H. Wiley Hitchcock: Pioneer in American music studies

Hugh Wiley Hitchcock, musicologist: born Detroit, Michigan 28 September 1923; Distinguished Professor, City University of New York 1980-93; twice married (one son, one daughter); died New York 5 December 2007

Thursday 13 December 2007 01:00

H. Wiley Hitchcock was a pioneer in the field of American music studies. His Music in the United States: a historical introduction (1969) was a widely influential book and went through four editions. It broke new ground by considering all kinds of American music together, both serious and popular, for which Hitchcock invented the terms "cultivated" and "vernacular". His name will always be associated with Charles Ives in 2002 he said that what he found so interesting about Ives was that "he was really the first serious composer of non-pop music . . . to find a usable past in American music, in earlier American music: the music of Civil War songs, band marches, dance tunes, and American hymnody. And he put them to excellent use, not only out of nostalgia for the early days but out of appreciation of the music."

Hitchcock and Vivian Perlis were responsible for the comprehensive Charles Ives Centennial Festival Conference held in New York and New Haven in 1974. An Ives Celebration was the book arising from the conference and it came out in 1977, the year Hitchcock published the short monograph Ives with Oxford University Press. One of his last projects was a massively documented edition of 129 Songs by Ives in the American Musicological Society's series MUSA Music of the USA (2004).

Like other American musicologists of his generation, Hitchcock first worked on European music and continued to do so. His authoritative studies and editions of the music of the 17th-century composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier were reflected in a catalogue raisonn (Les oeuvres de Marc-Antoine Charpentier, 1982) and a monograph (Marc-Antoine Charpentier, 1990): his contribution to French music was recognised by his appointment in 1995 as Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Hitchcock also wrote articles about the 17th-century Italian composer Giulio Caccini and made editions of his music. This Italian connection was fruitful since he and his second wife, the art critic Janet Cox-Rearich, enjoyed spending time at the house they had outside Florence many years.

Hitchcock was born near Detroit, Michigan, and said that his father "was crazy about music of all kinds classical, popular, jazz (swing), musical comedies, you name it. The young Frank Sinatra I first heard at Eastwood Gardens, just outside Detroit, singing with Tommy Dorsey's band. My father took me into Detroit time and time again to hear music of all kinds, and to that is what I owe my first interest in American music. I grew up with it and it was my vernacular."

At school, Hitchcock helped to organise a jazz group where he played sax and clarinet. He took his BA at Dartmouth College, where the piano became his instrument, and his master's at the University of Michigan. Whilst there, he was inspired by the enthusiasm of the composer Ross Lee Finney, who was teaching American music, which was very unusual in those days. For a time Hitchcock took composing seriously enough to study like so many Americans with Nadia Boulanger in Paris before returning to do a PhD at Michigan. He gave up composing, although he was always interested in composers, and spent a decade teaching at Michigan and then another at Hunter College, New York.

The climate for studies in American music was improving and in 1971 Hitchcock was appointed founder-director of the Institute for Studies in American Music at Brooklyn College, City University of New York (CUNY). The institute became a focus for graduate work in American music, producing an innovative series of publications, hosting visiting lecturers, and of crucial importance training the next generation of American music specialists. There were also concerts, which included Joan Morris and William Bolcom in the initial appearance of their career together.

Hitchcock was widely known for his work as co-editor with Stanley Sadie of the four-volume New Grove Dictionary of American Music (1986). However, the selection of content was left to Hitchcock, as the specialist on the spot, and the dictionary became enormously influential as the first study of its kind. In keeping with the way in which American music has developed, all types of music are included.

In 1990 A Celebration of American Music: words and music in honor of H. Wiley Hitchcock was published, edited by Richard Crawford, R. Allen Lott and Carol J. Oja. That the volume could reach 500 pages and feature a plethora of specialists in American music was a tribute to the pioneering activities of Hitchcock himself. The leading scholars in many fields contributed and composers who wrote musical tributes included Ross Lee Finney, William Schuman, Virgil Thomson, Milton Babbitt and Gordon Mumma. I contributed "A Hitchcock Fanfare" for three trumpets based on the notes drawn from the letters in the names of Hitchcock, Marc-Antoine Charpentier and Charles Ives. I think he enjoyed the irony.

In 1980 Hitchcock was named Distinguished Professor at CUNY and retired in 1993. He was President of the Charles Ives Society, President of the American Musicological Society (1990-92), edited several important series of American music, and one of his last completed projects was an edition of the first of the two operas Virgil Thomson wrote with Gertrude Stein: Four Saints in Three Acts. Hitchcock was a conscientious and considerate editor, and a loyal friend, and his legacy has been to lay the groundwork for the democratisation of the study of music in the United States and increasingly elsewhere.

Peter Dickinson

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