x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Musicologist provided window into Mozart's world

HC Robbins Landon spent much of his life working as an investigator. The 18th century German composer Haydn was his principal quarry, and the dusty archives of central Europe his hunting ground

H C Robbins Landon at his home.
H C Robbins Landon at his home.

HC Robbins Landon spent much of his life working as an investigator. The 18th century German composer Haydn was his principal quarry, and the dusty archives of central Europe his hunting ground. Single-handedly he sought and discovered a vast forgotten wealth of symphonies, masses, quartets and operas by the composer, that in sum, constitute what has become the staple Haydn repertoire. Unusually for a musicologist, he was able to communicate complex academic ideas in terms comprehensible to the layman, which aided considerably in the sales of his numerous books.

Born in Boston in 1926, Robbins Landon studied with the Haydn expert Karl Geiringer at Boston University before working as a foreign music correspondent for the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System. After a brief hiatus serving as a researcher for the US army of o0ccupation in Vienna, he returned to Boston to undertake postgraduate research. His reputation as a Haydn scholar began in the late 1940s. Together with fellow enthusiasts, he founded the Haydn Society. It aimed to issue records and, eventually, to print a new complete edition of the composer's works. The first set of records, brought out in 1949, was the Harmoniemesse of 1802, which sold out almost immediately.

In 1955, he published a book on the symphonies. A five-volume work entitled Haydn: Chronicle and Works followed, as did various projects on which he acted as editor. Haydn was always Robbins Landon's chief subject, though he wrote also on Vivaldi, Handel, JC Bach and Beethoven. His two books about Mozart came about after he had watched Peter Shaffer's play and film, Amadeus. He was moved to offer an alternative (as he saw it, more realistic) version of the composer's life and dying days. In the film, Mozart was supposedly poisoned by his rival composer Salieri. "As a film it was superb entertainment," Robbins Landon wrote in the preface to his 1791: Mozart's Last Year. "But of course it had little enough to do with Mozart's actual life."

In 1993, despite his expertise, due perhaps in part to his celebrated enthusiasm, he fell victim to an elaborate hoax. Invited to verify six "lost" Haydn piano sonatas, allegedly discovered in Munster, Robbins Landon excitedly, and immediately, gave the story to BBC Music Magazine, The Times and the BBC Television News. So hasty was he that he had omitted to check the manuscripts carefully. They turned out to be fakes, a fact verified by the Haydn Institute in Cologne. Such a highly publicised error in judgement could have ended Robbins Landon's career. But he was determined that the episode need not blight his reputation as a serious, forensic scholar and he moved on from the whole unfortunate affair, failing even to mention it in his autobiography, Horns in High C (1999).

Howard Chandler Robbins Landon was born on March 6, 1926, and died on November 20. He is survived by his longtime companion, Marie-Noëlle Raynal-Bechetoille. * The National