Nigel Fortune: Highly respected musicologist and co-editor of the journal 'Music and Letters'
Thursday 30 April 2009
Nigel Fortune was one of the most authoritative musicologists and editors of his generation but, as a very modest man, he would have dismissed such a claim. Most of his life revolved round Birmingham, where he lived in the same house from the age of 10.
His connection with the University was crucial. He read Music and Italian there before going on to Cambridge where his PhD on 17th-century Italian monody was supervised by Thurston Dart, the influential scholar and performer at the start of the early music revival who became King Edward Professor at King's College, London. After leaving Cambridge, Fortune spent three years as Music Librarian at Senate House, University of London, before returning to Birmingham as a lecturer in the music department in 1959.
His career was notable for an unusually generous kind of collaborative work. With Denis Arnold, who became Heather Professor at Oxford, he edited and contributed to The Monteverdi Companion (1968, enlarged and reissued as The New Monteverdi Companion, 1985) and The Beethoven Companion (1971); with others he was a guiding spirit behind festschrifts honouring Sir Jack Westrup, Thurston Dart and Winton Dean. He also collaborated with Anthony Lewis, Professor at Birmingham for much of Fortune's time there, in book chapters as well as four volumes of The Works of Henry Purcell, which played a significant role in establishing the position of the major English composer. With Thurston Dart, Fortune edited John Dowland's Ayres for Four Voices (1953-63).
Fortune was a valued member of several important editorial committees including the Purcell Society, Musica Britannica and that of The New Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians (1980). He was secretary of the Royal Musical Association from 1957-71 and then became a vice-president. From 1980 to 2008 he was co-editor of the influential journal Music and Letters. Edward Olleson has aptly described him as "an unchanging pillar in [the journal's] architecture while co-editors have revolved round him... the perfect choice and an ideal working partner" and summed up Fortune's dedication to the journal as "a period of outstanding and selfless contribution not only to Music and Letters but also to musical scholarship at large". Anyone who has submitted copy to the journal can confirm that he brought the highest standards to his dealings with written English. Being edited by him was invariably instructive since nothing sloppy was ever allowed to pass into print.
But citing Fortune's punctilious professional activities is very far from accounting for his whole personality. He was remarkably loyal to his students, maintaining an interest in their careers long after they had graduated. And about his friends and colleagues with Birmingham connections he was a mine of information, all recalled with the precision he brought to his scholarly concerns. Fortune's enthusiasms stretched far beyond the periods of his own musicological expertise. He went to concerts; was a supporter of the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group; and a regular visitor to festivals such as Aldeburgh and Presteigne. Overall he was remarkably well-informed and that included the latest developments in 20th-century music.
Further, Fortune was a committed citizen who played a part in local affairs. As it happened Clare Short, the MP for Birmingham Handsworth, moved into the house next door in 1997: they were already friends and he sometimes assisted her in her constituency surgeries. He always enjoyed news about his wide circle of acquaintances and appreciated those who kept in touch. He faced his final illnesses with exemplary fortitude that endeared him to all those who were caring for him.
Nigel Cameron Fortune, musicologist: born Birmingham 5 December 1924; lecturer, Birmingham University 1959-69, reader 1969-85; died Birmingham 10 April 2009.
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