Philip Gossett (1941–2017)
We are deeply saddened to announce that Philip Gossett, the founding editor and general editor emeritus of The Works of Giuseppe Verdi, co-published by The University of Chicago Press and Casa Ricordi in Milan, passed away in Chicago on June 13, 2017 after a long illness. The news of his passing, albeit not unexpected, has sent shockwaves through the musicological world and beyond. To all of us—and especially those involved with the Verdi critical edition—Philip was an outstanding scholar, a role model, a generous and supportive mentor—and a wonderful friend.
At the University of Chicago, where he had been since 1968, Philip Gossett was the Robert W. Reneker Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus and former Dean of the Humanities Division. Through his long and distinguished career he also served as president of the American Musicological Society and of the Society for Textual Scholarship, held a professorship at the University of Rome “La Sapienza,” and was the first musicologist to receive the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s Distinguished Achievement Award. For his outstanding achievements in Italian culture, in 1998 the Italian government named him the Cavaliere di Gran Croce, Italy’s highest civilian honor.
Few scholars have been more prolific than Philip Gossett, whose publications are as numerous as they are diverse. But there can be no doubt that his paramount contribution has been to the fields of nineteenth-century Italian opera and textual criticism. His towering achievements are the critical editions of nineteenth-century Italian operas that he conceived and championed, as well as the award-winning monograph Divas and Scholars: Performing Italian Opera (University of Chicago Press, 2006). Not only did Gossett help envision and foster the collaboration between the University of Chicago Press and Casa Ricordi that led to the establishment of The Works of Giuseppe Verdi; he also served as General Editor until 2014. Crucially, he also secured a combination of private donations and grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities that since 1979 have made, and continue to make the Verdi edition possible. The large red volumes of this series now take pride of place in leading research libraries around the world, alongside collected series devoted to the likes of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and Schumann, as well as the critical editions of Rossini’s works that Gossett spearheaded and led for decades. That The Works of Giuseppe Verdi, some forty years since its inception, is still an ongoing project testifies to the magnitude and complexity of the endeavor.
Gossett personally edited such works as Rossini’s Tancredi, Ermione, Semiramide, the Petite Messe solennelle, and had virtually completed the critical edition of Verdi’s La forza del destino; but more than fifty editions of both composers were published under his supervision. The impact of those editions on the methods and aims of subsequent textual work in a variety of areas, within and beyond Italian opera cannot be overestimated. It is thanks to his vision if we now know Rossini’s Il viaggio a Reims, we are able to access a proper score of Verdi’s Stiffelio, and can sing and hear the correct words at the beginning of Act III of Rigoletto. And this is merely the tip of the iceberg.
Thanks to Gossett’s tireless, passionate work, performers and scholars today are given far more than stable or definitive texts; they are given choices, and unparalleled awareness and insights into opera as a living performing art. As a scholar and musician, Gossett was tireless in drawing bridges not only with the academic world, but also with the larger public, with which he interacted through journalistic writings, broadcasts, and public lectures, and with performers, collaborating with the likes of Marilyn Horne, Renée Fleming, Juan Diego Flórez, Cecilia Bartoli, Joyce Di Donato, Riccardo Muti, and Dario Fo. Most importantly, Gossett passionately and generously inspired, trained, and guided generations of musicologists, including most contributors to The Works of Giuseppe Verdi. We cannot begin to express our gratitude for his teaching and guidance through the years.
At this time Philip is, above all, missed. But the mark he has left on the field is profound; his work has transformed what we hear and see in opera houses around the world, and how we experience it. Today, those red volumes of The Works of Giuseppe Verdi look more important than ever. They remind us of the importance and influence of Philip Gossett’s vision, efforts, and undying passion, for which, today and always, we are immensely grateful.
—Francesco Izzo, 25 June 2017