Philip Gossett (Pre-College ’57), esteemed musicologist, Juilliard benefactor, and the world’s leading authority on 19th-century Italian opera, died at his home in Chicago on June 12 following a long illness. Known for bringing renewed scholarly attention to performances of works by Italian opera composers such as Rossini, Verdi, Bellini, and Donizetti, he worked closely with both singers and opera companies to insure that they paid close attention to nuances of textual detail. In his scholarly editions of the works of Rossini and Verdi, he applied techniques of scholarly editing that had previously been solely reserved for the works of German composers.
Gossett’s award-winning book Divas and Scholars: Performing Italian Opera presents his scholarly insights into critical editing practices, along with compelling tidbits of singer gossip and often less-than-charitable comments on conductors. He wrote, “You cannot publish critical editions of Italian operas without studying the performing traditions of the period and their subsequent transformations. And in studying the traditions you begin to understand the relationship between history and practice. Without knowing something about the instruments for which Rossini and Verdi were writing, you cannot understand why their scores look the way they do… and without comprehending the social milieu for which these operas were written, you cannot draw lessons from the history of their transmission.”
Gossett’s first musical training was at Juilliard, in what was then called the Preparatory Division, where he studied piano. He later attended Amherst College and received his doctorate from Princeton University. He joined the University of Chicago music department in 1968, and held the title of the Robert W. Reneker Distinguished Service Professor until his retirement, in 2010.
Gossett always maintained a special connection to Juilliard and returned on several occasions for doctoral forum presentations and coaching sessions with Juilliard singers. His legacy will live on here through his extraordinarily generous donation of his entire library of some 2,000 scores, books, and librettos, all of which are essential resources for study and performance of 19th-century Italian opera.
Jane Gottlieb is Juilliard’s vice president for library and information resources.