Stanley Sadie

Workhorse editor of 'The New Grove'
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The Independent Online

Stanley Sadie sat at the centre of British musical life for almost half a century, as writer and critic, lexicographer, editor and broadcaster. In Words about Mozart: essays in honour of Stanley Sadie, published earlier this year, its co-editor Dorothea Link paid high praise: "With his popular writings, in which he mediates between the scholarly world and the musical public, Sadie takes his place among the great educators in English musical life."

Stanley John Sadie, lexicographer, musicologist, critic, writer and editor: born London 30 October 1930; Professor, Trinity College of Music 1957-65; Music Critic, The Times 1964-81; Editor, The Musical Times 1967-87; Editor, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians 1970-2000; CBE 1982; President, Royal Musical Association 1989-94; President, International Musicological Society 1992-97; married 1953 Adèle Bloom (died 1978; two sons, one daughter), 1978 Julie Anne Vertrees (one son, one daughter); died Cossington, Somerset 21 March 2005.

Stanley Sadie sat at the centre of British musical life for almost half a century, as writer and critic, lexicographer, editor and broadcaster. In Words about Mozart: essays in honour of Stanley Sadie, published earlier this year, its co-editor Dorothea Link paid high praise: "With his popular writings, in which he mediates between the scholarly world and the musical public, Sadie takes his place among the great educators in English musical life."

It is probably Sadie's three decades as editor of The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians that carried his influence furthest. The first Dictionary of Music and Musicians, edited by Sir George Grove, was published in instalments between 1878 and 1889 by a reluctant Macmillan & Co, and was periodically updated. When Sadie started work in 1970, the fifth edition had appeared as far back as 1954; he tackled the momentous task of catching up with history and the advances of scholarship with a team of 30 staff and some 2,400 scholars around the world as advisers or contributors. Sadie's New Grove was much more catholic in its range of subjects, too: it now embraced ethnomusicology, world music and a host of less narrowly "classical" topics.

The first fruits of this Himalayan labour appeared in 1980, in the 20-volume sixth edition. It went on to generate a flurry of associated Macmillan publications, those in which Sadie also had a hand including The New Grove Mozart (1982), The New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments (1984), The New Grove History of American Music (four volumes, with H. Wiley Hitchcock; 1986), The Grove Concise History of Music (1988), The New Grove Dictionary of Opera (four volumes, 1992) and The New Grove Book of Operas (1996).

Sadie's own entry in Grove deals with his background curtly enough (his disinclination to include himself was overruled), revealing only,

He was educated at St Paul's School, London, and Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, reading music under Thurston Dart, Charles Cudworth and Patrick Hadley (BA, MusB 1953, MA 1957, PhD 1958).

In fact, he had studied music privately between 1947 and 1950 with the composer Bernard Stevens; played the clarinet in the RAF Central Band and studied the bassoon with Archie Camden; and his PhD dissertation tackled what was then a pioneering subject: "British Chamber Music, 1720-1790". Among Sadie's mentors at Cambridge, Dart and Cudworth demonstrated that musicology (then itself a new discipline) could be cutting-edge, innovative, dynamic - in short, enormous fun - and that sense of glee in scholarship was a hallmark of Sadie's work throughout his career.

A succession of appointments now wove Stanley Sadie into the texture of the British musical establishment. He became a member of the staff of Trinity College of Music in London, remaining for eight years (1957-65); he joined the critics' roster at The Times in 1964, and reviewed regularly for "The Thunderer" until 1981; and in 1967 he began two decades as Editor of The Musical Times, then the country's notice-board for all that was important in musical research. He also spent 40 years as a reviewer for Gramophone magazine. His prose was always clear, elegant and direct, his judgements sometimes waspishly expressed but always even-handed.

Although his sixth edition of Grove in 1980 wasn't perfect (Sadie was livid when he discovered that his editorial guard had let through two spoof entries, one apparently on a little-known Danish composer whose name in fact consisted of two suburbs of Copenhagen), it was far and away the most impressive work of scholarship the musical world had seen. The New Grove, it was understood, would require permanent editorial supervision, and Sadie's services were retained. But, 19 years later, with the 29 volumes of The New Grove "second edition" advancing towards publication, the association was to turn sour.

Early in 2000 Macmillan's German owner, Holtzbrinck, insisted that the next edition must be published that November. When Sadie protested that the deadline was too tight to maintain scholarly standards of accuracy, he was brusquely removed and most of the existing editorial staff turned out with him, to be replaced by a "teenage army" of student proof-readers. At one point relations were so bad that he required permission to come into the office. If he experienced any schadenfreude when the revised edition did appear, speckled with new errors introduced by haste and inexperience, it would have been an entirely forgivable reaction.

But he had long since moved on. In 1993 Sadie and his second wife, the American-born bass-violist and cellist Julie Anne Vertrees, had picked up sticks to defend Handel's London house in Brook Street, then threatened with demolition (they were successful: it is now the Handel House Museum), and travelled to Germany "to see what we could learn from how other museums commemorated their subjects". They could hardly have imagined what they were letting themselves in for.

