H Colin Slim, 1929-2019
Thursday, December 12, 2019
H(arry) Colin Slim (1929-2019)
One of the leading musicological scholars of his generation, Colin Slim was an indefatigable researcher, an exemplary colleague, a dedicated teacher, and a talented pianist and conductor. He died on October 22, 2019, at the age of 90, in Berkeley, California. A native of Vancouver, Slim received his BA from the University of British Columbia in 1951. There, he was active as a conductor, helping to arrange the Canadian premieres of two works of Stravinsky: Les noces, and Concerto for Two Pianos, conducting the former work himself. Shortly thereafter, he met Stravinsky, serving as his chauffeur during the composer’s stay in Vancouver; this began Slim’s lifelong interest in the composer.
Slim entered the graduate program at Harvard, where he wrote a dissertation on “The Keyboard Ricercar and Fantasia in Italy, ca. 1500-1550,” receiving his Ph.D. in 1961. He taught at the University of Chicago from 1959 to 1965, and then at the University of California, Irvine. Having built the department from its foundation, he taught there for the rest of his career. In 1976 he was named Distinguished Research Professor at Irvine, an occasion for which he wrote the monograph The Prodigal Son at the Whores’: Music, Art, and Drama. In 1993, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by McGill University in Montreal. He retired in 1994.
In 1989-90, he served as President of the AMS, offering at the Oakland national meeting a memorable presidential address: a tableau vivant of Maerten van Heemskerk’s Apollo and the Nine Muses on Parnassus (ca. 1555-60), complete with live muses performing the musical works included in the painting. He was voted Honorary Member of the Society in 2001.
Colin Slim began his scholarly career with articles and editions on Renaissance instrumental music, though he quickly broadened his interest into vocal music, as well. In 1973 he won the Society’s coveted Kinkeldey Award for his monumental two-volume work, A Gift of Madrigals and Motets (University of Chicago Press, 1972). Soon, he also became interested in the representations of musical works in the art of the Middle Ages through the Baroque and went on to pioneer this interdisciplinary approach in his many iconographical studies. In addition, he published important editions of operas by Rossini and Alessandro Scarlatti. He was honored in 1999 by colleagues with a Festschrift published in the Journal of Musicology.
Throughout his life, he maintained a keen interest in Stravinsky, gathering manuscripts, letters, photos, and other memorabilia—some so ephemeral that they were written on old postcards, Christmas cards, and telegrams. He eventually donated the collection to his beloved University of British Columbia, where it stands as a unique archive for research. He published a catalogue of the impressive collection, as well as his final book, completed at the age of 90: Stravinsky in the Americas: Transatlantic Tours and Domestic Excursions from Wartime Los Angeles (1925-1945). There was an innate gentleness about him that might have been the result of his Canadian upbringing or might have been entirely sui generis. As the late, eminent musicologist Howard Mayer Brown said of his Harvard classmate and close friend, “Colin is surely the nicest of us all.” His humanity, as well as his scholarly rigor, will be greatly missed.
William Prizer and Kristine Forney