Peter G. Davis, the music critic, has passed away at eighty-four. For an obituary in The New York Times, written by Clay Risen, go here. Peter wrote for the Times, and New York magazine, and other publications. He is the author of an important book, The American Opera Singer. He grew up in Lincoln, Massachusetts, about twenty-five miles west of Boston.
I would like to relate a memory. In fact, I did so in a piece two years ago titled “Berlioz, a Reckoning.” The truth is, I have never been as receptive to Berlioz as I should be, though I recognize his genius and importance, needless to say. Anyway, I addressed this subject in my “reckoning” piece. I would like to paste a paragraph:
In the twentieth century, Berlioz had many champions, including several key conductors. Among them were Beecham, Monteux, and Munch. This last, Charles Munch, was the music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1949 to 1962. Once, in New York, I was leaving a concert hall or opera house, after a Berlioz performance. I can’t remember the specifics. But, on my way out, I saw Peter Davis, the acclaimed critic. I said, “Do you like Berlioz?” He smiled and said, “Yes. I have no choice, in a way: I grew up around Boston in the Munch era.”
This morning, I have looked up Peter’s writings about Berlioz—some of them—and would like to share this, from a 2003 piece:
Fifty years ago, Hector Berlioz was still considered an oddball composer—a genius of some sort, to be sure, but isolated from the musical mainstream, possibly a little daft, and not that often performed. But to me, he was always a central figure, perhaps because I grew up in Massachusetts and started attending orchestral concerts when Charles Munch led the Boston Symphony. Munch programmed all the big Berlioz scores when it was unfashionable to do so, and his performances were frequent, fiery, and intoxicating—hearing the “Rakoczy March” from the second row of Symphony Hall blew this fifteen-year-old out of his seat. For me, thanks to Munch’s advocacy, Berlioz was right up there with Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms, the fourth B whose music was never less than standard rep.
Marvelous stuff, right? I also recommend another piece, from 2009: “Berlioz, Romantic Outsider.”
I think I will go listen to Berlioz, right this second: perhaps starting with excerpts from The Damnation of Faust—first and foremost, that march. Conducted by Munch, of course.