John Daverio
Scolarship Fund
Celebrating the life of John Daverio
John Silber | Dennis Berkey | Theodore Antoniou | Lewis Lockwood | Roman Totenberg | Joel Sheveloff | Effie Papanikolaou | David Daverio
John Joseph Daverio believed in balance, logic, dignity and free-and-open discussion; for him to end in such uncertainty defies credibility. His warmth, kindness, and understanding of the needs of all who dealt with him attained legendary status; for him to have an enemy who would do him in seems equally incredible. And accidents happen to other people, not to musicologists. How can we accept and adjust to what has happened? I still pick up my office phone to call him and ask for advice -- and then I remember. The big emptiness may fade, but it will never go completely away.

If these few words include a song lyric quotation like "I'm going down the road feeling bad," or "it's the laughter we will remember when we remember the way we were," I beg your forgiveness. But you see, for more than a quarter of a century, John and I discussed issues, shared intimacies, and otherwise interacted by employing strategically placed song lines in our dialogue. We both enjoyed finding relevant lines --this game belonged to the two of us; nobody else would be around when we played. The culminating example: he recently presented me with a copy of, alas, his final monograph: CROSSING PATHS, the mutual production of Schubert, Schumann and Brahms, that he inscribed: For Joel, with much thanks for fine teaching and scholarship, not to mention collegiality and friendship; who could ask for anything more? to which I replied orally with a Verlaine line from a Reynaldo Hahn song. He instantly quipped "If you continue to pronounce French like that, I advise you never to visit France." He always gave me excellent advice, phrased like Forrest Gump's mother. My Bronx French contrasted starkly with his deep, mellifluous Hochdeutsch, which he employed to deliver lines from Schumann, Brahms or Wolf songs -- though by far the majority came from high art or popular American examples. John loved delivering the most appropriate line with that fleeting smile of satisfaction just beneath his mustache that meant he was one up on me.

I met and did not meet John in 1973 when he took the third semester of my survey course in music history, taught to 173 people in the old SFA concert hall. Amidst that throng, I did not become aware of his existence, but my grade book records that he received A on every examination and assignment except for one, for which he earned A+! My colleague Murray Lefkowitz got to know him before I did, as they played early music together in Murray's Collegium Musicum on Tuesday evenings, and sometimes in consorts that Murray organized in his Brookline home. In the subsequent semester, I finally learned to equate his name and face. Of all the undergraduates I ever knew, only he remained completely undaunted by every task we set him. His senior paper not only reached real brilliance, but it taught me a great deal about its subject. "Can it be that it was all so simple then, or has time rewritten every line?"

His first seminar paper as a Masters student turned out to be a spectacular disaster; his command of the subject could not be gainsaid, but he tried for theatrical effectiveness by imitating, even aping MY style, complete with gestures and wisecracks. Roars of laughter from other students revealed the totality of his miscalculation. He never made that mistake again, but allowed his own, honest, forthright, straightforward personality to accompany his presentations from then on. Of course, his second paper also turned out disastrously. I had chosen these subjects to stimulate discussion, but John so totally covered every aspect of the material that afterward the class sat in open-mouthed awe. No discussion!! I recall scolding him for that; "John, I expect these papers to maintain a high standard, but I resent them being perfect." I can still see that satisfied grin of his -- a look I would come to know well during his doctoral career, and onward when, to my amazement, he became a colleague. I had told him that President Silber, to avoid inbreeding, would never hire a Boston University Ph. D. to teach here. He laughed uncontrollably, for he already held his first contract in his hands.

His doctoral dissertation about the 17th-century Italian Trio Sonata, and his inaugural article based on it in Acta Musicologica revolutionized the study of about three generations of composers between Salomone Rossi and Arcangelo Corelli. Hardly had the ink dried on his diploma before John abandoned that subject, turning instead to 19th-century Germany. I advised John against this because so much remained to be cleared up in 17th-century Italian instrumental music. "Maybe later," he retorted.

Within five years, he had become the world-class authority on the music of Robert Schumann and related ancillary issues. John's quietly delivered insights into the music of the late Schumann, commonly thought to have been so mentally unbalanced that he had lost the acuity to compose, not only revived scholarly interest in these works, but led several performers to resuscitate them with signal success. He single-handedly turned a mountain of common wisdom into a pile of useless dust. I will never achieve anything remotely as important as that if I live to be a hundred and stay cogent for another thirty years. But neither I nor any in our circle felt jealousy for John's accomplishment, because his direct simplicity, as some prophet says, "turneth away wrath and envy."

I came to know the fullness of both his teaching prowess and his diplomatic skill one unusual semester when I received an extraordinary opportunity to teach the Romantic Era Seminar to only one student who signed up for it, a lovely blonde named Lisa. We all learned a great deal -- the shy Lisa, her husband who occasionally visited, and the two of us. Our friendship blossomed most fully that term and Lisa and her husband's marriage and subsequent careers benefited from the experience -- as they would remind both of us in Christmas cards sent year after year.

Last fall John and I ate lunch together one Wednesday in the faculty dining room, and I suggested we switch upcoming one-o-clock classes. "You are teaching bibliography while I am dealing with Schumann in my undergraduate survey. I feel silly teaching that composer with his authority just fifty feet away. What are you covering in today's class?" When he told me, I went "ECH!" and decided to deal with Schumann after all. In class I quickly covered early biographical data and got started on the opus 1 ABEGG Variations, treating the theme's A-Bb-E-G-G shape while admitting that I had forgotten who Abegg had been, when John burst through the door; "You forget everything I teach you," he asserted. Then he explained who Abegg was, turned, and as suddenly as he broke in, departed. I cannot begin to describe the class's tumultuous reaction, but it took me awhile to regain control. Neither can I adequately describe the brightness in his eyes as he pulled that stunt. It will remain one of my most vivid memories of him, though we tweaked each other in a similar vein quite often.

Long ago, circumstances forced me to bring my little daughter to school on occasion, at which time John took her to breakfast or lunch or both, treating her like a princess -- she has always loved him, and thirty years afterward recalls his kindness very well. My wife and children revere John more than they can say, and he has come to mean more to me than anyone except for my family. At the same time, as tales by Unamuno, Somerset Maugham and Eudors Welty constantly remind us, we never really know anyone else; inside John's skin lie whole universes of untold secrets.

So many incidents of these last years have become telescoped in my alleged mind that I want to retell but lack time here and now. Love for music tied John to me, and our mutual love and respect for our students kept us going in hard times. He made the department workable, made academe bearable, and very often made all of life beautiful. I thus close with the lyric of a 1929 song with music by Vincent Youmans that John and I both admired, put into the mouth of a poor Black share-cropper; it best describes how much he loved us all, and how much all of us will miss him:

Without a song, the day would never end;
without a song, the road would never bend;
when things go wrong, a man ain't got a friend,
without a song.
That field of corn would never see a plow,
that field of corn would be deserted now,
we all get born, but ain't no good no how,
without a song.
I got trouble and woe,
but sure as I know,
that the Jordan will roll,
I'll get along -- so long as the song
is strong in my soul.
I'll never know what makes the rain to fall,
I'll never know what makes the grass so tall,
I only know there ain't no love at all,
no love, no life, no nothing,
without a song.

— Joel Sheveloff

Boston University
14 October, 2003