In a few weeks Yale University Press will publish their pioneering Calling on the Composer, a staggeringly compendious, 400-page guide to the composer museums and memorials of Europe. It required some 40 trips to mainland Europe, travelling "more than 60,000km/37,500 miles by road and tens of thousands more by air". One of those trips almost proved the end of them, when they were involved in a serious car accident in Ukraine in 1999, which necessitated their being flown back to Britain for what the introduction to Calling on the Composer drily calls "comprehensive repairs".

Two elements run through Sadie's life as letters through a stick of rock: Mozart and Handel. One of his first books, in 1956, was a monograph on Mozart and, despite his final illness, he managed to complete the first volume of what was intended as a two-volume life-and-works. In between, he had written another monograph (1966), produced an edition of the Mozart piano sonatas (1981), co-edited a revised edition of Emily Anderson's anthology The Letters of Mozart and his Family (1985), penned Mozart Symphonies (1986) and put together Wolfgang Amadè Mozart: essays on his life and his music (1996). His first book on Handel was published in 1962, another in 1966, Handel Concertos in 1972; he co-edited the Handel Tercentenary Collection in 1987.

But these writings were only the tip of a huge iceberg of activity: he wrote other books, sleeve-notes, articles and reviews, he broadcasted, he edited other publications (including Dent's "Master Musician" series from 1976 and Macmillan's "Man and Music" from 1989) - chiefly, but not always, focused on his prime interest, the 18th century. The list of his contributions at the back of Words about Mozart fills 19 closely set pages.

For Laurie Shulman, a fellow graduate student of Julie Anne Sadie at Cornell University and a frequent visitor to the Sadies in Britain, Stanley Sadie

was a dear and generous person, always at the ready with time and encouragement for the young, aspiring scholar. No one worked harder than Stanley. Dozens of projects occupied his front burner, whether on his desk, the music rack of his piano, in his incoming mail, or on his telephone answering machine. He devoted passionate energy and concentration to them all. For someone as busy as he obviously was, he was remarkably quick in his responses to queries, whether by fax, e-mail, or - in the old days - more traditional means.

Yet he savoured life. Work was important, necessary to him, but he balanced it with a strong sense of family and community. I so admired his ability to relax: whether over a pint at the local pub or a game of Scrabble. He had a marvellous wit and was an engaging and charming conversationalist at dinner.

The wit could be scathing, too. In one renowned spat with Charles Rosen, who had reviewed Grove 6 unfavourably in The New York Review of Books, Sadie wrote,

Mr Rosen's response - that he corrected proofs in an aeroplane - must represent the only occasion when the height of arrogance could be measured by an altimeter.

That acidulous side to Sadie's character made him enemies, of course. By contrast, the generous solicitude with which he encouraged younger writers, often only on the threshold of a career, could inspire an astonishing degree of loyalty.

Perhaps its most touching expression came right at the end of his life. Motor neurone disease was diagnosed only last week, when it was obvious he was already very ill. On Sunday, Sadie managed to attend the first half of a concert by the Chilingirian Quartet in a concert series he and his wife had set up in a local church; he returned home at the interval because he felt so weak. One of his friends recalled what happened next: "After the concert was over the Chilingirian quietly came over and, sitting down in the room with Stanley, played the slow movement from Beethoven's op 135."

Over the sketches for its melody Beethoven had written: "Sweet song of rest, song of peace".

Martin Anderson

Writing for Stanley Sadie was not the easiest thing in the world, writes Elizabeth Forbes. I contributed a number of articles to The New Grove Dictionary of Music published in 1980. These pieces were mostly on singers, and the next Grove publication planned was for a Dictionary of Singers, with John Steane and myself as sub-editors. However, this publication was cancelled because a German language two-volume dictionary of singers was published in 1987 and it was thought that another one so soon would not be a good idea; instead, The New Grove Dictionary of Opera was commissioned and eventually published in four volumes in 1992.

We had had some meetings about the singers dictionary, and now there were many more on the new project. Stanley Sadie oversaw everything: who was to be included, who was to write which articles, their length and so on. The contributors were all told to buy a computer (if they did not have one already) compatible with Macmillan's large IBM. We were then given one day of instruction by a lady obviously more used to teaching businessmen and not musical journalists. Never mind, we all managed somehow. If Sadie did not like a piece, he said so in no uncertain terms. It had to be just the right length, full, but not too full, of facts concerning the singer or musician in question.

As had happened with the previous edition of Grove, some of the contributors were extremely dilatory and, as well as more than a thousand singers, I was landed with a number of other, usually longer articles, some of which required a great deal of research. It was no good complaining to Sadie that it would be impossible to finish the said article on time. He expected it to be ready, and so ready it was. I had never worked so hard in my life.