One of the Paladins of Early Music’s First New York Flowering

June 14, 2008

Much is made, in today’s New York Times obituary, of Stewart Mott’s benefactions to political causes, most of them minority in nature. Unmentioned was his zeal and financial support for early-music projects and ensembles. He was one of the financial backers of the historically crucial New York Pro Musica Antiqua, which was such news in my childhood. (I remember seeing performances by them on the Today show during school-morning breakfasts.) Later, when a student of Gustave Reese and John Reeves White, I heard many a casual reference to Stewart Mott as someone who must be consulted or thanked for this or that.

Among the statements issued upon his death, perhaps Ralph Nader’s comes closest to implying why he was such an angel to the musical efforts of many, saying that Stewart Mott was “about the most versatile, imaginative philanthropist of his time. He threw himself into projects and was a pioneer in many fields well before the large foundations.” It was noticeable that supporters of early-music explorations were often the funders of progressive political causes.

So let’s add a postscript to the man’s memorials: while his living on a chinese junk in the Hudson or maintaining a farm on a Park Avenue roof will always grab more journalistic inches, let him also be remembered for a zeal for the uncovering of surprising music from the past for the astonishment of our present.

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