Robert Bailey

Robert Bailey (1937-2012)

At Princeton Robert Bailey was destined originally for Byzantine Music Studies by his mentor, Oliver Strunk: he once complained that the most uncomfortable summer he ever spent was in Princeton learning Greek. He had studied the piano with some of the best: Friedrich Wuehrer in Munich and Eduard Steuermann in New York, which gave him the immediate connections to the composers on whom he would later lecture so memorably. He achieved a faultless command of German with a better grasp of grammar and syntax than some native speakers - all delivered with a flat mid-western accent. But his studies abroad confirmed his dedication to Wagner and the Post-Wagnerian tradition, and his inimitable contributions on all of the Wagner oeuvre, informed by his first-hand knowledge of the workings of the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, made his lectures and writings incomparable. He was one of the few, if, in fact, the only one, allowed by Winifred Wagner access to the Wagner archives when they were still privately owned by the Wagner family; and she also allowed him to sit in the Festspielhaus orchestra pit for performances of Parsifal by Knappertsbusch.

As a teacher and lecturer, his skills were those of an orator: one sat in class transfixed, unwilling and unable to move; such was the riveting nature of his delivery. Memorable lectures include presentations on the Berg Violin Concerto, all Wagner, but particularly Meistersinger, Tristan and Parsifal; and extraordinary insights into Beethoven, Weber, Schubert and Mahler. But he was at his best when looking at the documents themselves, a scientist at work dissecting the DNA and RNA of the manuscript and printed page. (It is also hard to forget the unforgettable moment when, in a class discussing a Brahms sketch, and noting that one student had the music upside down, Robert walked around the table, took the page out of her hands, and turned it right-side up without missing a beat, as the rest of the class sat with downcast eyes.)

Robert never let us forget that as a young man he was cast in the role of Algernon in Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest mainly because everyone wanted to hear him speak the line "If I am occasionally a little over-dressed, I make up for it by being always immensely over-educated." But he was also a private connoisseur - of Burmese cats, china, porcelain, Federal furniture and silver, Civil War battlefields, and food - oh, the food! One never forgot his cooking; a friend once described him as a Feinschmecker - the best cook he ever knew. But if some of us will never forget the undercooked free-range Thanksgiving turkeys, from which we escaped trichinosis by a hair's breadth, others still revel in the recipe for the perfect martini: all fluids and utensils cold; 6 parts Bombay Gin (NOT Sapphire) to one part dry vermouth; stirred well (never shaken); glass with wide aperture.

He left us just a few publications, but they, too, are incomparable. His Norton Critical Score of Wagner's "Prelude and Transfiguration" from Tristan und Isolde, and the trenchant articles on Brahms, Weber, Mahler, and Berg, are what musicological writing should always be. As for everything else, from Dufay to Stockhausen, our notes are filled with the pithy remarks that, hopefully, now make our own discourses interesting.

On hearing that Robert was gone, what came to Edward Roesner's mind was the text of Josquin's Deploracion on the Death of Ockeghem:

                                                 Woodland nymphs, fountain goddesses,
                                                 skilled singers from all nations,
                                                 change your voices so clear and high
                                                 into shrill cries and lamentations,
                                                 for Atropos' attacks inexorably ensnare your Ockeghem,
                                                 music's true treasure and masterpiece,
                                                 who nevermore escapes from death,
                                                 whose great depredation covers the earth.
                                                 Put on your mourning garments,
                                                 Josquin, Brumel, Pierchon, Compรจre,
                                                 and weep great tears from your eyes:
                                                 you have lost your good father.
                                                 Grant to them eternal rest, O Lord,
                                                 and may perpetual light shine on them.
                                                 May he rest in peace. Amen.

                                                                                                        Rena Charnin Mueller
                                                                                                                     9 June 2012