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25.11.09

H. C. Robbins Landon, 83

Haydn Chronicle
One of the leading scholars of the music of Haydn and more broadly of the 18th century, H. C. Robbins Landon, died on Friday at his home in France. Musicologist Barry Millington wrote the obituary published yesterday in The Guardian. Robbins Landon was born in Boston, and he studied music and literature there (with Karl Geiringer at one point, whom he credited with turning his interest in the music of Haydn into an obsession) and at Swarthmore. To study Haydn -- then largely unknown even to classical music enthusiasts -- Robbins Landon went to Europe, first to work as a journalist, writing about music for publications like Musical America and The Times.

He used his clout as a journalist for a major daily to gain entry to many archival collections not widely available, like the papers of the Esterházy family in the National Library in Budapest. With an encyclopedic mind he marshaled a staggering amount of documentary evidence in his five-volume summa on the life and works of Haydn, the Haydn Chronicle. The culmination of that work, as well as his editing of authoritative scores of the composer's symphonies and his encouragement of many other Haydn scholars, comes in a sense this year with the bicentenary of Haydn's death. To honor his passing, Ionarts will focus for the next few days on reviews of some more Haydn discs that have been piling up on my desk.

Many more people will likely remember Robbins Landon for his later work on Mozart, especially his widely read book 1791: Mozart's Last Year, which stripped away the layers of nonsense about Mozart's death. His writing style, because of his work in newspapers, was much more journalistic than most scholars (if not necessarily all that elegant), meaning that what he wrote reached a far wider audience. For more information on his life, see also the obituary published by The Telegraph.

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