Remembering Martin Chusid

But when I first walked into the Music seminar room in the fall of 1995, I was certainly not prepared to hear Martin Chusid's deep, vibrating bass voice tell me firmly: "go to the piano!" We were discussing Schubert's Die Taubenpost, and Martin wanted to fill our space not only with words, scores, and marks energetically drawn on a chalkboard, but also with sound. For him, score-based study of music served to complement and enrich our perception of, but never to substitute for the experience of the music as sound.

Beneath the thick skin of a veteran (a veteran indeed: born in Brooklyn on August 19, 1925, he had fought in the final phases of World War II) beat a heart filled with curiosity and open to novel questions and approaches. Into his eighth and ninth decades, Martin continued to explore themes and issues already familiar and dear to him (such as textual criticism and the analysis of opera and vocal music), while developing fresh approaches to unfamiliar ones, from censorship to performance practice and conceptual staging in opera. Among other things, Martin sought to question the myth of individual authorship in the nineteenth century -- for example by attributing important developments in Giuseppe Verdi's "middle period" to the presence, involvement, and driving force of Giuseppina Strepponi.

That heart continued to beat with and for music with undiminished energy until December 11, 2013, when Martin passed away unexpectedly at his home in Connecticut. He is survived by his wife, Anita, and their son, Jeffrey. As I cope with the loss of a wonderful teacher, mentor, and friend, I am delighted that he lived long enough to celebrate the bicentennial of Giuseppe Verdi this past October. He attended most of the Verdi conference here at NYU, thoroughly engaged and genuinely happy. Even more than the composer he loved so deeply, he remained active until the end. Michael Beckerman reminded me a few days ago that in recent times Martin used to say: "I'm doing my best work yet!" Although Martin is no longer with us, that work is. In his final two years he completed and published two books: Verdi's "II trovatore": The Quintessential Italian Melodrama (2012) and Schubert's Dances: For Family, Friends and Posterity (2013). If that isn't a crowning achievement, I don't know what it is. But these past few days, it is his exhortation to "go to the piano" that keeps coming back to my mind. As I mourn the loss of that voice, I cherish the memory of a great moment of musical sharing and learning; it was the first of many, and I will remember it for as long as I live.

                                                                                       Francesco Izzo (GSAS Music, MA 1998, PhD 2003)