To celebrate, to commemorate: Stanley Sadie (1930 – 2005)

Stanley Sadie with volumes of Grove’s Dictionary

This year marks what would have been the 90th birthday of the much-missed musician, critic, author and editor Stanley Sadie so we here at MusiCB3 thought we would devote a little post to reflect on his immeasurable contribution to musical life not only in the UK, but globally. We have, I’m delighted to say already published several posts since his archive arrived here in 2014.

Stanley is, of course, a son of Cambridge having read music here at Gonville and Caius College, studying with Thurston Dart, Patrick Hadley and Charles Cudworth (surely three of the greatest names in music scholarship and performance of their respective generations and, as an aside, I have very fond memories as a raw undergrad at Newnham of Charles at the Pendlebury Library, ever the gentleman and always happy to help).

The Sixth Edition of Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians published in 1979 is synonymous with Stanley, its editor and is, rightly in my view, regarded as his supreme achievement. He gathered around him a team of expert editors, the aim being to produce a work which not only covered all the ground it ought to, but was also both coherent and consistent in its style and presentation.

The second edition of New Grove proudly bears Stanley Sadie’s name. Photo: Margaret Jones.

One of those editors was Rosemary Roberts who has kindly allowed us to reproduce the tribute she wrote for Stanley’s memorial concert programme. It encapsulates beautifully his approach:

“If the Grove editors are still so close and connected it is because he made a workplace into a community of friends and fellows engaged in the amazing enterprise that was shaped by his vision and his strategies, to which we could all be wholly committed. It was a work of genius not only to produce The New Grove but to conceive and realize that constellation of subject Groves, which are the model of a method that I think is unique in publishing – to disentangle the coverage of a single topic from the large work and fill it out into something coherent and independent. And the mark of Stanley’s extraordinary intellectual control and grasp of what he created was that it was matched by total integrity and endless curiosity and enthusiasm…

But all this is to miss out what it was like to work day to day with Stanley and the group he put together. I can’t think of a way of describing it except to say that it was such fun, intellectually and socially and editorially, and that’s the highest praise I know how to give…Stanley demanded a great deal but as nobody worked harder or to better effect than he did, he had a right to. And I shall never forget his loyalty to us when we went wrong and he had to deal on our behalf with (sometimes justifiably) irate contributors – he always knew what weight to put on both sides of the balance. I learned so much from him about negotiation, the defence of what could not be compromised and the gracious conceding of what mattered less – so adept, so diplomatic!

…To be trained at Grove, where the techniques, the adherence to quality, and the purpose of editorial attention were Stanley‘s conception, was to receive a grounding that fitted you to do pretty well any editorial job, from commissioning to proofreading. Grove editors … ended up in every conceivable walk of publishing life, way ahead of the field in every aspect of the art and craft of dealing with words. I salute him for that with boundless gratitude. He was in a very real sense the father of us all.”

But Stanley, of course, had other strings to his bow. He worked as a music critic for The Times from 1964 right up until 1981 and was Editor of The Musical Times for 20 years from 1967. How he found the time to undertake three major roles in parallel and give each the depth of attention required is humbling. As a critic he felt it vitally important to keep in mind who he was writing for: that his role was to open the listener’s ear, to ease a path to deeper understanding of the work in question and to form a bond of musical trust with the reader of his critique. 

Mozart: the early years. OUP, 2006. [M515.c.200.48]

Calling on the Composer. Yale University Press, 2005. [MRR.3.37]










He was also a much-respected author himself, his particular passions being Mozart and Handel about whom he published authoritative biographies culminating in the first volume in what was to have been a comprehensive study of Mozart: Mozart, the early years published posthumously by OUP in 2006.

His interest in composer memorials also led to the posthumous publication of a guide which he and his wife Julie Anne prepared, Calling on the composer: a guide to European composers’ homes and museums, which covers some 300 locations, all of which they had visited over a 12-year period!

A room in the Handel House Museum at 25 Brook Street.

And finally (for this post at least) he and his wife were instrumental in bringing about the Handel House Museum in Brook Street (now Handel and Hendrix in London) where the composer had lived for some 36 years. Stanley and Julie Anne Sadie founded the Handel House Trust in order to buy the building and bring it back to life. To cut a long story short, the museum opened its doors in November 2001 and has been going strong ever since. It’s a wonderfully atmospheric place to visit – do go if you can – and there are also musical events to enjoy.  

And if you would like to read a little more, then do have a look at the interview Bruce Duffield conducted with Stanley in 1992.

Stanley – we salute you!




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