunenwald and Langlais” in 1978; “Virtuoso Baroque Organ Toccatas” in 1980; a selection of Bach in 1985; “Gargoyles and Chimeras” in 1987, and “Organo Deco” in 1990.


In addition to his work at Loyola Marymount, Britton had taught at Whittier College, Cal State Northridge and Mount St. Mary’s College, where he had been artist in residence since 1980.

Before his arrival in Southern California, Britton taught organ performance, history and design for two years at the Capital University Conservatory of Music in Columbus, Ohio. He also served as organist for several churches.

Britton is survived by his longtime companion, Fred Staley.

Memorial services will be scheduled at Caltech at a date to be announced.