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News & Press: In Memoriam

Anthony Newcomb, 1941-2018

Friday, November 30, 2018   (2 Comments)

Anthony Newcomb (1941–2018)

Anthony Newcomb, musicologist and longtime University of California, Berkeley faculty member, died at home in Berkeley, California on 18 November 2018, age 77. He was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, attended Philips Exeter Academy (1955–58), Stanford University (1958–59), the University of California, Berkeley (B.A. in music, english, and economics, 1962), and Princeton University (Ph.D. in musicology, 1969). Prior to graduate work at Princeton, he studied harpsichord and organ with Gustave Leonhardt in Amsterdam as a Fulbright scholar. At Princeton he studied with Lewis Lockwood, Arthur Mendel, and Oliver Strunk. From 1968 to 1973 he served as instructor and assistant professor at Harvard University; in 1973 he joined the music faculty at the University of California Berkeley, where he remained until his retirement in 2005. He received the University of California, Berkeley Distinguished Teaching Award in 1989 and served as Dean of Humanities from 1990 to 1998, after which he also served as chair of the Departments of Art History (2000–02) and Music (2003–05). In 2005 he was appointed Gladyce Arata Terrill Distinguished Professor in Music and Italian Studies, elected to the Berkeley Fellows society in 2007, and elected an AMS Honorary Member in 2009.

Tony initially trained with an eye to becoming an organist and conductor, starting with French conservatory-style musicianship lessons with Darius Milhaud in Oakland in the early 1950s and serving as first chorister at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. After a year of keyboard study in Amsterdam and European travels (1962–63) he was persuaded to study musicology at Princeton. At the suggestion of harpsichordist-scholar Ralph Kirkpatrick, Tony investigated the early musical influences on Girolamo Frescobaldi at the court of Alfonso II d’Este in late sixteenthcentury Ferrara. (Research visits in Bologna and Modena in the late 1960s and early ’70s also led to a part-time career in the wineimporting business in California.) His dissertation and subsequent two-volume study The Madrigal at Ferrara 1579–1597 (Princeton University Press, 1980) drew on a richly detailed 1594 correspondence from Este courtier and musician Alfonso Fontanelli to Duke Alfonso II. Like many of his generation, Tony migrated into more modern repertories after first proving himself in Renaissance scholarship. Studies of formal process as generating levels of meaning and expression in the music of Wagner reflected the early influence of Carl Dahlhaus on American musicology, and interest in aesthetics and critical interpretation led to innovative work on ideas of musical “narratology” in Schumann and Mahler in the later 1980s and early 1990s.

In addition to extensive university service throughout his time at the University of California, Berkeley, Tony served on numerous American Musicological Society committees, the Board of Directors, the JAMS editorial board, and Editor-in-Chief of the Journal from 1986 to 1989. In 1992 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. During his last two decades Tony returned to his original field of the late Renaissance Italian madrigal with complete, extensively annotated editions of the works of Alfonso Fontanelli, Luzzasco Luzzaschi, and Giovanni Maria Nanino (the latter with Christina Boenicke) published by A-R Editions between 1998 and 2018. An article on Nanino and the “new Roman style” of the 1580s will appear posthumously this year in The Journal of Musicology.

—Thomas Grey

First published in the Feb. 2019 AMS Newsletter, p. 30.


John Koster says...
Posted Thursday, December 6, 2018
Professor Newcomb joined the Harvard music faculty in 1968, my sophomore year, so I must be among his oldest students. He taught the basic music history courses for undergraduate concentrators and introduced me to musicology when, the next year, I took his seminar on musica ficta. At the first meeting he wrote "MGG = fount of all knowledge" on the blackboard. (What would one write today?) A paper for that course led to the subject of my senior thesis, for which Professor Newcomb was my advisor. I owe him enormously for sharing his learning, for his patience and understanding in mentoring a mere undergraduate, and for the superb introduction to the processes of historical musicology. Although we had not been in touch for nearly fifty years, I have always remembered him warmly and deeply regret his death.
Andrew Dell'Antonio says...
Posted Friday, November 30, 2018
Flagging here a tribute by Laurie Stras on the Musica Secreta site: And adding a comment I posted on social media: Tony was my doctoral advisor. He was generous and kind, and always thoughtful and encouraging; I learned a great deal from him both intellectually and ethically. We had not kept in touch much in recent years but every time we crossed paths he was eager to share a smile and a conversation about our continuing intersection of interests. I will remember the privilege of working with him and hold his memory in my heart for a blessing.