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Maynard Solomon 1930-2020

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Having known of Maynard Solomon’s failing during recent months, I am saddened but not surprised to learn of the death of this first-rate musicologist at age 90, after his long and productive life. In 1977 he published what has been widely recognized as the first modern biography of Beethoven, in which he went beyond Thayer-Forbes to explore Beethoven’s personality from the standpoint of a psychologist. This inevitably involved him in deep controversy with scholars and shrinks alike, but Solomon’s painstaking and levelheaded examination of sources, enabled him to make convincing interpretations for Beethoven’s imagined origins, his unending search for compatible women, and his troubled relationships with his younger brothers and nephew. Even without the added imprimatur of a PhD, Solomon’s thoughtful analysis of the historical and documentary circumstances of Beethoven’s “Immortal Beloved” brought him to point to Antonie Brentano, to whom Beethoven had dedicated his Diabelli Variations; this interpretation has stood up over the years, despite some angry challenges. Most of the opposition that I can find comes from people who can’t recognize how well-written is Solomon’s book, a book that one can still reread for pure pleasure. There are later books, too, including two more on Beethoven and a Mozart biography, also an Otto Kinkeldey Award from the AMS and three ASCAP-Deems Taylor awards. Many still cherish a whole batch of immortal and beloved vinyl issued by Vanguard Records, the forward-looking company that Maynard Solomon and his brother, Seymour, founded in the 1950s.

Mark DeVoto, musicologist and composer, is an expert in Alban Berg, also Ravel and Debussy. A graduate of Harvard College (1961) and Princeton (PhD, 1967), he has published extensively on these composers and many music subjects, most notably, harmony.

David Moran adds:

Comments at slippedisc elaborate on the pathbreaking, standard-setting Vanguard catalog. The Solomon brothers made early stars of Baez, Odetta, the Weavers, et alia, as well as promoting Elman, Peerce, and Stokowski, and reviving live performance by Szigeti (also with Bartok) and Arrau; the NYTimes obituary has more detail, including the important Abravanel-Utah sets of Mahler and Sibelius. For me the standout of the Vanguard catalog is the Bach Guild organ performances of Heiller.

The books are deeply rewarding and enlightening, overflowing with insights that are not always easy. Maynard Solomon was another shining star from the generation of Fleisher, Rosen, Brendel, Steinberg, and Sherman, whose writing and playing were so ear- and eye-opening for aspiring music-lovers and amateur scholars from the 1960s onward, in a way impossible to imagine today with so much online.

3 Comments »

3 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. Maynard Solomon was a giant of a man, the most helpful scholar anyone could envisage. At the start of my work on Beethoven in the 1970s, I sent him 2 pages of questions, all of which he answered. He read everything I wrote on the composer before it was published, always coming up with some pertinent detail and supportive comment. My own biography of the composer is dedicated to him and his equally generous and kind wife, Eva, to whom my heart goes out. Deepest condolences.

    Comment by Susan Lund — October 11, 2020 at 5:38 am

  2. Thank you for this fine tribute.

    As a little boy in the early ‘60s I grew up listening to many Vanguard and Bach Guild recordings. The people primarily responsible for this good fortune were my Mother, who thought that the sublimely inimitable work of Alfred Deller and Junior Wells would help give her son some measure of musical common sense, and the Brothers Solomon who made it possible for me to hear and learn.

    May all their memories be a blessing.

    Comment by Jonathan Brodie — October 11, 2020 at 9:40 am

  3. While his work as co-founder and co-runner of the Vanguard label deserves praise for its wide-ranging interests and promotion of great talents, as to his value as a biographer, color me unimpressed. Not to put too fine a point on it, in my view psychobiography is a crock. No professional psychologist or psychiatrist worth their license would try to analyze someone not actually in front of them, and of course the long dead have no voice to complain. In the absence of hard evidence, for which Solomon produced very little if any for some of his most spectacular claims, such as those regarding Schubert, it serves merely as a soapbox for idle speculation. Finally, Solomon’s reputation is for me ever stained by his now thoroughly discredited assertions about Charles Ives’s having doctored the dates of his compositions. The best that can be said is that his wild accusations elicited the actual hard scholarly work that refuted them, but which he was not, obviously, prepared to do himself.

    Comment by Vance Koven — October 11, 2020 at 11:46 am

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