John Russell, R.I.P.

August 25, 2008

The art world considers him to be their loss. But he is a loss to music, too. I always considered it a sort of interdisciplinary imprimatur on musical events — events of the most diverse natures — to see him and the radiant Rosamund Bernier in the audience. And, ratifying their importance for music, both Copland and Bernstein adorned their effulgent wedding at Philip Johnson’s Glass House.

The New York Times said of his writings:

“Mr. Russell was an appreciator who liked to share his enthusiasms; as a consequence some readers and fellow critics found him too genteel.”

“I do not see my role as primarily punitive,” he wrote in Reading Russell. “There are artists whose work I dread to see yet again, dance-dramas that in my view have set back the American psyche several hundred years, composers whose names drive me from the concert hall, authors whose books I shall never willingly reopen. But it has never seemed to me much of an ambition to go though life snarling and spewing.”

In its more humble way, this site aims at something like that. And the following statement from him echoes something that I have often said to my friends about my little site:

“When I first began writing, my aims as a critic were simple. I wanted to persuade people to go and see things that I myself liked.”

Simple as that goal is, it is a far higher ambition than that of those who seek to destroy. I am full of admiration for John Russell, and also for Mrs. Russell, who took full advantage, for the benefit of us all, of her friendships with Picasso, Matisse, and Miró, and has carved out for herself a unique place in intellectual history.

Ave atque vale.

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