Music’s Towering Mental, With an Urge for food for Bother
His keeper, not his editor, I used to name myself in affectionate jest — and with monumental delight and respect.
He was a pressure of nature. He was bigger than life. He was one among a form. Select your cliché.
Richard Taruskin, a music historian of towering mind and erudition who delighted in stirring up good hassle, died on Friday at 77. Bodily, he was a bear of a person, and his method, although sometimes heat and upbeat, might often appear gruff and untamed. He suffered fools under no circumstances. He rode herd on the musicological and important communities, sending unsolicited — certainly, dreaded — postcards to colleagues with capsule critiques, noting errors or inanities, usually scathingly.
But he was a pleasure to work with. His writing was good, profound, fashionable and witty, scarcely in want of enhancing, aside from size. He by no means bored with attempting to suit, say, a 2,500-word peg right into a 1,500-word gap. That was not a lot an issue at Opus, the small, free-form document journal the place I began working with him, within the mid-Eighties. But it surely turned a severe subject a number of years later, at our subsequent cease, the Arts & Leisure part of The New York Occasions, with its hard-and-fast house limitations. Richard’s glowing prose was not one thing you — or he — ever wished to chop wholesale.
However even this proved unproblematic. We might tighten a bit sentence by sentence, phrase by phrase, and Richard welcomed ideas. He ultimately took the method as a problem, a puzzle that we’d resolve collectively.
His was essentially the most nimble and retentive thoughts I’ve ever labored with carefully over time. It was nearly scary to listen to him quote from reminiscence a paragraph of one thing he had learn a decade or two earlier than just about verbatim. And he appeared to have learn all the things.
It got here as a specific jolt just lately to listen to that what Richard was dying of was most cancers of the esophagus. With out of the blue renewed pressure, I recalled the circumstances of our early work collectively, at Opus. That began whereas he was writing his first outsized e book, “Stravinsky and the Russian Traditions,” which in 1996 in the end weighed in at two volumes and 1,757 pages. Richard would work on Stravinsky for 3 or 4 weeks, then take per week off between chapters and write for Opus. In a type of breaks, he would possibly produce six or seven 500-word CD opinions, a 1,000-word suppose piece, two 2,500-word essays and a 4,000- or 5,000-word blowout. They arrived in a fats manila envelope, which, when opened, reeked of cigar smoke. (Cigars are mentioned to be a threat issue for esophageal most cancers.)
Cigars, it occurs, have been one thing of an odd leitmotif in Richard’s biography. The story was advised — vividly, by Peter Kang in Columbia School Right now in 2005 — that Richard, as a younger pup at Columbia College in 1961, noticed a distinguished-looking man enter the music library with a lighted cigar and knowledgeable him that smoking was not permitted there. “When the person left,” Kang wrote, “the library employees shortly advised Taruskin that the smoker he had simply admonished was world-renowned musicologist and professor Paul Henry Lang.”
And therein lies one other, bigger story. Richard went on to earn his Ph.D. at Columbia below Lang’s tutelage, writing about Russian opera within the 1860s, a subject that led to a number of of his many books of essays. Nor was it misplaced on Richard that Lang’s magnum opus, “Music in Western Civilization,” from 1941, remained in vast use as a textbook at Columbia and elsewhere. Emulating his mentor with an eye fixed towards producing a textbook, Richard launched into a magnum opus of his personal in 1991.
That work grew and grew and grew, as Richard reveled within the alternative to say his “two cents’ value about all the things.” Lastly revealed in six volumes by Oxford College Press in 2005 as “The Oxford Historical past of Western Music,” it’s an endlessly informative, usually opinionated page-turner — all 4,272 pages of it.
Effectively, no, maybe not all. The sixth quantity of “The Ox,” because the tomes have come to be identified, consists of a chronology, a bibliography and a 146-page small-type index. Sheer tedium to cope with, however in his mania to get issues proper, Richard insisted on compiling it himself.
So clearly, “The Ox” wouldn’t be the svelte textbook Richard might have envisioned — although he went on to compress it, in collaboration with the music historian Christopher H. Gibbs, to supply a “faculty version,” at a mere 1,212 pages.
After his time with Lang, Richard fell below the wing of Joseph Kerman, “the second-most- well-known musicologist of these days,” as he known as him, who was overseeing the start-up of a brand new journal, Nineteenth-Century Music, which turned what Richard known as his “scholarly house” for a time. In 1987, he joined Kerman as a fellow professor on the College of California, Berkeley, the place he remained (emeritus since 2014) till his dying.
Along with tutorial pursuits, Richard started to put in writing extra popularly for the short-lived Opus, The New Republic and The Occasions, growing a repute as America’s public musicologist, a job he gloried in. On receiving the Kyoto Prize in Japan in 2017 for his contributions to the humanities and philosophy, he mentioned of his Occasions work, “I discovered it congenial to put in writing about music in relation to what are all the time the first issues of any newspaper, that’s, social and political points.” He additionally cherished having “entry to the most important viewers a author on classical music in America might ever dream of getting.”
The worldwide acclaim that Richard achieved was all merited and fantastic, however for me it doesn’t eclipse a few of my favourite reminiscences of him, as a youngish performer in New York. Each time I hear the viola da gamba solos within the Bach Passions performed politely and limply, as they so usually are, I yearn to listen to Richard, whose gamba enjoying had the identical grit and guts and aptitude as his writing.
Luckily, he lives on in my thoughts’s ear.
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