Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Remembering Joe Kerman

Sarah Fuller

I came to graduate study at Berkeley in 1961 as someone unschooled in the labyrinths and habitudes of musicology and with great gaps in cognizance of repertory, and Joseph Kerman became a formative guide to me. I recall especially my two first-year seminars with him. One dealt with 16th-century English sacred polyphony that addressed not just style and imitative techniques of various composers, recusant oppression, and Italian influences on English music, but delved into music/text relations and expressive depths realized in key passages. From this experience came an abiding connection with the motets of Thomas Tallis and William Byrd.
The other was a seminar in Verdi opera.  By approaching the works “as drama” and presenting them in part through the writings of Abramo Basevi, he awakened in me a real love for opera, a genre that had been opaque to me. Our final test had two parts.  One was a written discussion-analysis of a passage from the end of act III, scene 1 of Falstaff that was to cover a wide range of aspects from unusual harmonic progressions to dramatic effects of reminiscences from earlier in the opera (“Reverenza!”). For the on-the-spot examination, we were told simply to know Falstaff well. We expected to have the usual listening identification exam—locate excerpted passages within the work, identify the character singing, comment on the importance of that dramatic moment and significance of the excerpt. What we got instead was a libretto of Gianni Schicchi, a single hearing, and the instruction to write on the influences from Falstaff that we perceived in the piece. A typically imaginative way of assessing whether we could indeed apply much that we had learned that semester to a practical situation, and a task that was stimulating for us, the students.
Joseph Kerman was unfailingly kind to me, and even entrusted me to scout the complex of watermarks in the “Kafka” sketchbook for his 1970 edition—I was at the time in London carrying out research in the distant realm of Aquitanian polyphony.
I have always admired the thoughtfulness with which he regarded the enterprise of musicology, his commitment not just to the academy but to the wider community of intelligent music listeners and to the education of young listeners, his genuine devotion to and appreciation for the music of many eras. 

 Coming unexpectedly upon his obituary in last Sunday’s New York Times, I felt a real pang of loss, but also a surge of gratitude for his teaching and for what he stood for in the profession. Rereading segments of Opera as Drama or The Beethoven Quartets has always invigorated me, and these studies, along with others, will, I believe, continue to inspire positive actions and reactions among musicologists for decades to come.
 Andrew Dell'Antonio 
His just-published Contemplating Music was one of the reasons I chose Berkeley for graduate school in 1985, and I was awed and a little cowed to have him lead the musicology boot camp course for entering Master's students. Later, as I was preparing for my comprehensive exams, he helped lead me through a focused independent study on Schubert, whom I had chosen as the "outside focus" for the comps, and I learned to love and understand that repertory much more deeply thanks to his guidance. At my doctoral graduationhe made a point of running up to his office for his regalia so that we could have a good photo-op; and ever since then he was always kind, gracious, generous in our interactions. He lived a long life, and shaped our discipline in so many important ways. May his memory always be for a blessing.
 Bruce A. Brown
A giant. I count myself lucky to have studied with him (I even TA'd for his Beethoven class). One of his best, and simplest, teaching strategies was to have those of us in his Renaissance proseminar sing and play through whole volumes of the complete edition of Clemens non Papa, as a way of acquiring a trained ear for the period's style, and also in order to actually make use of one of the many Gesamtausgaben piling up on the library shelves.
James Parsons
When I first started in musicology more years ago than I will admit, one of my teachers stated that his mentor thought some of Kerman's language a "bit too vernacular." I disagreed then and I disagree now. Who among us will ever forget the line, directed at Puccini's Tosca: that shabby little shocker? In my dissertation, I quoted one of my favorite Kerman passages, from an article of his from 1980, How We Got into Analysis, and How to Get Out.Lamenting back then that expression in music seldom plays a role in musicological discussion, Kerman concluded that when anyone states such is beyond the confines of their study one hears the sound of windows closing.Just these seven words made a profound impression on me. They still do. Kerman opened many windows and doors. I daresay he will continue to inspire that in we who remain.
Alejandro Planchart
He not only was a great scholar, he actually loved music.
David Rosen
I had looked forward to sending Joe Kerman greetings and perhaps a bottle on his 90th birthday next month! He was my principal mentor at Berkeley and was enormously kind and helpful to me. One example, I had been a history and social sciences major in college and had a relatively weak background in music other than piano playing (not that I was strong in that either). Joe spontaneously volunteered to meet with me one-on-one every week to talk about, well, thinking and talking about music (mainly about Beethoven quartets—he was working on the book then).
Lester Siegel
Kerman was a brilliant man who, though a musicologist, was able to write like a human being.
Chris Williams 
Joe Kerman died just a few weeks shy of his 90th birthday (he was born in the same year as my own father). To take Introduction to Musicology from this man was a life-changing experience. I will never forget his generosity in seminars and in the two independent studies I was fortunate enough to be able to take with him (on Sibelius and on Berlioz). His death leaves a massive void in the hearts of his former students, and really the entire profession.

1 comment:

  1. Aren't there any women with comments on Kerman?