Richard Taruskin was classical music’s most imposing intellectual


This work grew and grew and grew, as Richard reveled in the opportunity to say his “two cents on everything”. Finally published in six volumes by Oxford University Press in 2005 as “The Oxford History of Western Music”, it is an endlessly informative, often opinionated serial – all 4,272 pages of it .

Well, no, maybe not all of them. The sixth volume of “Le Buffle”, as the volumes are now known, consists of a chronology, a bibliography and an index of 146 pages in small print: pure boredom to deal with. Clearly, “The Ox” would not be the svelte textbook Richard might have imagined – though he continued to compress it, in collaboration with music historian Christopher H. Gibbs, to produce a “college edition “, at just 1,212 pages.

After his time at Lang, Richard fell under the wing of Joseph Kerman, “the second most famous musicologist of the time”, as he called him, who oversaw the launch of a new journal, 19th-Century Music. , which became what Richard called his “scholarly home” for a time. In 1987 he joined Kerman as an associate professor at the University of California, Berkeley, where he remained (emeritus since 2014) until his death.

In addition to academic pursuits, Richard began to write more popularly for the short-lived Opus, The New Republic, and The Times, developing a reputation as an American public musicologist, a role in which he gloried. Kyoto prices in Japan in 2017 for his contributions to the arts and philosophy, he said of his work to The Times: “I found it enjoyable to write about music in relation to what is always the primary concern of any newspaper , namely social and political issues. He also enjoyed having “access to the widest audience an American classical music writer could ever dream of having.”

The international recognition Richard got was well deserved and wonderful, but for me it doesn’t overshadow some of my favorite memories of him as a young artist in New York. Whenever I hear the viola da gamba solos from Bach’s Passions played politely and softly, as they so often are, I yearn to hear Richard, whose playing of gamba had the same courage, courage and same flair as his writing.

Fortunately, he lives in my mind’s ear.


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