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.
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