John Daverio
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Celebrating the life of John Daverio
Remembrances
John Silber | Dennis Berkey | Theodore Antoniou | Lewis Lockwood | Roman Totenberg | Joel Sheveloff | Effie Papanikolaou | David Daverio
 
I hardly know where to begin, let alone to end. The shock and bewilderment of John’s disappearance in mid-March gave way to grief and pain when the certain news of his death arrived a month later. As I try to take the measure of this very difficult passage I know that I join with many, many others to whom John was a friend, colleague, and fellow musician. His death has given all of us—even if we were not in close touch before—a sense of sharing a profound loss that will never be entirely healed.

Others will speak about John as teacher and university colleague. I want to talk about John as friend, performer, and professional colleague. We knew each other for just about twenty years, beginning in the early 1980s, shortly after I came to the Boston area from my earlier years in Princeton. From first acquaintance I quickly came to see that in his performing life and his scholarship John Daverio was a colleague of rare quality. I attended many of his recitals over the years, and I was always impressed that he could keep up his playing at recital level while producing top-quality scholarship.

We played chamber music together sporadically in the ‘80s, then more frequently, in evenings of string quartets or piano quartets or trios with various other diehard enthusiasts. I could always count on John to be ready on short notice to play works like the Schubert E-flat Major Piano Trio or the Brahms C Minor Piano Quartet, as happened more than once. Six years ago he, Laurence Berman, and I formed a regular piano trio that has met just about every month since then as we worked our way through the literature from Haydn to Brahms. I’m sure Larry joins me when I say that I’ve never been part of an informal chamber group that enjoyed its evenings more. Not only because of the pleasure of playing great music, but for the terrific three-way conversations that followed each piece and, often, each movement—ranging from details of the piece we were playing to its place in music history, plus anecdotes and sidelights on the composers. Imagine Daverio on Schubert, Schumann, and Brahms! Our last trio session was on March 4th, less than two weeks before he disappeared. We spent a glorious evening with Beethoven’s G Major Trio, Opus 1 No. 2, with its beautiful romantic slow movement, and with the great Mendelssohn D Minor Trio. John also came to our house for chamber music—a few months ago for a reading of Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht. He was ready for any challenge, and his playing was pure, reliable, and expressive.

Now I want to talk about John as scholar. His books and articles, almost all on music and musicians of the nineteenth century, form a body of work that will be read and talked about for many years to come. His first book, Nineteenth-Century Music and the German Romantic Ideology (1993) was neither a casual survey nor a rearrangement of the known facts, but a pathbreaking study of the ways in the new aesthetic mentality of the German Romantic writers—Schlegel, Tieck, Wackenroder—created a framework for art and literature that resonated deeply with a new world of musical expression that drew inspiration from their writings and those of their followers. It ranges over such figures as Schumann, Weber, Brahms, Wagner, and Richard Strauss, moving with consummate ease through intricate observations on specific works and their aesthetic contexts, all in the light of John’s thorough understanding of the concept of Romanticism. It shows his ability to mingle a developed understanding of the historical past with a keen awareness of modern viewpoints.

This first book paved the way for his magnum opus, his big biography and critical study of Robert Schumann (1997). Not only is this a new critical study of Schumann’s life and achievements, as composer, pianist, teacher, and critic, all rolled into one. It is also a pathbreaking reevaluation of Schumann’s crucial position in music history, his role as “herald of a new poetic age,” a phrase that John drew from Schumann’s own music criticism. It is the major current book on Schumann in English. With this book John Daverio arrived as a central contributor to Schumann studies, recognized both here and abroad as one of the most knowledgeable and eloquent interpreters of this great yet elusive musical figure.

From here John expanded his range, in two essays in the collective volume, Nineteenth-Century Chamber Music (Schirmer Books, 1998). The first explored Schumann’s chamber music; the second, entitled “Fin-de-siècle Chamber Music and the Critique of Modernism” cut a wide swath from Brahms to Schoenberg, Bartók, Berg, and Webern, showing some of the ways in which the intimate art of chamber music stimulated these and other composers to build on traditional forms while using progressively more difficult and highly nuanced musical idioms.

The same well-informed, acute critical voice is heard in John’s last book, Crossing Paths, published last year. Here, intersections in the work and thought of Schubert, Schumann, and Brahms are the central theme. Beginning with Schumann’s subtle tributes to Schubert’s E-flat Major Trio in his own piano quintet and piano quartet, the book goes on to reveal similar affinities between Brahms and Schubert, and between Brahms and Schumann, that “noble, pure artist [who] serves me constantly as a model,” as Brahms wrote in a letter of 1873. Like John’s earlier work, it brings up subtleties of observation about works and styles, about artistic thought and stylistic memory, about the way in which the two later masters influenced one another and reveled in their admiration of Schubert, for both of them an incomparable model.

In John’s writings we sense a broad knowledge of literature, criticism, and philosophy, coupled with rigorous honesty and musical sensibility, that informs his work, no matter what the subject. His critical scholarship has made a strong personal mark on nineteenth-century musicology and will continue to do so for a long time to come.

In the Epilogue to Crossing Paths, John quotes a conversation between Brahms and his friend Gustav Jenner. Brahms said this: what really counts is "enduring music--music rooted in the deep interior of the musical spirit, in contrast to music that clings unsteadily to superficial and subordinate elements." We can feel the same values in Daverio's work as he studied and wrote about music by composers with whom he felt deep affinity. That affinity was there in his playing; it is there in John's scholarship; and it is indelibly there in the memories of all of us who knew him.

—Lewis Lockwood

 
Boston University
14 October, 2003