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Classical 101

Musicologist Philip Gossett Has Died at 75


Let me just say that musicologists — those who study the history and performance practice of music — seldom have groupies.

Divas have groupies. Tenors have groupies. Even — God bless us and spare us — conductors have groupies. Musicologists? Not so much.

But I'm willing to bet that Philip Gossett had groupies.

Gossett died Monday at the age of 75. He recently retired from The University of Chicago, where he was the Robert W. Reneker Distinguished Service Professor of Music.

I never met Gossett, but I often heard him speak.

I'm a fan of his book "Divas and Scholars: Performing Italian Opera." It's indispensable for anyone interested in performing operatic music. It's also a jolly good read, informative and lots of fun.

Gossett's earlier work shed new light on several of the underperformed works of the great composer Giuseppe Verdi. I'm not kidding when I tell you that if you haven't heard I Lombardi alla Prima Crociata or La battaglia di Legnano, you're missing out. Gossett taught me that.


Gioacchino Rossini wrote 30 operas, retired and lived for 30 more years. His operas came and went — except for Il Barbiere di Siviglia, which has never left the repertoire.

Certainly there were performances of Rossini's operas, but Gossett's work in editing definitive scores of Semiramide, Tancredi, Moise and several more restored the dignity of a composer whose own somewhat careless work habits obscured his genius for a century after his death.

But back to the groupies. Why don't musicologist have groupies?

Because many of them take themselves and every hemi-demi-semi note very seriously. That's a good thing, of course, but in so doing many forget to love music.

But whenever I read one of Gossett's books or heard him speak, it was clear to me that not only was he intensely knowledgeable, but he loved music!

In "Divas and Scholars," Gossett expressed dismay about a performing edition of Rossini's opera The Siege of Corinth. The work was revived in Milan and New York for Beverly Sills. Gossett felt that what she sang had little to do with what Rossini wrote. He wrote about the New York premiere: 

"I threw in my two bits at a well attended public lecture at the New York Public Library at Lincoln Center, to which music critics flocked, the night before the opening. For my pains I earned this barb from Sills, 'I think some so-called musicologists are like men who talk constantly of sex and never do anything about it.' "

How could you not love this guy?

Christopher Purdy is Classical 101's early morning host, 7-10 a.m. weekdays. He is host and producer of Front Row Center – Classical 101’s weekly celebration of Opera and more – as well as Music in Mid-Ohio, Concerts at Ohio State, and the Columbus Symphony broadcast series. He is the regular pre-concert speaker for Columbus Symphony performances in the Ohio Theater.
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